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Tales of the Unexpected: Issues in Digital Exams

Posted: Thursday 24th May 2018


Although our exams are conducted smoothly, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're without problems. It just means that we pre-empt them or respond to them really well. Our top 3 issues in digital exams are:

  1. Students needing to move to power because their laptop's battery is low
  2. Unprepared students: arriving 2 minutes before their exam begins/ arriving without the necessary software installed/ arriving without charging their laptop first/ not updating their laptops (delete as appropriate!)
  3. User knowledge, e.g. the student doesn't know the keyboard shortcut to undo their last input, doesn't know how to take a picture of their diagram, doesn't know that they need to switch on their laptop and start the exam, etc. 

We do have a strategy to address the first problem (stay tuned for more information on that), but it's particularly interesting to note that 2 of the top 3 issues are user driven, rather than inherent problems with technology. These issues are easily solved during the examinations, but they also tend to resolve themselves to a large extent once students have taken a digital exam for the first time. We do, of course, still get instances of intermittent connection loss or device failure, but these problems tend to be comparatively infrequent. 

Then we start to get into the stranger stuff. The ones that take you by surprise. Here are a few of the more interesting issues we've encountered during digital exams:

15/12/17 - Four students entered the password to begin their exam, only to receive an error message stating that this was the incorrect password. After some investigation, it was revealed that the students were entering the correct password, but attempting to access a clearly titled dummy exam in error. Students subsequently navigated to their real examination and were able to access the paper without issue.

15/05/18 – A student spotted a spider nearby on the venue’s floor, wanted it removed but specifically didn’t want it killed. Spider subsequently picked up and moved away from student.

16/05/18 – After submitting their exam paper, a first year student began watching a (muted) wrestling match on their laptop instead of waiting to be instructed to leave the venue as clearly outlined in the examinations policy. The student believed this would be ok because they “thought the exam was over”. Student subsequently instructed that this is not ok, made to shut down their laptop and wait like everyone else.

It just goes to show that sometimes the computers are actually the least of our worries, and the greater concerns lie with their users (or spiders!).

Strange bonus - one of our invigilators also found that the Wi-Fi boosters make excellent coat racks...