Are online exams in higher education the right way forward?
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Are online exams in higher education the right way forward?

Are online exams in higher education the right way forward?

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

While not all universities are not facing this digital movement, Monash University in Australia is scheduled to shift 80 percent of all student exams online by next year. This move would save the university approximately AU$7 million (USD$4.7 million) per annum, according to ZDNet.

“Monash University research, education and business intelligence delivery leader Cliff Ashford said the savings estimate accounts for only marking exams with essay questions and does not factor in the cost of other exams, such as those with multiple choice questions,” said the report. 

Ashford added 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 is also means exams are exposed to human error. 

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

Incremental steps towards implementing online exams

Monash’s plan to go digital wasn’t done in a jiffy.

Since 2015, the university has been taking incremental steps towards introducing online exams. 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 said to be 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.”

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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