Tel Tales

Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Category: Assessment

Making online exams work for you

Mike Wilson

When it comes to online exams there are a number of questions that cause headaches for support staff and academics. Where am I going to find the time to create all the questions? How do I make sense of all these settings in a Moodle Quiz? How can I keep an eye on so many students during the exam itself?

The simple answer to all these questions is normally to speak to the right people. The first port of call, if you’re interested in getting started with online assessment, it’s your friendly Faculty Online Course Developer (or the central eLearn team), who will be happy to advise or point you in the right direction.

Moodle is of course not the only tool for conducting online exams, but it is very good at handling large groups of students who are attempting many questions all at the same time. These questions generally have a right or wrong answer, most of which can be automatically marked. Essay questions can also be posed, but these will require manual grading. (Many students these days have difficulty in writing by hand  for three hours, so if your exam is heavily essay-based you might want to investigate a tool such as DigiExam, which  allows students to type their answers (contact the eLearn team for more information about DigiExam).

A tremendous amount of question-writing effort has already been made at UoP by staff across faculties. There are close to a million questions already in Moodle, most created directly by staff but with a significant percentage having been imported from existing Word documents, shared by colleagues in other departments or institutions, purchased from commercial suppliers or imported from older systems. You don’t always have to start from scratch, as many academics already have treasure troves of questions that can be adapted or imported.

Once you have the questions you wish to pose, your next step will be setting up the quiz that will be used to deliver the questions. This annotated pdf of typical Moodle exam settings walks you through the various quiz settings (many of which are set to the optimum setting by default). Your Faculty Online Course Developer will be able to help out here, and also assist with the important job of testing the quiz or exam.

By this point you’ll have a working, thoroughly tested Moodle quiz that you could use for a summative assessment. As a member of staff you’ll have gone through a process of familiarisation. It’s important that you allow your students the same familiarisation with the online exam process (what to expect on exam day, how the software works and so on), not to mention any administrative staff and moderators who will be involved. It’s advisable to schedule some mock exam sessions well in advance of your first exam so your students are fully prepared when it comes to the real thing. Although it’s by no means compulsory, Safe Exam Browser (SEB) can be leveraged here. SEB is a web browser, available on all student PCs, which locks students down to a single Moodle quiz and prevents them from accessing other web sites or resources. SEB will help you keep an eye on large groups of students and be certain they are concentrating on the task at hand. Take a look at this Safe Exam Browser FAQs if it’s something you might be interested in. DCQE also have a set of 30 Chromebooks which can be locked down into exam mode potentially turning any wifi enabled room into an exam room. More information along with the Chromebook booking form can be found here.

Hopefully this blog post has sparked your enthusiasm for giving online exams a go. The keys to success are (i) getting in touch with your faculty online course developer who can help you at various points along the way, and (ii) starting with non-critical familiarisation exercises which give room for finding the edges of online assessment. It’s fair to say that you will have to dedicate a bit of time to start with creating quiz questions, but the downstream benefits of online assessment can be significant.

Some useful resources

eAssessment at the University of Portsmouth

Quiz support materials for staff

Quiz questions examples and templates

DigiExam

Image credits: https://pixabay.com/p-1828268/?no_redirect