As second wave forces universities back to online mode, here’s how colleges, industry came together to conduct online exams

By: |
June 04, 2021 5:25 PM

When it comes to conducting university examinations online, there are several new challenges and difficulties that are faced.

Access to laptops or computers is also a major challenge for conducting online exams. (Representational image)

Coronavirus pandemic and online examinations: COVID-19 pandemic has brought education online, but when the first wave ended, several universities thought that while classes were online, they would be able to conduct exams in an offline manner. However, the second wave of the pandemic in the country disrupted these plans once again, forcing universities to once again return to an online form of examinations. While transitioning from offline to online mode in terms of classes and lectures has its own challenges, it is still manageable. But when it comes to conducting university examinations online, there are several new challenges and difficulties that are faced.

Speaking to Financial Express Online’s Bulbul Dhawan, PGP Chairperson at IIM Lucknow Prof Ajay Garg said that the institute has partnered with Mercer | Mettl and uses its Online Assessment Platform. “The portal allows you to remotely proctor all the students and obviously at the same time you are able to have the screen view of the candidates. Also, you know what the person is doing at the time of examination. So, all those things are taken care of. Whatever is possible online, within those limitations, we have been able to set questions and there are no restrictions regarding the type of questions that can be set.”

He added, “The only thing that becomes an issue is that despite asking the student to show a full view of the room, some students are able to play smart, especially because there are a couple of blind spots, but that is okay because that cannot be helped. Apart from that, other things are fine, like if the candidate is moving around or is not looking up, then the portal flags that. With the portal, I also have the entire video footage that I can go back to in case I suspect that something is wrong there. Besides that, we also ask the candidate to sit in front of a mirror so that we can also see what is happening behind the laptop.”

Talking about transitioning between the offline and online mode of exam, he said that they have now switched between these two modes quite a few times, and the first time that they switched, that was a learning experience. However, now, they are aware of how the platform works and intricacies involved in it, and so, they do not have much an issue anymore.

Another thing that plays out in favour of IIM Lucknow is that all the students have access to laptops. This is probably something that big universities and colleges have to their advantage, as students at numerous small universities might not have access to a laptop, which would create an issue for them if these universities were to switch to online exams.

Talking to CEO of Mercer | Mettl, Siddhartha Gupta, FE Online understood how the portal worked. He shared that they first began the portal as an online assessment tool for talent acquisition, in which they would sit with clients and design tests that would ensure that the applicants that would filter through the written test would be suitable to work at the clients’ companies.

It then decided, a few years ago, to use this same model and work in the field of education to power the online exams of institutes, mainly curating entrance tests for the various courses which could be monitored remotely. However, some professors found this portal helpful, and about three years ago, they began to use this portal for even conducting semester exams and internal papers like quizzes.

While in the corporate sector, Mercer | Mettl is usually making the content, in the education sector, professors make the question papers that is then uploaded on the portal. However, a major point of hesitancy among people regarding online assessment is the doubt whether the person giving the exam is the same person who is supposed to give it, which is why the company created an AI algorithm to video stream over 3 million candidates taking an assessment. The algorithm is capable of catching any digression that any candidate might be trying to carry out while taking the test, as also pointed out by Prof Garg.

“So, for example, if you’re a student and you certainly pick up the phone, the AI has the intelligence to recognise the shape of the phone and they will put a flag there saying that the candidate has a phone in their hand or they’re trying to type something,” Gupta said. “Similarly, if your eyes are moving away from the screen or you yourself move away from the screen, or you move so far that the camera is not catching you – these are different types of digressions that any candidate might do. We’ve trained an AI algorithm to ensure that it catches such digressions and gives a flag, and this flag can then add up to a credibility score for that exam in case we want to increase the authenticity. Once the AI puts the flag up, the professor monitoring the exam can bring up that student’s video stream, look at the question that the student is looking at and can actually remotely pause the assessment and have a chat with them.”

He also added that starting from March 2020, the company witnessed a huge spike in its business in the education space, and in India alone, they are now working with around 250 educational institutions. “The adoption has been fairly extensive, so the first movers were B-Schools because I think their students and faculty both were really well versed with the digital assets.” In 2020, the company carried out assessments of 3 million students.

Dr. Meena Chintamaneni, Registrar, SVKM’s NMIMS said, “With the advent of the pandemic, the education system witnessed a paradigm shift towards digitized systems with technology becoming the only intermediary of teaching learning process. To avert a scenario that endangers students’ career, we as a university took prompt measures to safeguard the students’ interests by conducting the examinations on time. With the adoption of a new-age digital platform and streamlined examination approach, we successfully conducted the virtual examinations for our programmes across centres. The transition to an online examination system enabled us to maintain the education continuity and offered students the much-needed respite and flexibility. Apart from conducting regular training sessions for the students as well as the teachers, we also took several steps in the interest of the students where we not only addressed their apprehensions on the exam format or scheduling but also gave due consideration to their genuine issues. We also continued with our schedule for the entrance exams to our various UG programs.”

Talking about the challenges the college faced, she said, “The pandemic brought unprecedented challenges. As a university, we had to address both the immediate and long-term challenges thereby developing the emergency preparedness and response plans. The regulatory framework too brought certain rules and regulations which slowed down the entire admission process. Faculty had minimal time to redesign the pedagogy for structuring teaching materials for virtual delivery. The other challenge that has had an impact was educating close to 70 percent of the outstation students who live outside of the campus of the payment of fees. The university incurred considerable expenditure in arranging and maintaining the required digital infrastructure for smooth functioning.”

“At NMIMS, we took several steps to ensure a smooth transition for both the students and well as the faculty. In order to plan and implement the professional development opportunities, firstly, we analysed the factors like the faculty’s technological pedagogical knowledge and competence pertaining to digital teaching and learning as these were instrumental in adapting to online teaching. To address the technical issues, we ensured to procure the licenses of both Microsoft and Zoom. For effective use of the software, we arranged a 10 days training session by Microsoft for the faculty members. In addition to learning new technologies and pedagogical methods, we also conducted a series of faculty development and training programs to help them prepare high quality classes to create a better learning environment for students. We had almost 18 programs at different stations for all our teachers across the university. It boosted their confidence in using the breakout rooms and started having the proctoring being done. Every student was also given access to the licensed software for classes to be delivered effectively,” she added.

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