Practical work as referred by Brown (Brown, G., J. Bull, and M. Pendlebury, Assessing student learning in higher education. 1997, London; New York: Routledge. xiii, 317 p.) is related to work developed in laboratories or equivalent environments. Practical work plays an important role in Engineering and other areas of Education and is generally understood that students will learn more effectively when they are engaged in practical tasks.

ALOA model uses the following classification of practical work:

E-assessment implementation of practical work

Assessing practical work is traditionally done by analysing reports of practicals, tests and observation and testing of performance. When using computers for assessing practicals, the report analysis and testing are straightforward to implement. For the reports the teacher may use any tool that allows uploading a file, like e-mail, forum or assignment upload. To assess knowledge and understanding about practical work, a Computer Based Testing software may be used. For the hands-on component, other strategies may be used.

File upload

These tools may be used for uploading reports and other type of files. The main advantage in relation with traditional printed reports is the possibility of incorporating different types of media like audio and video.

Computer based test / online testing

To test knowledge and understanding of the factual, conceptual and procedural knowledge related with the topic. CBT has the advantage of allowing the use of rich media for illustrating procedures that may be used for structuring the questions. This is an important feature that allows authentic assessment.

Video file, animations and sequence of images

Video is a powerful tool to use in the assessment of practical work. For the Demonstration type of practical, the student is exposed to an experiment performed by the teacher or other experts recorded previously and made available to students as a single file or integrated in a structured learning object, complemented with other types of content, including online tests. The great advantage is that this type of file may be reused. Also, with the help of a video expert is possible to use techniques to highlight parts of the procedure that are more important or difficult.

For the other types of practicals described above, video files may be produced by students to demonstrate their performance that can then be assessed by the teacher or their peers. It is a powerful tool for self-assessment because it allows the student to review his own performance.

Some types of phenomena or procedures may be difficult to capture in video. In these cases, the teacher may produce an animation to demonstrate a procedure. It requires technical skills to develop but it has great reuse potential

An alternative to video for demonstration purposes or assessment of skills is using a sequence of images. It has the advantage of being easier to produce than video.


A videoconferencing system may be used by the teacher for demonstrating a procedure in real time to students that are in a different location. It may be used to assess the performance of students in practical work. Videoconferencing has the advantage of being interactive and creating opportunities for feed-back. However, technical issues may interfere with the effectiveness of the process.


Software for producing diagrams is a good tool to assess some components of practical work. In open-ended enquiry and in projects, students may be asked to build a diagram of the procedure they will implement. Diagrams may be used to ask the student to replicate the physical setting of an experiment they followed (Remember) or that they executed (Apply). Students may be asked to use a diagram to interpret and explain the processes of an experiment (relating procedures with concepts).

Publish media or wiki

Students may be asked to publish the report of their work in a website instead of using a standard text processing tool. A wiki may be an interesting way of recording the process of more complex practical work, individual or in groups.

Chat and discussion forum

Online communication tools may be used in assessing practical work by the teacher or peers. It is particular useful for evaluation, to discuss decisions taken by the students and the results obtained.

Virtual Labs and Remote Labs

Remote Labs are real laboratories that can be manipulated by the students at a distance. Virtual labs are simulated labs that allow students to explore equipment and procedures, to seek their own solutions.


Computer based simulations play an important role in authentic assessment of practical work. Even though they do not replace the real physical interactions that occur in a lab or equivalent environment, they may replicate several of the processes that occur. Simulation may vary in nature and complexity but they usually allow students to manipulate data and examine consequences. Simulations may have a strong graphical component, representing a physical system that can be manipulated, or may be text/numerical based representing a conceptual model.

De Jong and Van Joolingen define computer simulations as programs that contain a model of a system (natural or artificial, e.g., equipment), or a process. They divide them in:

  • Simulations containing a conceptual model include principles, concepts and facts related to the system that is represented. These are used for discovery learning and may be qualitative/quantitative, continuous/discrete or static/dynamic
  • Simulations containing an operational model include sequences of cognitive and non-cognitive procedures that can be applied to the system, used for experiential learning

The complexity of existing simulations varies considerable in relation to the sophistication of the model and the degree of manipulation of the system that it allows. In most simulations the student is asked to change values of input variables and then observe the results.

The paper by Thomas et al. defines three ways of integrating simulations in the assessment process:

  1. As part of the assessment question, providing different scenarios to be studied
  2. As the answer mechanism (the student has to use the simulation as the response)
  3. As the feedback provider to the student, important in formative assessment

Scenario-based activity

Scenarios are suitable for complex problem-solving and situations that require making decisions in an authentic context. Usually intends to model expert performance and decision making, based on a non-linear paradigm. It works on tacit knowledge and behaviours associated with a subject.

Game based learning

Games principles are similar to a constructive approach to learning. Crisp presents a table that matches game design principles with learning design. Games may be used for authentic assessment activities with frequent rewards. Feedback is provided in response to actions of the game and student is rewarded when achieves goals. Mistakes will be made and corrected. The main goals of gaming and learning are different. In gaming students have to win. In learning students have to learn and apply. In gaming, sometimes students don’t master the necessary skills but are still able to win. To assess this type of task it is necessary to clarify what are the expected LOs.

Another problem is that games are difficult to develop especially if they have a strong programming and design component, like in videogames. Some games may be simpler in terms of technology. Quizzes or discussion forum may be used to implement the game and corresponding assessment. A game has a goal and tasks that have to be completed to achieve the goal and these may constitute the assessment criteria. What is assessed, the product or the process? If it is the process, then the game must allow tracking the process. This can be very complex and difficult to implement.