Students can often struggle to see the relevance of abstract concepts and apply them to their lived experiences in the real world. Difficulty in applying abstract ideas can impact how young people develop their skills and knowledge, and can present a conundrum for assessment professionals – how can we best measure someone’s grasp of abstract concepts and skills? New research from Syddansk University, Denmark, recently published in the British Journal of Educational Technology shows how technology could help.

The researchers, Sun and Theussen (2022), have explored how the use of simulation games can teach complex political negotiation skills and provide new assessment information to measure their competence. As Sun and Theussen note, simulation games are considered the most popular and effective form of experiential learning currently used in political science education.

Traditional teaching methods certainly will always have a place in education as there are tried and tested methods of helping students draw meaningful connections between abstract theory and concrete practice. However, Sun and Theussen argue that many learners remain unable to “feel the weight” and take ownership of the decisions, and new simulation methods offer a potential new tool in the assessment toolbox.

Simulation games often provide immersive learning scenarios where students can experience situations that are foreign to their lives, solve problems through active communication, and “see” the consequences of their decisions and actions.

Furthermore, Sun and Theussen argue that students can receive meaningful feedback on their performance in the simulation games to reflect on misunderstandings, identify areas of improvement, and transfer learning to new educational contexts. The simulation can, in this way, help provide useful information for formative assessment for learning.

As Sun and Theussen describe, “the game-based skill assessment provides an opportunity to look “under the hood” at what skills learners can demonstrate through behavioural indicators in the gameplay, and also offers the possibility for a scalable and replicable measure of implicit skill practice that is often hard to assess in traditional academic tests”.

There are limits to this study, as there are for all studies, and taking one piece of evidence in isolation should be treated with caution. For instance, the researchers note their sample size was relatively small and based on one iteration of one simulation game; we should therefore remain cautious about generalising any results. Future research could replicate the study and collect data on multiple iterations of the game to validate the results further.

What Sun and Theussen (2022) provide is an exciting glimpse of how on-screen assessment can offer new insights, today. These are not the descriptions of a theoretical assessment practice, but are in the real-world, happening right now. As such, they offer a tantalising look of a new style of assessment.

The opportunities for a brand new, radical assessment paradigm are here and are already working in some environments. While there is still long way to go before a widespread adoption in mainstream schools, the direction of travel is clear. New forms of assessment are on the horizon for the general qualification space, and are coming closer.

Zhiru Sun and Amelie Theussen (2022), ‘Assessing negotiation skill and its development in an online collaborative simulation game: A social network analysis study’, British Journal of Educational Technology, Online Version of Record before inclusion in an issue,