Why Online Exams Is The Best Way Forward?
The significance and usage of the term ‘Technical’ in ‘National Institute of Technology’ is the need of the hour.
Ensuring the security and sanctity of online examinations is necessary before thinking to conduct online exams. Being an institute of national repute, devising a faulty plan of action for the conduction of exams will be a matter of laughing stock but at the same time, not having any exams will soon attract national media’s attention. NIT Rourkela was among the first in India to come up with the online semester. The administration and the students felt very proud and blessed, thinking that their studies won't be hampered in any case. However, now as many institutes are in the process of conducting online exams, it doesn't bode well for the NIT Rourkela administration to be utterly confused regarding online exams. If a technical Institute which aims to find technical solutions to “real-world” problems can’t solve its own problem through effective use of technology, then do we have our priorities right?
Having mentioned this, Team Monday Morning has come up with a solution based article along with a glimpse of what our contemporaries are doing in this scenario.
Why are online exams the need of the hour?
Blank Grade Cards
Grade cards are not only a method of assessing progress but also considered as a judging criterion by companies offering internships and placements. So it becomes imperative that the students are notified about their grades in advance so they can make informed decisions about their future prospects accordingly. But with no respite on that front and the exams being delayed for long, both the Autumn semester and the Spring semester SGPA of the academic session 2020-21 have not yet been released thus making online exams the elephant in the room that sadly we have seemed to shy away from.
Adequate time to prepare for Placements and Internships
After getting tossed in the semester subjects, students get almost three months either to do a summer internship or to prepare for the placement/ internship season seeing a myriad of companies coming to NIT Rourkela but this time, the administration is on the fence. This time students are doubtful if they can give enough time to prepare for the internships and placements. Being unclear about the conduct of the exams and coming back to the campus, NITR Junta is left in the doldrums.
Uncertainty surrounding the reopening of the college
When will the institute reopen? April? May? June? July? Is corona again on the surge? What to do next if the students are not back on campus as per the tentative schedule? Will the academic year be extended? If yes, what will be the effect on future career prospects? What should be preferred, health or academics? Considering the outbreak in neighbouring institutes, is it safe to open the institution for all the students? Shall these question marks keep on coming? Is the topic so uncertain that this paragraph can have no full stops? The only possible end to these unending questions is: Online Exams!
Advantages of conducting online exams seeing the current plight
Problems associated with online exams and their remedies
Onboarding onto New Technology
This will cause a little havoc for sure and any change would require investment in onboarding on behalf of the institute. However, this is a thing to be noted. Fresh batch students as well as conventional batches never used MS Teams before. Online subjective assessments were never done before. This was as burdensome for faculties as for students. Here’s the good point, they are adjusted to this now and if the online mode is implemented, this havoc will pass.
The best approach to familiarise the users would be to design training for both students and teachers during the transition from traditional examinations to using the online system. The awareness of the various features of the system would make it more likely that they actually use it instead of sticking to the status quo in terms of how exams are administered traditionally. VNIT Nagpur for instance made it compulsory for the students to appear for an online mock-examination, wherein they would have to follow the same modalities as they would in the actual exam.
Note: If a technical institute claims that it is not ‘tech-savvy’ enough to use technology then maybe we are systemically heading in the wrong direction of development.
Some problems lie beyond our control and these obstacles can haunt anyone. This problem puts a halt to online evaluation ultimately. It can be reduced to a great extent if the students residing in suburban and village areas where power outage and network problems are frequently happening can be called to the institute to appear for the exams. No one can deny that these failures won’t happen in urban areas but with a proper video shoot depicting the problem clearly, buffer time can be considered accordingly. If it happened last year, many could have complained about the low bandwidth of the internet as everyone was on the internet all day. However, this is not the scene as life is restoring to normalcy in many areas.
NIT Bhopal will be conducting examinations in the online mode, which would require only smartphones with minimum network connectivity. The examinations will consist of written and oral components and the remaining evaluation will be done by considering a few tests and some weightage to the previous semester SGPA.
Note: The technology that a premier technical institute develops/ uses should anyway be accessible in terms of having low bandwidth requirements. However, even if that is not possible, students facing such problems can anyways go back to campus for the exams or in the worst case, give a special examination later.
Monitoring during exams
To ensure that the students complete the exams honestly, online invigilation has been a matter of concern. This has been addressed with the use of various proctoring software like Code Tantra, Wheebox, Eklavvya which confirms students' identity and monitors the examinee through a webcam. This software offers live online and recorded proctoring as well as advanced proctoring tools which can monitor eye movements, physical behaviour and home environment.
IIT Bombay used the software Code Tantra for remote proctoring. On CodeTantra, proctors can admit students only after verification of their environment before the exam which can be done by asking for a 360-degree view by rotating the laptop. Students are assigned to proctors at random. Proctors can see the screen and video+audio feed of all students.
IIT Bhubaneswar conducted online exams for the final year students wherein they were asked to use two devices. A smartphone/ laptop with a webcam to log in, write the exam and upload the answer (on Wheebox), and another smartphone to connect to the invigilator in a virtual examination environment (on Google meets).
Note: Even if such a technical institute doesn’t have the capacity (ironically) to build such software, students have literally paid almost full fees even in the online semester. There is no reason for us to believe that the institute can’t buy such proctoring services if it wishes to do so.
Lack of capacity for proper encryption of exam question
Despite the fact that the software companies assure proper encryption, still sometimes due to unavoidable situations, the exam system lacks the capacity. Various technical glitches in the software make the students anxious about the scan copy of the answer sheet getting uploaded.
Solving this problem, many institutes would be conducting Open Book Examination giving students a full day for submitting the answers. The institutes (as many just say that they are accessible and always for the students) also allowed the students to submit the scanned answers sheets through WhatsApp showing their cooperation to the students in a true sense.
IIT Indore decided to conduct End Semester Examination in Open Book Format. The paper would consist of 4-6 questions and the duration of the examination will be 4 to 24 hours, including sending question papers through email and WhatsApp and uploading or email or WhatsApp the scan copy answer sheets to the professors.
NIT Jamshedpur also decided to conduct Open Book in online mode and this was optional. The students who wouldn’t appear or fails will be awarded marks with respect to the CGPA of the last semester (CGPA of the last semester * 40 )/10.
Note: Even if Open Book Examinations are not possible, it is expected of a technical institute of such repute to mitigate “technical glitches”, i.e, this is not a harm that has no solution.
Unfair practices and transparency in exams
The remote proctoring software also has powerful anti-cheating functions such as desktop control, capturing students’ keystrokes, and tracking their searches. They can log all events on the laptop and also provide a screen activity feed to the proctors.
In Eklavvya for example, if a candidate tries to surf on other sites during the exams, then the system generates alerts to prohibit the misuse, three warnings are given and the exam is terminated on any further detection of unfair practice. The Wheebox Browser similarly ensures that candidates are locked to the exam browser and can not share screen or desktop with others using any screen share services and prohibits any screen projection.
VNIT Nagpur sought out a different approach to the problem. They decide to rather make the question paper more challenging in terms of the number of questions and difficulty level. Shuffling of MCQ questions and options were used to prevent any cheating. Further, multiple question sets were prepared and assigned to students in random groups.
Note: If the biggest problem for the institute is that the institute doesn’t trust its students enough, probably hiring more invigilators (a typical online media allowing pinning attendees to monitor), using advanced software and seeing patterns in such answer sheets will mitigate the harm.
2020 completed. Online semesters on the verge of completion.
Now, what’s more inside Pandora’s Box? However, one of the questions asked above, ‘What should be preferred, health or academics?’ The correct answer to this is, ‘Do students have any choice?’
They need both as they go hand-in-hand. However, there is definitely an option of online exams which simply can not be ignored because the institute doesn’t want to invest money time and money into it. Probably it’ll take a lot of time and energy for the administration to formulate such a plan effectively. But the question simply is this: How long can we wait? When all other alternatives are based on uncertain assumptions, probably believing in your forte, i.e. technology is the safest way forward.
All in all, the advantages of online exams certainly outweigh the limitations. Instead of mentally pressurizing an average 20-year-old student with pending semester exams and uncertain career prospects, the administration along with the students should come forward and promote the idea of a fair and just online evaluation.
It is time we as NIT Rourkela set an example for all the contemporary institutions.