More unis opting for e-exams over written tests


Students studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) University Town (UTown). NUS piloted e-exams here in 2014 for about 10 per cent of its courses, and this grew to about 15 per cent in the latest academic year, which started last year.
Students studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) University Town (UTown). NUS piloted e-exams here in 2014 for about 10 per cent of its courses, and this grew to about 15 per cent in the latest academic year, which started last year.PHOTO: ST FILE

Online exams allow more ways of evaluation, boost efficiency and counter bad handwriting

When the handwriting during exams is so bad that students have to read out their answers to university administrators, change may be necessary.

Britain's Cambridge University is seriously considering using laptops to replace pen-and-paper exams because students are losing the ability to write by hand, reported the media there last month.

Students' reliance on devices during classes has resulted in illegible writing, in some instances.

It is a problem here as well.

Assistant Professor Ivy Lau, from the Singapore Management University's (SMU) School of Social Sciences, observed that some students' handwriting can be quite bad. "I just have to try and guess what they're writing. Deciphering their handwriting can be quite challenging," she said.

The number of online exams where students use their laptops have increased at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and SMU.

But it is not just about poor handwriting. The universities say it is being done in the hope of increasing efficiency and adopting more creative ways of assessment, which includes using audio or video segments, and interactive charts and graphics.

The students will have a "lock-down browser mode" to prevent cheating, which cuts access to the Internet.

A TEACHER'S VIEWPOINT

Online exams save paper and allow questions to be set with colour graphics or even videos.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR CHIN WEE SHONG, from NUS' chemistry department, who said e-exams have replaced all her assessment in the last three years.

BENEFIT FOR STUDENTS

We can get more content out in the given time frame.

MR LING KAI TSI, 24, an SMU business student who has taken four online exams in the last three years.

Universities in Britain and Australia are also moving to electronic exams, in efforts to improve efficiency in distribution of exam papers, marking and collating results.

These include Edinburgh University, Nottingham University and the University of Queensland.

NUS piloted e-exams here in 2014 for about 10 per cent of its courses, and this grew to about 15 per cent in the latest academic year, which started last year.

The courses offering e-exams are from 10 faculties and schools, including arts and social sciences, dentistry, engineering, law, medicine and science.

Greater role for online assessment

SMU said it had about 60 online final exams this year, up from 50 in previous years.

Professor Kam Chan Hin, deputy provost for education at the Nanyang Technological University, said it currently does not have plans for laptops to replace its written exams. "In a number of courses in Stem fields - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - formula and schematic drawings by hand are needed during the exam."

But he said that as more classes move towards online learning, continuous online assessment will play a greater role instead of traditional written exams.

At NUS, students bring their own laptops for the exams, which are mainly in the format of multiple-choice questions, true-or-false questions, essays and fill-in-the-blanks. The online platform "offers lecturers greater ease of marking and improves transparency in grading and reporting", said Professor Bernard Tan, NUS' vice-provost of undergraduate education and student life.

 

Lecturers also receive detailed student performance analytics and use the data to provide feedback.

Associate Professor Chin Wee Shong, from NUS' chemistry department, said e-exams have replaced all her assessment in the last three years for a course she runs on general and physical chemistry for engineers. About 320 students take this course.

"Online exams save paper and allow questions to be set with colour graphics or even videos," she said.

Mr Ling Kai Tsi, an SMU business student who has taken four online exams in the last three years, said it is also a lot more efficient.

"We can get more content out in the given timeframe," said the 24-year-old fourth-year student.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2017, with the headline 'More unis opting for e-exams over written tests'. Print Edition | Subscribe