Since its inception, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected education system worldwide and it has resulted in the partial or full closure of schools and universities across the globe. To counterbalance the negative effects of the contagious disease, education has changed dramatically and with the rise of e-learning, teaching is undertaken on digital platforms remotely. With this sudden shift away from the physical classrooms in many countries across the world, the situation, as Murphy (2020) argues, turned to a situation called ‘emergency e-learning.’ The term is defined as “the temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances” (p. 6). In such a situation, accustomed to face-to-face classes, Iranian teachers have to totally depend on online courses as their only choice to teach, as such they have faced tough days (Badrkhani, 2021). Iranian educational institutions and universities launched online education systems and changed classes from face-to-face to online courses.
As a platform for online learning, the Learning Management System (LMS) which had already been introduced to the context of Iranian educational system in 1990 in a very small scale (Mahmoudi-Dehaki et al., 2021) was embraced by majority of universities (Ebadi, et al., 2020). One such system, Vadana, is used by IAU. As a private university, Islamic Azad University is among the largest universities in the world which is scattered mainly inside Iran. IAU has updated and improved its electronic infrastructure and systems with a large number of students and educational units scattered throughout the country and in different cities to facilitate educational and student affairs.
Despite the fact that the situation is far from ideal, IAU was better prepared to transition to the online learning environment, as it had already launched its Electronic Campus and students from the country and abroad had been studying through online courses. Despite the benefits, such as accessibility to the course from anywhere at any time, asynchronous discussions with teachers and classmates, immediate feedback on tests, and so on (Ahmady et al., 2020), online learning is fairly different from the one in face-to-face courses due to its particular nature. Although it seems that it is not likely to predict the exact time of the end of pandemic (Ebadi et al., 2020), if properly utilized, such an opportunity may turn into a valuable asset to the educational systems and for students to get involved in learning and knowledge sharing if timely decisions are made.
A very important point is the assessment of what students have learned in the online classroom system. Tests provide critical data in both face to face courses and online courses to achieve two definite goals: to secure accountable teaching and learning and to guide decisions on subsequent academic measures (Jimenez, 2020). As she argued, the data required to meet these purposes come from three major types of assessment, which yield different yardsticks. Diagnostic tests are administered at the beginning of the academic year to determine learners’ starting levels and help the learners themselves as well as the teachers access appropriate graded content. Formative tests offer teachers touchpoints throughout the academic year to help them tailor their attempts to enhance learning. Finally, year-end summative tests, as Jimenez (2020) contended, provide information on how successfully the learners progressed toward preordained goals and academic standards.
Additionally, not unlike traditional teaching and assessment that is primarily teacher-centered, the ultimate aim of online teaching and assessment practices, as a more student-centered form of education, is academic attainment and accountability. Despite the wide range of possibilities online learning offers for presenting and sharing teaching materials that facilitate the learning process, it still proffers practical concerns when it comes to assessing students’ performance (Zakaryia, Khaled, & Omar, 2021). While evaluation is fairly exclusively carried out by the teachers in traditional assessment and its efficacy draws substantially on teacher’s knowledge and skills, it is primarily performed with the application of tools and systems that mediate between the students and the tests. Hence, students’ performance on online tests is influenced not only by their competency in the subject matter, but also by their nimble control of these tools and systems as a facet of test methods. The situation further exacerbates once assessment security is taken into account as a determining factor in remote assessment. Assessment security, as Gamage, de Silva, and Gunawardhana (2020) argued, aims at securing assessment practices against issues such as cheating, and on identifying any instance of cheating that might have occurred. Gamage, de Silva, and Gunawardhana (2020) pointed out that a vital element in assessment design is to safeguard the idea that “assessments enable students to demonstrate their learning practically” (p. 5). It seems that one of the big challenges in front of the teachers is how to prevent cheating on online exams.
While previous studies have mainly focused on the efficacy of online teaching courses (e.g. Abdel-Rahim, 2021; Coman, et al., 2020), research specifically targeting online assessment is scarce. Meccawy, Meccawy, and Alsobhi (2021) explored the views of students and faculty members towards online assessment. As they reported, there is need for the problem of cheating in online courses. Such a measure includes “raising student awareness and ethics, training teachers to detect cheating methods, and institutions activating their code of practice and applying severe sanctions on those who engage in such practices” (p.1). Verhoef, Yolandi, and Coetser (2021) studied academic integrity of university students during COVID 19. As the researchers found, due to pandemic-related issues the students were dishonest, however, there were some other reasons for their dishonesty like feeling overwhelmed and stressed and struggling with technology lack of time management.
Ghanbari and Nowroozi (2021) conducted a study in the context of Iran to examine 20 Iranian English language teachers’ views towards the online assessment challenges during COVID-19. They carried out semi-structured retrospective interviews with the teachers at Persian Gulf university at different intervals throughout an academic course. The findings of this study pointed to idea that after the move to online assessment, the teachers primarily encountered acute instructional, technical, administrative, and affective barriers; however, they could gear their actions to the demands of the new situation as the course went on.
Statement of the problem
As Iranian universities began to address the Covid—19 pandemics in 2020, the inclination towards replacing exams with online assessment hastened. Based on the researchers’ experience, the fast-paced transition at scale to online exams which was for the time of emergency did not meet the guidelines necessary for administering university exams. Concerns for academic integrity from one hand and the possible negative washback effect encouraged the researchers to investigate TEFL teachers’ and postgraduate students’ cognitions on the circumstances.
Apart from the benefits such as immediate feedback ( Bonham et al., 2000), improving the quality of student learning ( Saricoban, 2013) and more frequent administration of assessments ( (Bull & McKenna, 2004), such a rapid transition to remote assessment could give rise to various concerns such as technical issues, students’ technological incompetence and academic integrity (Khan & Khan, 2018; Guangul, et al, 2020; Zamani et al., 2015), online proctoring (Sullivan 2016), test being limited to objective-type formats like multiple choice (Bull & McKenna ,2004).
Although these studies assessed the efficacy of online assessment from the viewpoint of either teachers or students, literature is scarce when it comes to the comparison of the perceptions of teachers and students especially in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. Accordingly, we formulated the following hypotheses:
H01: Iranian TEFL instructors do not have a positive attitude towards the efficacy of online assessment during COVID 19.
H02: Iranian TEFL postgraduate students do not have a positive attitude towards the efficacy of online assessment during COVID 19.
RQ3: There is not any significant difference between Iranian TEFL instructors and TEFL postgraduate students’ perceptions about the efficacy of online assessment during COVID 19.