COVID-19: the future of assessment?

A pair of interesting sessions at today’s EUNIS conference looked at how universities responded to the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on end of year assessment. An audience survey indicated that 60% have changed the form of their assessment, 15% cancelled exams, and 15% adopted some kind of remote proctoring system to allow for traditional-format exams to be taken in uncontrolled locations, such as the home. In countries where travel was possible, but limited, existing arrangements for taking exams in other institutions had become highly relevant.

For remote proctoring (only one option could be chosen), 33% of the audience were concerned about privacy, 31% about equality: mostly because students with less appropriate devices or poorer internet connectivity might be disadvantaged, either in fact, or by increased stress from worrying about it. Cost and other factors worried the remainder. Case studies from the Norwegian and Finnish university systems suggested that the only use of remote video was to verify the identity of the person sitting the exam against their official documents. Technical tools mentioned included kiosk applications that limited what other applications could run during the exam period; blacklists on collaboration tools; plagiarism detection; and noting significant pauses or sudden bursts of typing for later investigation.

The much more popular option was, however, to change the style of assessment, with many people commenting that lockdown had brought forward changes they had hoped to make anyway. These included  moving to open book exams and eliminating multiple-choice questions, which were felt to have the greatest risk of cheating. The limitations of digital exam platforms may even have advantages: if the discipline involves notation that is not easily supported by keyboard and mouse, then get the student to write that part of their answer and submit the picture. This gives not only a check of knowledge, but also of the person doing the handwriting!

Finally, there was a reminder not to aim for perfection. Paper exams have risks, too. And, as one audience member commented, if someone can use reference materials fast enough to pass a time-limited multiple-choice paper, then perhaps they do know the subject quite well anyway!

By Andrew Cormack

I'm Chief Regulatory Advisor at Jisc, responsible for keeping an eye out for places where our ideas, services and products might raise regulatory issues. My aim is to fix either the product or service, or the regulation, before there's a painful bump!

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