India forced to take online exam to radically change the way we assess students
WAlthough the Covid-19 pandemic has put online courses on the agenda, exams appear to be held on a different basis. Students and faculty across India are protesting the proposal to hold in-person exams and demanding an online test. Last year, the University Scholarships Commission had permit universities to organize ‘offline mode (pen and paper) / online / blended (online + offline)’ exams, but there is a reluctance to institutionalize the practice.
Critics point out that an online exam leaves students with spotty internet connections at a great disadvantage – earlier this year there was reports about a group of students from Mizoram traveling 10 kilometers through forests to find an internet connection stable enough to take their exams online. On closer inspection, one can see that much of the opposition to online exams is driven by surveillance concerns. Universities and UGC are concerned that students will cheat on their exams, and therefore the need to monitor a live broadcast.
This obsession with surveillance stems primarily from the way we assess our students. Examinations in India are known for their propensity to reward rote learning and memorization. There are inexpensive guides that students learn from as they provide expected questions in these exams along with their answers. This system is precisely what requires continuous monitoring – for cheating in these exams involves reading from hidden scraps of paper (or a full guide, if one is enterprising enough).
Almost everyone, including UGC, agrees that our exam system needs to move away from memory tests to assess students’ understanding of concepts. Months before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in September 2019, an assessment reform committee formed by the UGC submitted a detailed report report on the necessary changes. The report called for reorganizing the assessment system based on certain indicators and expected outcomes for each course (such as that a business student should be able to prepare a company’s accounts) as well as the wide use of technology and automation.
Some of the recommendations, however, leave us wondering if we are filling old wine into a new bottle? For example, the committee recommends the creation of a question bank (a top priority) and that 70 percent of the questions must come from this bank. This would only replace the existing set of guides with new ones, bringing us back to square one with the need for more oversight.
Read also : How Covid has reshaped the way we learn and why online courses are here to stay
Time for a new model
The requirement to take online exams can be an opportunity to radically change the way we conduct our exams, from completely shifting memory tests to tests of skills and concepts. Online assessments are not a new experience and universities around the world have developed models to meet the unique challenges of this platform. Since 2015, Monash University in Australia has taken incremental steps to introduce online exams. In 2017, nearly 10,000 university students took their semester exams online. At Imperial College London, 280 medical students finished the end-of-year exams through an online open book test earlier this year. Many other universities and colleges in UK have opted for online exams. King’s College London and the London School of Economics (LSE) have plans to stop in-person exams, and the LSE has moved both online teaching and assessment. In India, the University of Calcutta led an open book exam for final year undergraduate and postgraduate students last year, a first in the history of the university.
So what will a successful online assessment model look like? This would make surveillance irrelevant or at least limit its scope by changing the review strategy. Multiple choice questions that test understanding of concepts can be set and students can answer them even from a mobile device. Another option is to have “home exams”, where students have sufficient time (ranging from a few hours to a few days) to find a solution to a complex problem. It is also possible to conduct a viva voce over the phone, even during a WhatsApp video call. If one is sure that their students have access to a computer, even a research assignment can be given, instead of an exam. This is in addition to a wider range of possibilities such as preparing response documents, writing a journal or photographic essays – more conducive to the social sciences.
A combination of one or more of these techniques can also be sought, making the assessment multidimensional. Such changes in assessment strategies can render the need for supervision irrelevant and in doing so remove the need for a stable internet connection throughout the time a student is taking an exam. In the long run, changes in exam strategies can also have a positive impact on the way courses are taught and learned.
As much as the Covid crisis has caused despair, so much has it fueled the disruption of our teaching-learning systems. Distance education has become acceptable and will continue even after Covid. This provides us with a golden opportunity to reform our outdated approach to evaluations. The question is, will the government take it?
Mahesh Menon is an Assistant Professor of Law at Sai University and Professor at the Daksha Fellowship. He specializes in human rights law. He tweets @maheshmenon_. Opinions are personal.
Abhishek Chakravarty is Assistant Professor of Law at Sai University and Professor at the Daksha Fellowship. His interests are in environmental law and technology law and policy. He tweets @abhishekporaxar. Opinions are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)
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