On the benefits of digital assessment in Germany

Bucerius started using WISEflow 2016. The language programme has been fully digital since 2019.

Context 

Bucerius Law School was founded in 2000 by one of the largest private charitable foundations in Germany - the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius. Bucerius was created with the intention to reform legal education in Germany and to represent the German legal community on the international academic stage. It is close to legal practice, internationally oriented and excels at research and teaching.  

 

Drivers for change 

Lezel: I started working at Bucerius Law School as a lecturer in 2011 and was appointed the Head of the Language Programme in 2014. I’ve always been interested in technology and particularly in information technology law, and shortly after I took over the programme, I went to the Online Educa Berlin (OEB) conference. At Bucerius, as Director of the Language Programme, I have a dual function and therefore I see things from both a management perspective, and because I also teach, with the curriculum development being a big part of what I do in my function, my interests are pedagogical, too.

Administratively, I knew the burden that paper-based exams posed. Pedagogically, I was excited by the idea of being able to monitor my students’ work and give immediate feedback. I thought a system that could do that had the potential to be transformational for the programme and my students.  

I spoke to a number of people at the conference about digital exams, which hadn’t really penetrated through to the German education system yet. I spoke to Rasmus and Steffen, the UNIwise co-founders, and started to better understand the benefits of using a digital platform at my institution.  

The main driver for me was reducing the workload. I came at things from a very practical point of view, and I was purely focused on reducing the burden of managing exams and assessments, as well as the administrative workload of conventional pen-and-paper exams. At the time, I wasn’t trying to be innovative; I just wanted to reduce the administrative burden and work more efficiently! That really was the key driver.  

Another important thing for me was reducing costs. Pen-and-paper exams are actually really expensive; when I looked at how much I was spending on photocopies alone, it was a big chunk of budget in comparison to other things. Having a digital platform meant a reduction in paper-based assessments, and therefore costs, as well as alleviating the administrative burden. 

 

Important considerations before the digital transition: data privacy and change management 

I always thought that Germany was very innovative, but I realised that this didn’t extend to educational technology - it can still be very traditional. There has been very close attention paid to data protection in Germany. GDPR is a big topic in Europe generally, but in Germany, it’s even more important.

I did a master’s degree in law focussing on data protection, so I knew there could be issues raised during the process. UNIwise is based in the EU, which is beneficial, so I asked what its data privacy policy was, where its servers were, who had access; this was a big consideration when searching for a partner we could trust.  

 

 

Data privacy and the more traditional way of operating in Germany continued to be a factor as I onboarded WISEflow at Bucerius, and I think that's why the main law programme at my institution decided not to make the digital transition with us initially. The thinking was, ‘as long as the state exam is paper-based, there's no incentive to move to digital exams because we have to prepare our students to write five-hour paper-based exams.’

This, of course, made sense then. It is worth mentioning, though, that the German state exam is actually considering offering a digital option from 2024, so we may expect to see more of an incentive for further digital transition! 

I spoke to all the relevant stakeholders, as I knew there might be some concerns regarding data. We looked into the data privacy concerns and felt reassured that  WISEflow was GDPR compliant and had a secure server located in the EU, which was great and dispelled any worries.  

When making the transition to digital assessment, I think you need to have a clear strategy and action plan, because the transition requires several key steps. Any type of change is usually very difficult, especially in Germany, and if you don't have a structure and a plan, you're never going to get anywhere. 

The other important consideration was the student perspective. I realised early on that I needed to get them on board, so UNIwise gave us access to WISEflow for a few months. We conducted small-scale testing and got students involved, and then did a survey with those who participated in the pilot.  

I was delighted that we were able to accommodate almost everything the students requested, and we don't have any real problems with WISEflow now from the students’ perspectives. We never really had any problems to begin with, but now, after using it for so long now, the students just know it inside out! 

 

Getting staff and faculty on board with the project 

I manage a team of external adjunct lecturers, so I needed to pay them for their time when attending the training workshops offered by myself and my assistant. In these workshops, we introduced WISEflow as  a new tool and explained how we had been using it in the two obligatory courses. We did general training on how the software works, and now every new teacher gets this training from us.  

I gave them some models of how I had used WISEflow and then told them the different ways that it has been beneficial. I explained that you can monitor your student performance, including their assessments. Monitoring is important for us because participation is graded, so this was greatly appreciated. They also enjoyed the fact that they could check any learning gaps because it gave them new insights and allowed them to prepare their lessons accordingly. 

I think there definitely needs to be someone driving the project and encouraging adoption. I just kept pestering people! I kept saying, ‘have you tried it? Isn't it great? You know, I used it in this way last week. Oh, do you want some more training? Do you want to see some examples of how I have used it in my class?’ It just kept catching on. I suppose that comes from an inclusive style of leadership, which is important for introducing change in my eyes.  

 

Benefits of the platform: enhanced feedback capabilities 

One of the biggest benefits of using WISEflow has been more varied and enhanced feedback capabilities. Before the digital switch, we mostly gave written feedback, but now we can use more multimedia forms, which helps us to better support learning outcomes. I can give students oral feedback immediately, and we’ve set up rubrics where I can include some brief comments and even a voice memo. It's made it very easier for us because we aim to give student continual feedback in our courses, which takes a lot of time.  

The feedback is also more personalised through WISEflow. When students are able to hear teachers commenting on their work, explaining any issues to them and taking them through the question step by step, it is really beneficial. It is more immediate, more useful and usually means you'll see improvement in the quality of students’ work overall! WISEflow has definitely improved the effectiveness of giving students’ feedback across our courses.  

 

Benefits of the platform: flipped classrooms 

Students don’t just want more opportunities to work online; they also want to find that online classes are of the same quality and offer the same learning outcomes as in-person classes. Students can feel more comfortable and motivated to use new forms of technology, and in the flipped classroom model, the delivery of key content can be shifted from the classroom to some period prior to when the class takes place. 

Having a tool like WISEflow means there can be more time in the classroom, and one of the benefits of this is being able to act more as a facilitator to your students, rather than just a lecturer. Not only is this good for language learning, but it is also just a great way to be able to teach. 

I’m using WISEflow for a wide breadth of assessment types. We use it for essay hand-ins, take-home exams, multiple choice, oral exams - everything we can. I’m trying to have just one portal and I use it in class now, instead of giving physical handouts. If we have a reading or writing exercise, considering we work a lot with different languages, I'll do it in WISEflow and then the students will complete the handout in class. Then, I'll add the answers in WISEflow’s auto-correct function, or students can check the answers while doing their assignments.  

Traditionally, students would sit in lectures, take their notes, and that's it. I don't necessarily think that this should be replaced, but for the type of teaching I do, mostly seminars and tutorials, it's very effective to be able to use a flipped classroom. The idea of a seminar is that you are able to do a deep dive into the topic, and this can be facilitated effectively through the flipped format.  

Most teachers love the back-and-forth interactions in the classroom. I think that's the most fun part of teaching, at least for me. 

 

Further advantages of digital assessment for the institution 

I think from a pedagogical and curriculum perspective, the learning analytics tool has been very useful, alongside being able to monitor student performance. Both really help to address knowledge gaps in learning.  

Using a digital platform has also helped in communicating expectations more clearly to the students. Instead of simply saying ‘this is the reading,’ we can instead say ‘this class is on campus, this tutorial is online, this is where you will be able to continue your learning, and both of these remain a part of the course.’ We don’t even use the word homework anymore; it is just the online tutorial part of the course as opposed to the on-campus part. It has been a big help in communicating that this all works towards the same learning outcomes.  

Of course, it goes without saying that the platform has helped to streamline our processes. And as an administrator, when teachers send me their final exams, I can access these quickly via WISEflow and make changes whenever, as opposed to having to wait for emails, which is very helpful and efficient. 

 

Innovation and evolving with new technologies 

When it comes to technology, you can always find ways to make things easier and more efficient, freeing up energy and capacity to engage more meaningfully with students in the classroom. The big discussion, of course, is ChatGPT – how do we use it? That is always the question when it comes to innovation. You need to think ‘how can I develop how I teach? Am I willing to change?’ Because the teaching I do now is already very different from how I was teaching 12 years ago! 

I really feel we need to educate ourselves on how to evolve in line with these new technologies. We’ve chosen to incorporate ChatGPT as a tool and to take a liberal approach. We allow students to use it, but they need to reference it and we've given them a referencing guide for it. They also need to tell us how they're searching and what their query is. We've also changed the rubric weighting, because we realised that students will be able to write better essays using the tool. Grading is now more heavily weighted towards those aspects of the assessment that require human input.  

The next step is to update them in class and explain ChatGPT, how it's used and what they should look out for, such as the typical accuracy, citing sources, and so on. We also have an exercise where students are given a model answer written by us, and one from ChatGPT, and the students must compare the pros and cons of each.  

The main issue with ChatGPT is that it could have a marked effect on take-home exams. I’m inclined to move back to closed-book exams, at least partially. Also, oral exam become even more important. It’s a joint process of evolving with the technology but also understanding where the issues lie. 

 

The future of WISEflow at Bucerius 

We’ve been using WISEflow for quite a while now, but we are always thinking of ways to move forward and innovate together. I know that there are tools being developed for detecting autogenerated text, and these would be very useful paired with plagiarism detection software. Being able to identify AI-generated answers would be a great innovation. 

I would also love to see even more variation in the feedback tool. For example, recording your feedback in the system via video, and then feeding this back to the student in a similar way to how we use voice recordings. This, again, would be great for personalising feedback, and would really be taking things to the next level!  

Bucerius is still very happy with WISEflow eight years down the line, and our students know the system inside out. We have been able to enjoy streamlined processes across the institution as well as big savings in terms of cost and administrative burden. I look forward to continuing to work with UNIwise in the future. 

Published with the allowance of UNIwise.

 

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Leyla Dörflinger

Hamburg