Last Thursday I attended a conference / workshop that was exploring the business case of setting up an e-Assessment centre in the South West of England. The conference was organised by Dr. Kevin Hapeshi from the University of Gloustershire with talks from Denise Whitelock (always inspiring) and myself. I must say my presentation skills are somewhat out fo practice, and I coudl have probably done with reviewing the art of speaking.
The day took an unexpected turn during the afternoon sessions, where we were going to discuss the details of a regional e-assessment centre. Both work groups came to the surprising conclusion that perhaps this was actually not such a good idea after all. There are plenty of challenges that we need to face in this domain, but none of them really benefit from a regional approach.
The biggest challenge is the development of mature tools, standards and practice. I've blogged about this in the past ( see Standards in assessment, Open Source Assessment tools, The ideal assessment engine). This is not a challenge we can face as universities, or regions however, it is something that requires (inter-) national collaboration. Many of the other challenges are institutional. They revolve around generating awareness and changing culture and practice. This is not something you can do from the outside. We find it hard to change practice on other other campuses of the University. Changing practice requires a proximity to practitioners, and to the learning and teaching strategies and strategic stakeholders. I don't think that proximity is something you can achieve with a regional (and thus external) centre.
There are of course hybrid models, whereby Universities could collaborate in virtual networks, nominating and funding members of their own staff to work in and with the centre. but this might just all become a rather artificial model tailored mostly towards fitting the proposed solution, and not the problem.