E-Assessment Implementation Unravelled: Navigating the Discovery Phase

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With the ink barely dry on your freshly signed contract, now it’s time to think about the implementation process. It’s often cited as the largest barrier to switching platforms or transitioning from paper exams, but we’re here to simplify it. In our last series, we broke down the selection process, giving you tips, tricks, and best practices to choose the best platform for your organisation. In this new series, we take you through the implementation process from start to finish – what to expect, why, and how to navigate implementing e-assessment like a pro!

Step 1: The Kick-Off Call

Our Discovery Phase process starts with a “get to know you” call, typically held via Google Meet (or the video conferencing software of your choice), which allows us to connect directly with your organisation. This meeting isn’t just a formality; it’s a dedicated space for listening and understanding your unique needs. It’s important that your defined project team is present for this call. This ensures that all key players are on the same page from the get-go, and we start off well-informed.

Importance of a well-defined project team

We know that not all organisations will have a fully fleshed-out project management team, so to keep this brief, we’ve outlined the most important roles for teams on the smaller side:

  • Project Manager (customer and e-assessment): This person is the primary point of contact, ensuring that the project stays on track and that all customer requirements are communicated effectively.
  • IT Specialist (customer): from your end, you want someone who understands the technical requirements and integrations needed for the e-assessment platform.
  • Assessment Specialist (customer side): they will provide insight into your specific assessment needs, content validity, and relevance.
  • Training Coordinator (on the e-assessment side): lays plans for the eventual rollout and training for users of the e-assessment platform. Focuses on the testing phases, ensuring the platform meets the organisation’s standards and requirements.

In future content, we will explore large project management teams and their roles and responsibilities in depth. However, we understand that not all organisations will have the space for a large team. The most important role from your side is an experienced and efficient Project Manager. He or she acts as the bridge between the e-assessment provider and the organisation, ensuring that all project activities align with your goals and timelines.

Gathering all information

From the outset, it’s extremely important for your organisation to outline your needs clearly. This discovery call is your stage — don’t hold back. The more detailed and articulate you are about what you need, the better equipped we are to tailor our e-assessment solution to meet those requirements. Whether it’s specific functionalities, integrations with existing systems, or unique question types, your input is invaluable in shaping the project’s direction. To learn more about understanding and outlining your needs, check out our blog on selecting an e-assessment platform

Project sponsors are key!

Behind every successful project is strong backing from the top. Project sponsors play a big role in driving the project forward, providing the necessary support, resources, and decision-making authority to overcome obstacles. 

Step 2: Project Planning and Management

Now that the e-assessment provider knows about your organisation and needs, a plan, timeline, and implementation strategy can be drawn up. It’s not just about having a roadmap; it’s about ensuring that all parties involved clearly define and understand every detail, from timelines to responsibilities. Here’s how we structure our planning step for maximum efficiency.

Setting clear goals, timelines, and responsibilities

A successful project requires clear goals, timelines, and responsibilities. From the onset, we collaborate with you to outline these critical elements, ensuring that both our project management team and your team are aligned. 

Strategies for setting your goals:

Set SMART Goals: Together we set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. This approach helps set clear, actionable objectives and helps us on track.

For timelines, we employ these strategies:

Gantt Chart: To help you visualise the implementation project and keep both of our teams on track, we use Gantt charting. This is a type of bar chart that illustrates a project schedule, showing the start and finish dates of all of the project elements.

ITIL Framework for Project Management:

  • Service Strategy: Outlining the overall approach and objectives.
  • Service Design: Crafting services to meet the defined strategy.
  • Service Transition: Implementing and managing changes to services.
  • Service Operation: Ensuring services are delivered effectively and efficiently.
  • Continual Service Improvement: Constantly enhancing service quality.

By adhering to ITIL, we ensure that our e-assessment platform is implemented and sustainable and evolves with your organisation’s needs.

Keep your team responsible:

Have regular check-ins and updates: Schedule regular meetings to ensure everyone is on track and address any issues promptly.

Be flexible. Prepare to adjust goals, timelines, and responsibilities as the project progresses and new information emerges.

Establish clear communication channels and ensure that information flows freely among team members. At Cirrus, we use:

  • Slack: For quick updates, queries, and day-to-day communication, we use Slack. This allows for real-time collaboration and ensures that minor issues or questions can be addressed right away.
  • Ticket System: For more substantial concerns or requests, we use a ticket system. This structured approach allows us to track, prioritise, and systematically address larger issues, ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.

Through this combination of communication tools, we maintain a clear, open communication channel with our customers, ensuring that all project stakeholders are informed, engaged, and responsive throughout the project’s lifecycle.

Step 3: The E-Assessment Framework

Step 4 in this journey focuses on developing an e-assessment framework that works for your unique organisation. This stage is about vision and structure, crafting a plan that aligns with your current needs and aspirations. It breaks down into two main components: designing the assessments and laying out the technical requirements. Let’s explore these components:

Assessment design

The design of your e-assessment framework involves examining the current exam structures and practices and enhancing them. We start by:

Investigating your current exam structure. First, we thoroughly analyse the existing exam formats, question types, and assessment methods. What does your current exam structure look like? How are questions crafted and organised? Understanding where you stand today is the first step in plotting a course to where you want to be tomorrow

What does the future look like for you? Decide on the types of exams and questions that will meet your future needs. Considerations include:

  • Question Types: Determine the variety of question types that will be supported, such as multiple-choice, essay, matching, short answer, and practical simulations. The choice of question types should reflect the learning outcomes you aim to assess.
  • Blueprints or manual selection? Decide whether to use blueprints (predefined templates for exams that ensure coverage of specified content areas and difficulty levels) or manual selection of questions for each exam.
  • Auto-scored Questions: Cirrus has 20+ autoscored question types, consider how this suits your organisation. Auto-scored questions are particularly useful for large-scale assessments and can include formats beyond simple multiple-choice, such as drag-and-drop or fill-in-the-blank.
  • Fit-for-Purpose Assessments: Ensure that the assessment design is suitable for its intended purpose. Considering Bloom’s Taxonomy, some educational institutions may effectively use MCQs to test Lower Order Thinking Skills, but other institutions might need more advanced question types for Higher Order Thinking Skills. 

Architecture & infrastructure requirements

It’s now time to set up your architectural and infrastructural requirements, such as technical specifications, integrations, and add-ons for a bespoke platform that suits your exact needs. These include:

Determining exam workflow

Now we’re going to take a look at not just the assessment design itself, but the entire exam workflow. Begin by clearly defining the full exam lifecycle, including determining how exams are scheduled, taken, marked, and how results are disseminated.

Now determine integration requirements:

Identify and list all necessary integrations to support the exam workflow. This encompasses connections with Learning Management Systems (LMS), Student Information Systems (SIS), and any additional tools or platforms your organisation needs to function smoothly. Assess which integrations are critical for the operation of exams and ensure these systems can communicate effectively.

Establish access controls and permissions

This process is known as Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). For security reasons, admins will need permission to view content that students should not. Define who needs access to the platform and the extent of their permissions. This involves setting up roles for administrators, educators, and students, ensuring each has access only to the features and data relevant to their needs.

Ensure high availability for critical exams

To most, there isn’t a huge difference between 99.5% and 99.99% uptime, but for sensitive, high-stakes exams, you can’t afford a misstep. Establish stringent uptime requirements to minimise the risk of disruptions. This involves specifying the acceptable levels of availability and planning for redundancy to ensure the platform remains operational during peak times. For institutions that deliver high-stakes exams, an upgrade premium to hosting is recommended.

Select your add-ons

Consider including add-ons that enrich the platform’s functionality, such as advanced analytics for exam performance or integrated feedback mechanisms to aid in continuous improvement. A list of add-ons/integrations can be found here.

Step 4: Content Inventory and Migration Planning

Not everyone will need this step, but for the ones that do, it’s a big one. Content migration involves moving your assessment content from one platform to another, and to ensure it goes smoothly, these preparatory steps are essential: 

Evaluate existing content

Determine what needs to be migrated first based on importance, usage frequency, and relevance to your current assessment objectives.

Organise and clean up

Before migration, organise your content. This includes merging similar question types, cleaning up item banks, and removing outdated or irrelevant items. A cleaner dataset means a smoother transition. 

Scope the content migration project

Scoping is the process of defining the scale, boundaries, and objectives of the content migration project. Effective scoping involves:

  • Having clear objectives. Scoping helps define the purpose and objectives of the migration, ensuring that all stakeholders understand what the project aims to achieve.
  • Managing your resources. By identifying the tasks and requirements, scoping allows for the efficient allocation of resources, including time, budget, and personnel, making the migration process more streamlined and cost-effective.
  • Risk management. Scoping aids in risk management by identifying potential challenges and limitations early in the project, allowing for proactively developing mitigation strategies to address these risks.
  • Scope Creep prevention. A well-defined scope helps prevent scope creep, which occurs when new features or requirements are added without proper review, leading to delays, increased costs, and resource strain.
  • Quality control. By defining specific deliverables and standards, scoping maintains quality throughout the migration process, ensuring that the new e-assessment platform meets or exceeds users’ needs.
  • Efficient planning. A detailed scope allows for creating a structured project plan, outlining phases, milestones, and deadlines. This plan helps track progress and ensure that the project stays on track.

Getting ready for content migration is a key move in switching to an e-assessment platform, and we assure you, following through will make you a standout e-assessment success (and our favourite customer ;))

Step 5: Identifying Training Needs

Finally, we work with you to tailor training programs to meet the varied needs of all those who will use Cirrus. For instance, those involved in the technical setup, like integration specialists, will require detailed training on system configurations and troubleshooting. On the other hand, content creators, such as item authors and assessors, will focus on understanding question creation and assessment structuring within the platform. By identifying the specific roles and their functions early, we can design targeted training sessions that ensure all users are confident and proficient by the time the platform goes live. This strategic approach to training facilitates a smoother transition and optimises platform functionality from day one.

So, let’s recap the Discovery Phase. In this part of the implementation process, we’ve gotten to know you and your needs, established our project management team, and determined goals, timelines, and responsibilities. We’ve also given you tips to prepare for a content migration if needed, what you want your exams to look like, and a list of your architectural and infrastructural needs. Additionally, we’ve identified the training requirements tailored to the specific roles within your organisation, ensuring that everyone is well-prepared and proficient with the platform functionalities as we move forward. This comprehensive approach guarantees that we address all aspects necessary for a successful implementation.

Before we start to train you up, we’ll leave you with some of our best practices when it comes to change management:

Top Tips for Effective Change Management in the Discovery Phase

💡Think about the impact of change. Before diving into the transition to an e-assessment platform, take the time to assess how this change will fully impact your organisation. Consider the various affiliates involved, from administrators to end-users, and evaluate the potential challenges and opportunities the transition may present. Understanding the breadth and depth of the impact will enable you to prepare more effectively for this transition.

💡Engage your stakeholders early and often. The success of transitioning to an e-assessment platform hinges on the buy-in. Your team and organisation must understand the immense benefits before they get on board with support. Start by identifying key stakeholders across different levels and functions within your organisation. During the initial meetings, engage them early in the Discovery Phase to get their input and address any concerns. This inclusive approach ensures that stakeholder needs are considered, and it fosters a sense of ownership in the change process.

💡Develop a good communication strategy. Effective communication is essential for good change management. Develop a clear and comprehensive communication strategy that outlines how and when changes will be communicated throughout the project. This strategy should include the objectives of the change, the benefits it will bring, and how it will affect different parts of the organisation. Transparency and regular updates will help eliminate resistance and make everyone involved feel heard.

REMEMBER

Implementing an e-assessment platform is a significant change that requires careful planning and consideration. By thoroughly assessing the impact of this change, actively engaging stakeholders, and communicating effectively, you can lay a strong foundation for a successful transition. Keep these top tips in mind as you navigate the Discovery Phase to ensure your organisation is well-prepared to embrace a new platform.

Stay tuned for Part 2, the Implementation Phase. We’ll walk you through the practical steps of bringing our carefully laid plans to life, from setting up the platform to making sure you and your team are fully trained and ready to make the most of it. See you soon!

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Cristina Gilbert
Copywriter and digital content enthusiast, Cristina is motivated by the fast-paced world of e-assessment and the opportunities online exams give students to thrive.
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