This chapter sets out a number of ways in which effective use of the online discussion board in a virtual learning environment can contribute to the preparation of assessment tasks. In particular, it examines the specific advantages of the use of online role play as a means of effective task preparation, and reviews various examples of its application in different academic areas and contexts. The primary emphasis of this chapter is the use of the VLE in general, and the use of role play within the discussion board in particular, as a means of preparing assessment rather than undertaking assessment online using a series of automated processes.
The expectation that, one day, the virtual learning environment (VLE) may be able to handle all forms of assessment and be able to scan and grade essays online much as multiple-choice questions are automatically marked today is perhaps drawing attention away from the more pragmatic and effective uses of the VLE when it is combined with other forms of learning. Whilst some interesting advances have been reported in this area, the general consensus appears to be that a totally reliable online automatic marking facility is still a long way off, and may even be regarded as unhelpful in an educational context where the role of the tutor is to establish a relationship with students that might be impaired if assessment of discursive material is undertaken by a third party in the form a machine that automatically grades it.
Such limitations in the ability of the current state of technology to provide reliable summative assessment beyond the range of multiple-choice questions and similar closed interrogative methods has sharpened the focus on blended learning, which is here simply defined as combining virtual with other forms of learning and assessment.
There are a number of well-documented ways in which assessment can be assisted and prepared within a virtual learning environment. The assessment itself could be partially or even completely conducted online in the form of Web-based assignments, reflective journals, e-portfolios, and so forth, or could equally remain as the traditional essay, report, or presentation, but the means of preparing the task assigned could be more effectively assisted by a variety of uses of the tools on offer in the VLE.