Computer-based examinations – Writing exams my marker can read

I found it very paradoxical that after a year of taking electronic notes and handing in neatly typed essays, I had to take handwritten exams. We’ve complained a bit, as students do, with no real hope that this anachronism would disappear anytime soon. Turns out, there is some hope – although it’s a bit down the line. According to the Guardian

Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, said that traditional examinations are likely to disappear within 10 to 15 years, to be replaced by computerised testing.

Really? That would be a huge relief for all of us, for a number of reasons. First, it would spare us the pain of having to write for three hours straight. Every time after 15 minutes may hand would be suffering from cramps, looking like some alien claw.

Second, it would mean that markers and students themselves can actually enjoy reading exam answers without having to decipher what it might say in between those two crossed-out paragraphs and the scribbles on the margin.

Third, and most importantly, it would improve exam answers because computers allow students to write them in a way that reflects the way they think – non-linear, in creative outbursts, at first incoherent, and always wanting to change it around.

A global thing

Interestingly enough, this seems to be some kind of global trend in the “examination industry’, if you want to call it that (it actually is an industry, by the way).

The moves are part of a global shift towards computerised assessments. The US is leading the way with multiple choice and computer marking, while South Korea is rapidly developing new e-assessment models. Denmark is piloting the use of the internet during some essay-based exams, seen as the equivalent of the move to allow calculators in maths exams.

Are there problems with this shift to computer-based examinations? Of course, as always there are. I will not mention again the skill requirements for operating a computer comfortably (not just operating it, but feeling at ease with it) and how they are far from equally distributed.

What I might find more disturbing is that computer-based exams are a temptation to introduce computer-based grading. I am a firm believer in the argument that when people have data available, they will want to analyze it – even if it’s just because they can. And then the question becomes whether we can program computers to grade something as complex as an essay. Most of the markers I’ve ever encountered wouldn’t be able to tell you how they do it…

2 responses to “Computer-based examinations – Writing exams my marker can read

  1. 10-15 years!? Yes, it’s nice that it will eventually happen, but honestly this is something that seems like a logical step to take… well, yesterday.

    Law schools in the US implement typed essay exams on laptops. This is not new. It’s been a policy at many Universities for many years now.

    One drawback to this policy is that students are required to own a laptop to take the tests. Yes, a potential ‘digital divide’ for students that may not be able to afford the high costs of a laptop.

    How about this for a solution? The cost of every paper booklet provided at exams can be redirected towards computer scholarships (while saving a couple trees). Okay, maybe not ‘the’ solution, but seriously why is academia consistently behind when it comes to implementing technologies?

  2. talk to jonathan s. about what REALLY pushed the US to jump into the space race,the USSR rea;lly had NO politcal force behind their spunik race program. The US was clueless because the Soviets and scientists were behind the iron curtain.

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