online exams during COVID-19
Will universities uncover the potential of online exams in the face of a pandemic? Source: Fayez Nureldine/AFP

Many universities are switching to online exams during COVID-19.

For one, Oxbridge’s summer assessments are moving online. Over at Imperial College London, 280 medical students successfully completed final-year exams last week. The university says this a historic first for medical studies.

If you’re worried about this shift to online exams during COVID-19, fret not. History tell us it’s a pretty untapped area, but there’s potential to be uncovered.

Online exams during COVID-19 shows benefits of digital assessment

Online or digital exams can save lecturers ample marking time. It also saves students the hassle of putting pen to paper to demonstrate their knowledge in an area of study.

According to the University of Technology Sydney, students are also less anxious about online exams as they can first do practice tests online. This assessment model also explores the possibility of automated marking for standardised tests.

online exams during COVID-19

Online exams could save universities plenty of resources. Source: Frederick Florin/AFP

Besides lightening the workload of faculty members, online exams could also save institutions a lot of money.

A report by ZDNet pointed out that Monash University in Australia would save approximately AU$7 million (US$4.7 million) per annum by shifting 80 percent of exams online, which it aims to do this year.

The university issues 360,000 exams, the equivalent to 8.5 million sheets of A4 paper or 1,000 trees.

Research, education and business intelligence delivery leader Cliff Ashford said that getting people to mark essay exams is expensive and highly ineffective as it requires extensive manual data entry, while tracking analytics is non-existent. This also means exams are exposed to human error.

Gradual process worth the investment

Monash Australia has been taking incremental steps towards introducing online exams since 2015. It started with a small pilot; in semester one of 2017, the university moved 0.5 percent (600 seats) of all exams online, and progressively increased it to eight percent of all exams (10,000 seats) in semester two that same year, and so on.

“This involved building a custom Wi-Fi installation into one of its exam halls and wiring every desk to power and network. Ashford said at this time, the university made the conscious decision to provide laptops to students and have paper backups of exam papers,” said the report.

They also enable students to bring-your-own-devices (BYOD) as the university would not be able to buy enough laptops for every student.

Victoria University Wellington in New Zealand is also experimenting with online exams, where students type rather than write their exams.

According to the university’s website: “The first digital exam pilot was completed successfully in Trimester 1 2019, with a high number of students adopting digital exams. The second pilot starts in Trimester 2 2019. Students in the following courses will take their end-of-trimester exams digitally.”

online exams during COVID-19

A pedestrian wearing a face mask crosses the normally bustling Bourke Street shooping mall in Melbourne’s central business district on March 23, 2020. Source: William West/AFP

Over in Norway, the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo and the University of Agder have also adopted digital exams.

While the immediate benefits are appealing, why haven’t more universities embraced online exams?

It may require the help of multiple stakeholders, but the efforts may well be worth the effort and investment when universities save themselves time and money easing the slog of traditional methods.

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