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A testing experience

What does it take to conduct a proctored exam?

Provide students question papers and answer papers, ensure they have brought whatever else they need (nothing else), watch them during the exam, and collect their answer papers at the end.

What if we were living through the second wave of the pandemic in mid-2021, and gathering in a room might not be safe?

Some people offered a solution: an online service that would enable the faculty to watch the students over the Internet as they wrote their exams at home. Exam papers would be provided to students as pictures; they would submit pictures of their answer papers. (They were provided a blank template beforehand; they printed the copies they needed.) Also, they would have cameras so we could monitor them during the exam, and speak with them if necessary.

How did it work in practice?

First, I asked students to show me their identity cards. Mostly the images were so blurred I could not discern the name or the photograph. We could ask students to have Internet connections from two providers, but what about the quality of the connection?

Next, I asked students to turn their cameras to show me the space around them. Some sat on chairs at tables, some sat on their beds or on the floor and used writing pads. One student spread her papers on the floor; yes, she had to bend low when writing. What a leveller the on-campus experience is.

Finally, students showed their answer papers so I could ensure they were blank. Ideally, students would use a laptop or desktop to see the question papers, and photograph their answer papers using a smartphone. If necessary, they could use the latter for both. Some students did. Is that how they accessed online classes for two semesters? If so, what did they learn using such small screens?

Students had to position their cameras so that I could see them as I would in an exam hall. One student had his desktop near a wall, so his camera showed him from the neck up and I could not see his table. After I asked him to adjust his camera, I saw him from the neck down, and the table.

And what if someone used a smartphone as the sole computer? After photographing their answer sheets, they might not always replace the phone “correctly” and I’d have to remind them.

Now and then, I asked students to show me their answer papers to check again that all was well. Again, the images were sometimes so blurred that I could not tell a blank sheet from one with writing. So for all I know, a student could have kept “reference” material that was not permitted.

But then, a bright spark at another institution had posted a video on YouTube explaining to students how to beat the system, in part considering the proctor is responsible for 15 students and cannot watch all of them at once. So I knew what to expect.

Finally, I reminded students regularly to submit their answers as they completed them, and not wait until the last five minutes. One student later explained that he lives in a rural area, and had trouble with the connection. What a leveller the on-campus experience is.

So what did I learn as a proctor?

As long as students believe the grade matters more than the learning, they will continue to cheat in exams.

Technology can be part of the solution, but not the complete solution. I understand that parents and students have expectations. Still, trying to approximate the “on-campus” experience under these circumstances may not always be best. Maybe we need to come up with new ideas for evaluating learning — and for that matter, helping students learn.

ramaswami.s@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 28, 2022 7:05:09 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-testing-experience/article38308443.ece