In view of the University Grants Commission’s guidelines asking universities across the country to conduct the final year examination by end-September to protect the academic future of students, it may be iterated that online examinations are the only answer.
The pandemic has forced people across the world to stay indoors causing postponement of examinations. Examinations in educational institutions of many countries including in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa have been suspended till the situation improves. But in the UK, medical students took their examinations online in an open book format. Advanced Placement (AP) examinations in the US were notified to be administered online in free response format, with resources provided to the students. In Germany, examinations are to be held under strict hygiene regulations. The universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham decided to replace the summer term examinations with an online system.
In India, examinations were postponed for an indefinite period. Discussions are underway with controversies galore in a few states, including West Bengal. The UGC says that examinations are a must if degrees are to be awarded whereas Vice-chancellors of some universities are finding it difficult to hold examinations under the circumstances. In view of the ambiguity and uncertainty faced by thousands of students, it is imperative that the standoff should come to an end. Online examination is an easy answer to the present crisis.
In fact, it is time to go in for technology that helps. A report published in ZDNet in 2019 suggests how Monash University could cut down a huge portion of the examination cost by conducting 80 per cent of its examinations online. Incidentally, with the outbreak of Covid19, the report is more relevant for universities previously averse to adopting an online examination system.
Lack of awareness is one of the biggest impediments in experimenting with online examination management systems. Online examination management system software can hold low and high stakes examinations comfortably. However, it is imperative that if examinations are to be taken online, fair access for all students should first be ensured. Provision should be made that students in rural areas or without internet connection are also able to take the test. It must be ensured that test security is maintained. Also, it is to be ensured that students from different socio-economic backgrounds prepare for the new format examination in an equitable and fair way, given the disruptions of classroom learning.
There is apprehension that students could resort to using unfair means in an online test. They may find impersonators to take the examination on their behalf. It is also a matter of concern that a student may have someone helping from behind the webcam with an answer. They may also use smartphones to cheat on their online test. They may even log in to a different web browser to seek answers and thus malign the integrity of the examination. There may be other methods of malpractice, like connecting external storage devices, screen sharing and switching answers effortlessly.
But there have been great advancements in the online examination system. The first layer of anti-cheating measures may ask students to click their pictures, give identity proof and furnish registration details so that the proctors might be able to verify the candidate’s credentials. Auto proctoring and live proctoring can also be used as antidotes to online cheating. Artificial Intelligence (AI) based proctoring may monitor the student’s live webcam feed to check whether there is some helper in the background. The proctor may converse with the student through a chat window regarding any clarification required.
Thus, online examinations may be envisaged to deliver faster results while fully maintaining transparency. Online examination platforms can even be easy to use. The examination may support multiple languages and question types like MCQs, short and long questions. Unlike conventional examinations, online examinations can be held without the logistical challenges that physically conducting an examination at different centres entails. Methods like online authentication, secure browser and online proctoring may do away with the possibility of malpractices. Application of AI may change the way examinations are being graded. The automated grading may discard the need for assigning teachers. So faster results may be duly customized by the university authorities to be shared with students, especially at this critically challenging time for the world of education.
It is known that part of the resistance to online evaluation is due to difficulty in breaking conventional habits. Both teachers and students are accustomed to paper-based tests and feel that they might not be well equipped to move on to online examination. They might feel that their own competency is not the only concern. The need for last minute software updates, delays due to overloaded systems and unreliable internet efficiency have made online assessment less acceptable.
Online examinations will not just mean a change in platform for assessment but also cause a series of changes in assessment styles. Students who have been used to answering essay type questions and short questions will suddenly feel restricted to mostly MCQs. The experience will give them the enthusiasm to usher in a world which needs them to be novel in attitude and approach. During this pandemic situation, it would be a huge task for university authorities to manage and organise conventional examinations successfully. Their duties might include accommodating thousands of students, looking for large numbers of invigilators to proctor them and assessing papers for months to get the results out. Revaluation is another task which is often a big concern.
Online examination would allow authorities to conduct examinations through the internet or a company-wide internet for remote candidates. This would include processing modules for evaluators to finalise results as soon as the candidates finish the test. Unlike the previous pen and paper examination, it is possible to conduct open book examinations on an online examination system. Many companies have resorted to online examination software as their preferred medium of choice for assessing professional capabilities.
Online examinations will help tide over the challenge of setting up physical test centres and speed up the process of evaluation which is the need of the hour. The ability to conduct examinations requiring nothing more than an internet connection means that examination may be accessible to all students and from any location they are presently at. Online examination is the only answer to get over the present crisis in the domain of education. Incorporating and directly descended.
The writer is a former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, and is presently with Rabindra Bharati University.