Last week, three students made OU history by being the first to sit an examination via the Internet. Exams in odd places are not a new thing for the OU, as students have sat exams in nuclear submarines as well as many far off foreign locations, but this is the first time that the examination ‘paper’ has been delivered directly from Milton Keynes to the student just minutes before the exam was to begin. In this case, an envigilator had a secure password to retrieve the exam and ensured that the student did not consult other resources during the exam period. The students typed their answers into a word processor and used a simple drawing package to draw their diagrams. At the conclusion of the exam period the envigilator connected to another secure web page and uploaded the students completed exam paper to the central server. This kind of transfer meant that there was a central record of precisely how long each student had access to the exam paper and the time it was returned.
This type of exam has implications on several fronts:
- students having the exam come to them rather than requiring them to travel to an exam centre–some exams could be designed for students to sit from their own homes
- students being able to type their answers, which, in this era of advancing keyboard skills in the general population, means that students can type faster and more legibly than they can write
- automated and semi-automated grading–exams with sections that can be graded automatically (multiple choice, word matching, etc.) can be totaled as the exam papers are returned to the server; it is also possible to provide a script marker’s assistant which can report on keyword matches and aid the script marker in analyzing longer sections of prose.
These electronic examinations are a part of continuing developments over the past 3 years in the Maths and Computing Faculty, in collaboration with the Knowledge Media Institute, where Open University teaching has been expanded world-wide via the Internet, including large scale fully automated electronic assignment handling and return. More ambitious electronic examinations are planned for November with an emphasis on scaling to larger numbers and increased automation.
More information about the OU’s courses via the Internet can be found on the Internet Courses Home Page.