The year of online assessments

8 Jul 2021

The COVID-19 restrictions have been a catalyst for online education and online assessment. Where digitalisation was previously a strategic development goal, the pandemic suddenly forced everything online. Fortunately Maastricht University (UM) had already started using TestVision for digital exams in 2019, which meant that we could make a running start. It has taken a lot of effort and the learning curve has been steep, but at the end we get to discard the drawbacks and keep the benefits. When and how can we use online exams going forward?

The extras of digital

Moving a paper exam online is not simply a matter of putting the questions into a computer, but rather of translating it into a digital format. The Internet is a completely different medium, which offers more and different options than paper.

TestVision includes a range of closed question types that give you more flexibility than a simple multiple-choice question can offer. All of these are graded automatically, which saves a lot of time in logistics and calculations. Grading for open-ended questions is also a lot faster since there is no handwriting to decipher.

Randomisation is an especially powerful tool, which allows you to randomise the answer options but also the question order. If your item bank is large enough you can take this to the next level, and use the test matrix to have TestVision pull an individual set of questions for each student. This also means you do not have to create resits, since TestVision will not give a student the same question twice!

Since TestVision exams are online, it is easy to incorporate resources from the Internet. You can use embedded media and links, and even have the students use the Internet to find answers. This can make the exam much more authentic, since the questions will more closely resemble the way the students will be expected to apply their knowledge in their working careers.

Options to prevent cheating

As regards cheating, TestVision allows you to set a hard limit on the exam duration and you can disable backtracking so each question is shown only once. Both of these put significant pressure on the students, so these should be used with care to ensure that the added stress does not interfere with the students’ performance on the exam.

A better way to prevent cheating is to create an exam that is entirely open book, so looking for resources on the Internet is part of the exam. For those instances where supervision is absolutely necessary, proctoring can be used to monitor the students during the exam. Both topics warrant a more in-depth look, and are addressed in other articles in this newsletter.

Lessons learnt

A drawback we encountered is that online exams are heavily dependent on technology. Especially students’ home hardware and networks often cause problems, while the university has no control over the settings and cannot resolve any issues. It is essential that students can ask for help when things go wrong. To this end, UM has set up a Helpdesk for Online Exams that is open all day during the official exam weeks. A team of trained invigilators answers the calls and helps students to restart their exam. This has proven to be especially valuable during proctored exams, where the number of calls is ten times higher.

Online exams are easy to schedule since there is no need to book an exam hall, and they save a lot of time on the exam logistics. For the future, online exams may be a good way to alleviate the pressure on  MECC Maastricht, which was already overflowing before the pandemic hit.

In all of this, we like to extend a special compliment to the Exams Coordinators in the faculties. They worked tirelessly and way beyond what could be expected from them to move everything online, and all with no margin for error. Their competence and flexibility are the backbone of our smoothly running exams machine, and we should be proud of them!

Author: UM Library


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.


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