on January 17th, 2023

Getting the stuff of exams right in an online and offline environment is no simple task, especially if it’s a multi-mode exam. EIT staff and a student share their experience.

Sitting down to write your exams can be stressful for any student, whether they are secondary or tertiary level. But have you ever wondered about the people behind the scenes, such as lecturers, learning support officers, and even the Dean?

Because most universities downplay the administrative and operational side of examinations, especially online exams, we have shared our recent exam experience, which involves a hugely collaborative effort from our staff.

Read on to hear from key role players in the entire process, PLUS a student shares their experience of this exam period.

Dr. Indumathi V. Source: Supplied

Indumathi V: EIT Deputy Dean

How was this exam period different from previous years?

We had more students on campus taking face-to-face exams last two years. So that was a bit different. Planning physical infrastructure and additional on-ground support staff was required.

What goes into setting up exams in a multimodal setting such as this?

There is a lot and preparation and coordination for exam settings in a multi-mode delivery. Our publishing manager ensures that we have a selection of exam papers that are created, which then gets an initial quality check from our course coordinators and are also reviewed and approved by the unit coordinator for the exam. The unit coordinator and the publishing manager will decide on the version of the paper selection for each specific mode.

The course and unit coordinator check the exam papers for equivalency to ensure fairness, equity, and reliability, regardless of which mode we administer them in. The selected documents then get formatted for LMS upload. Once uploaded, we performed another review to ensure they are error-free (that may occur from converting them from paper-based to LMS format).

Is the interplay between tech/staff and students quite tricky?

Undertaking exams in any mode is stressful for staff, students, and the tech team when technology plays a critical role. We use IRIS invigilation for both the on-campus and online examinations. Ensuring we have the capability and infrastructure (physical and online) to support the increased demand for our cloud resources, having backup laptops with built-in webcams for our on-campus students, and having tech support on standby to assist with any technical glitches are just a tip of the iceberg.

There is a lot of timetabling and planning that occurs administratively to ensure the entire process is smooth and as stress-free as possible for both staff and students. With the COVID era, there is also additional planning and coordination for disinfecting desks and chairs after each use. We train staff to handle various situations that can go wrong. There are also post-assessment processes, such as secure data storage, organizing marking, feedback, and grade approvals by boards on time. Reviewing of proctoring and handling the administrative functions of any academic integrity issues.

Were there any hurdles encountered, and how were these resolved?

Yes, most definitely, there were hurdles. From troubleshooting simple login issues to having to blind mark an entire cohort paper to issuing a takedown notice to illegal uploads of question paper to “tutor help sites,” there was never a dull moment. But our team is prepared for most of these situations, and we trigger the required response.

Tell us about the importance of teamwork in making multimodal exams a success.

As you can see from the above, it takes a lot of effort and coordination across teams and departments to organize and run the exams. It’s not a one-person job; hence, a team and the team’s success are critical to making it work simply, let alone have it work smoothly. There are many moving parts, and the team’s role is utterly essential.

What lessons are learned, and how will these apply to future exams?

Planning and risk management are critical to a smooth process. We are constantly learning, growing, and refining our processes. Each cohort of students and the set of problems we encounter is different. So, we are continually tweaking and growing.

Jason Gabriel: EIT HE Learning Support Manager

Compared to previous years, how was this exam different?

We allowed online students a 12-hour window from 12 am UTC to 12 pm UTC on the allocated day of their exam. They were required to start and finish their exam within this timeframe. This allowed students to begin at any point during this window. It removed the pressures of setting up IRIS quickly and correctly if they started their allocated time slot late in the previous study periods.

On-campus were also much more punctual for this exam period ensuring they could utilize their maximum time provided. The other reason this was different is that students are more accustomed to setting up the IRIS software, which caused issues previously, however, this is attributed to the constant development of the IRIS software itself to become more user-friendly.

Students can also email their LSO with any issues they encounter, and we respond to them at the earliest opportunity. The entire team helped with everyone’s exams on that day. The Perth team also invigilates the on-campus Bachelor exams and takes turns sitting in the classroom with the students for setup, monitoring, and working out the collection at the end of the exam.

Jason Gabriel. Source: supplied
Danielle Techera. Source: Supplied

Danielle Techera: Academic Resources Manager

What goes into setting up exams online and offline?

The unit coordinators thoroughly reviewed exam papers at the start of the semester. This may involve making minor updates to questions. We use different papers for other modes. For example, if we provide the online students with exam paper A, the on-campus students use paper B. This reduces the opportunity for academic misconduct and minimizes any prior exposure to the exam questions.

Were there any hurdles encountered, and how were these resolved?

There were a couple of minor errors pointed out by students/lecturers after we had released the exam, such as a missing letter in a question. HE LSOs resolved this — some grades had to be amended afterward to give students a mark (if the error was our doing).

Allison Gray: HE Learning Support Officer

How was this exam period different from previous years?

A lot fewer issues from students for S2 2022. We usually are swamped on long calls for students trying to resolve their problems, but this time round, everything ran smoothly. It was also great having the South African and UK LSOs on board to assist when Perth and Melbourne’s LSOs finish for the day. This means students have the option to be administered pretty much immediately.

Alison Gray. Source: Supplied
Sisipho Pakamisa. Source: Supplied

Sisipho Pakamisa: Learning Support Officer

Were there any hurdles encountered, and how were these resolved?

The bit of a hurdle experienced was reading the students’ exam times. The exam opened at midnight UTC and closed at noon UTC. Students mistakenly thought the noon UTC was at night. In the future, we will add midday and midnight, so students are less likely to get confused with the times.

Tell us about the importance of teamwork in making exams a success.

Because the students are based all over the world with different time zones. The various offices coordinated themselves, so students were supported for the duration of the exam each day.

Nyasha Mupudzi (Student: BSc in Civil/Structural Engineering)

Tell us about your learning journey with EIT. How has it been?

I enrolled as an online student for my first semester in July 2020 (S2 2020). I started with four units and ended up with two in my first semester because I applied for RPL, and it was granted the second week into the semester, so I had to drop the other two units. I have loved my journey with EIT from the first day and have attended more than 97% of all my classes.

In January 2022, I decided to move on-campus because I wanted to experience all the action and meet the fantastic staff, and it never disappointed me. The first time I attended an event at the Bentley campus, I got to meet the Dean and the Deputy Dean along with the team; I was so excited. What fascinated me the most was that they knew I was coming.

My first tutorial on-campus class was Road Design with Dr. Melissa because she had taught me online and was pleased that I made it to Australia. The staff at EIT on campus are remarkable because they go the extra mile for the student to have the best experience. I remember going on the journey so far has been excellent.

Nyasha Mupudzi. Source: Supplied

How have you found the experience, and did you encounter any problems?

Through my journey with EIT, I have written online and on-campus exams. My first exam was online, I was okay. The first time I encountered a problem was when I mistakenly opened the wrong exam, and the IRIS software closed. Arjun, one of EIT's Learning Support Officers, was very quick to offer me a solution. The on-campus experience was much different from online because other students were in the exam room on campus.

Is there anything EIT could do better to improve the exam experience?

The exam environment created by EIT works well for me, besides the fact that IRIS is a heavy (energy-consuming) software, I wouldn’t trade any other exam setup for EIT's.

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