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Attention all students! eExams are now being rolled out at Monash University! Streamlined marking procedures, faster return of exams, and comfortable digital technology – all for your benefit! What a wonderful world we live in and a wonderful university Monash University is!  

 What was that? Yes, you did not hear wrong. Monash has just launched its first trial for computerised exams. With lectures now available electronically and torrented eBooks perpetuating the genocide of hardcopy textbooks, it was only a matter of time before online exams became a reality. Who still uses paper to take down lecture notes anyway?   

So, how will eExams work?   

 The university is proposing an online exam system where students attend an exam venue, which will be invigilated as usual. Students will then be required to complete their exams using a laptop provided by the university. For open book exams, a hardcopy version of notes is still required. Good old Moodle will be the interface used to accommodate the online exams. The first version of the platform was expected to be finalised by the end of March. We are told the platform will be very simple and easy to navigate. This all sounds very good and well, what with Moodle being our favourite webpage of all time because of its reliability.  

A student reference group has been set up so that the eExam interface can be tested by students before the system is finalised. The students will be able to give their feedback on the usability of the interface, which will then be modified until deemed ready. The first group of students to sit the eAssessments will be from a small number of units from the Faculty of Law, and Monash College at the end of Semester 1. 

Many institutions have already made the switch from pen and paper to digital screens. The International Baccalaureate (IB) has been using e-Assessments since 2015. Its program has received great acclaim and has been shortlisted for the 2018 International eAssessment Awards.  

The reign of the digital age, it seems, is tightening its grip. The benefits of computerised exams are undeniable though. Costs will be minimised with less printing. Turnaround will be much quicker in terms of the set up and marking of exams. The innovation of digital technology can be advantageous too. Videos can be incorporated into exam questions, as well as GIFs and interactive graphs, all of which could open up more comprehensive ways of testing content. This could provide many opportunities for the university to enrich its learning system.   

However, there are downsides. Understandably, many students shriek at the idea of mixing exams with technology, seeing it as nothing but a recipe for disaster. Computer crashes due to dropouts in connectivity, along with software malfunctions, are all possible nightmare scenarios. Especially with state of the art services such as eduroam, who knows how prevalent these possibilities may be.  

Solutions to combat these worries have been put forward, one of which suggests the use of backup hardcopy exams. But doesn’t that defeat the idea of saving paper, and the efficiency of the entire system?  

There are some concerns relating to students’ handwriting as well. On the flipside, marking essays will be a breeze without the challenge of deciphering appalling handwriting. However, handwriting is becoming more and more of a nostalgic idea of the past. While technology is supposedly making our lives “better”, it has been recognised that millennials are feeling increasingly more cut off from reality, with face-to-face interaction being heavily replaced by instant messaging. Increasing our screen time only increases our reliance on the online space. This can be detrimental to our wellbeing if not managed. 

As for hacking fears, Monash has provided information that the laptops customised for exams will be configured to disable features such as internet access and unauthorised software. For people who have no clue how firewalls work (like myself) this assurance goes a long way towards easing worries.  

 Ultimately though, the cons of online examinations are around equal to those of paper-based exams. Scholarly critics argue that the potential of losing work in a digital space is equal in the case of paper exams going missing. Cheating via communication is just as difficult, if not more so due to digital exam questions having the option to be randomised. Students are still coming to a specified venue and invigilation is still enforced. Now though our venerable invigilators will be required to be extra tech-savvy.  

 With all that said, eExams are due for their anticipated arrival. They may be tossed aside and be old news by next summer, but for now, perhaps we should forego the knee-jerk reaction that we experience when we hear ‘online exams’. Instead, we should embrace the exciting opportunities that e-Assessments are bringing with them.  

 

For more information on eExams, please contact Vijay Sunder (Academic Services Coordinator, Law) at vijay.sunder@monash.edu  

Tracey Vuu

The author Tracey Vuu

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