Adapting Exams to Our New Online Reality

By Emily Vierthaler

Photo collage by Emma Kappeyne

— Since AUC’s March 13th decision to move to online classes, AUC students have rapidly adjusted to a life of studying online. On the other side of this new educational experience, instructors have also faced the challenge of adapting their course material to an online format. Without the possibility to administer supervised exams in a classroom, instructors have had to devise fraud-proof online alternatives for this crucial part of many courses.

AUC expressed doubt in their March 20th announcement that online proctoring would be technically feasible, and that teachers should therefore “discuss alternative assessments with their respective Heads of Studies”.

However, most teachers have been able to devise a workaround.

The Director of Education and the Board of Examiners (BoE) have laid out examination guidelines for instructors, which are also shared with students on Canvas. Key priorities include adhering to the assessment standards in the AS&P, adhering to the schedule in the course manuals as much as possible, and upholding the learning objectives of the course.

The Board of Examiners (BoE) shared a set of guidelines for fraud-proof online examinations, adapted from the VU, that they had sent to AUC instructors. The BoE was unable to comment on specific cases of instructors who have requested alternative exams.

The guidelines emphasize maintaining the quality (the “transparency, validity, and reliability”) of the exam while incorporating a set of anti-fraud strategies. For written online exams, the BoE recommends instructors to reduce the number of questions in favor of the quality of questions, to present only one question at a time, and to set as short of a timeframe as feasible in which to answer the questions. This approach draws on students’ deeper knowledge of the material while reducing the potential timeframe in which one could cheat. For oral examinations, the BoE recommends using a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Skype so instructors can see who is answering the questions. Instructors are furthermore recommended to have a reliable record of each exam in case of quality checks.

Over the past few weeks since online schooling became a reality for the AUC community, instructors have been pursuing exam integrity with their own takes on these guidelines. For example, Dr. Hylke Vervaeke, professor of Brain and Mind and Brain and Cognition, implemented measures through Zoom to circumvent cheating. The main exams were split up into a series of shorter tests, each safeguarded with a password, which students need to join a class Zoom session to obtain. Students then must take the test still connected to the Zoom session, with their computer or mobile phone camera on. The first test, administered yesterday, had to be completed within 30 minutes.

Teachers still face many challenges in the quest for an airtight system for online exams, such as students having multiple tabs open or having notes available out of camera view. However, the BoE expresses hopes that the proposed methods will facilitate a smoother transition to our longer-term online learning reality.

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