Over the past 25 or so years, the internet has had a big impact on how we do things, from online shopping to booking tickets to events, to outsourcing IT-related services, and telling us about the hottest new restaurant in our area and how to get there.
The internet has also enabled us to get services traditionally reserved for offline brick-and-mortar or phone services, like renting movies, booking a plane ticket, or getting an education. While online learning, or e-learning, has been around since the dawn of the internet in some shape or form, it has grown in popularity at a surprisingly slow pace. Up to fairly recently only a handful of institutions offered distance learning on-line, however, the social distancing measures enforced in the wake of COVID-19 has forced learning institutions to start offering classes online.
Two of the most prominent reasons why e-learning hasn’t been as prevalent as one would’ve hoped by now are the inability for teachers and lecturers to directly interact with learners, and also how to conduct secure, supervised examinations. The prevalence of high-speed internet has solved the first problem and live streaming of lectures and teacher/learner interactions has become the norm. As for examinations, arguably the most tricky to solve, recent advances in technology have not just allowed them to catch up to physical pen-and-paper exams, it’s surpassed it. In this article, we take a look at online examinations, what they are, how they work, why they’re better than pen-and-paper exams, as well as many other benefits of using online examinations.
WHAT IS AN ONLINE EXAMINATION
Online examinations are exactly what the name suggests — examinations that are conducted online via the web using purpose-designed, fully automated, online examination platforms. Similar to paper exams, online exams have time limits, however, where paper exams generally have an overall time limit, most online exams have per-question time limits to limit cheating, and provide auto-evaluations that allow for near-instant results. Compared to online examinations, traditional pen-and-paper exams have several drawbacks.
HOW DO ONLINE EXAMS WORK?
Pen-and-paper exams are pretty straight-forward; they get printed, distributed to ex-amination locations, handed out to candidates or learners, who then complete them within a set time-limit, the exams get collected, evaluated by hand, and results are posted.
Online examinations work a little differently:
1. First the testing environment is set up, the questions are uploaded and a learning management system (LMS) integrated.
2. Once the testing environment is ready, learner or candidate information is uploaded and they are sent links according to time slots set in the environment.
3. Test-takers access the links to log in and take the test, while AI-proctors monitor the exams. Online exams are usually recorded for security reasons and use during disputes.
4. When the candidate or learner has completed the exam, they submit it for evaluation. Since evaluation is automatic, results are near-instant. These can be emailed to the exam-taker.
5. Once all the candidates and learners have completed the exam, it can be analyzed to identify potential issues, which can then be addressed.
WHY PEN-AND-PAPER EXAMS AREN’T GREAT
Traditional pen-and-paper exams have several drawbacks compared to online examinations:
1. High cost of production & logistics – Paper exams need to be printed out and sent to examination locations, and sometimes back to evaluation centers) all of which take time and cost money.
2. Can’t reach all areas with ease – In addition to distribution costs, there is also a geographical limit to where paper exams can be distributed. It may be harder, and take more time, to send examination papers to far-flung, remote areas.
3. Security issues – Because paper exams are physical and often produced in high volumes, it’s easy for one or two to go missing, which could potentially lead to cheating. It is not uncommon for exams to ‘leak’ before the exam date.
4. High turnaround time – Once examinations have been completed they need to be physically evaluated. This can take a lot of time, especially with high-volume exams like university examinations. Since the exams need to be evaluated physically, there’s an extra human resources cost involved.
5. Managing invigilators – Cheating is almost as old as time itself. To curb this during pen-and-paper examinations, invigilators need to be appointed, managed, and paid.
WHY ONLINE EXAMINATIONS ARE GREAT
Online examinations have distinct advantages over pen-and-paper exams.
1. Extensive repository of questions & past exams
One of the big advantages that online examinations have over pen-and-paper ones is the storage of questions. Once a question has been entered into an exam it can be stored in a database and can be linked to certain skill levels or grades for future use. What’s more, past exams can also be stored as a reference for setting up new ones. This can be a massive time-saver for examiners.
2. Exams are marked automatically and instantly
As soon as a candidate or learner submits their exam, it is immediately marked and evaluated. This means the exam-taker can get their results almost instantly. A report can be generated to give the exam-taker specifics about the exam, what questions they answered correctly and which they didn’t. Keep in mind that not ALL questions can be auto-evaluated as some answers require interpretation by an examiner, however, with the constant advances in machine learning and AI, auto-evaluation of questions is bound to become a reality.
3. Easy scaling
A common issue for examiners of pen-and-paper exams is how many to print. What’s more, the cost of printing high-volume examination papers can be quite high. Since online examinations are computer-based, scaling is as simple as increasing or de-
creasing the number of exam-takers at any given point. There no printing cost and no paper use, or in the case of too many papers having been printed, paper waste.
4. Cheaper to set up and distribute
As mentioned before, one of the drawbacks of pen-and-paper exams is that papers need to be printed and physically distributed. This can take a lot of time and cost a lot of money, not to mention the potential security risk of papers getting ‘leaked’ along the way. Online exams negate virtually all of these issues. While there are costs involved in setting up the exams on online exam platforms, it is minimal compared to printing and physical distribution. Once set up, a simple email from the examiner de-livers the exam ‘paper’ to however many exam-takers they’d like.
5. Distribution to remote locations
Where pen-and-paper exams may face geographical barriers that can limit distribution, the only requirement for online examinations is a computer and an internet connection. That said, some locations are so remote that they do not have internet access, however, examination centers with access to computers and the internet are of-ten set up in these instances.
Online learning has been taking off due to both parts advances in technology, as well as a necessity due to COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, the use of online examination platforms has also spiked, but despite the pandemic, it’s easy to see why. Online ex-amination platforms provide secure, scalable, and highly flexible examination solutions that are easy to set up and manage, and that provide exam-takers with instant results and feedback.