Skip to main content

Bring-Your-Own-Device exams recognised with major award

CATE 920x540

The days of painful exam-hand could soon be behind us after a scheme that allows students to use their own laptops to sit exams was recognised with a prestigious Advance HE Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE).

The Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) scheme, first launched at Brunel University London in 2015, began as pilot for a single sport science exam but has since successfully grown to see over 2700 students a year sitting tests on their own computer.  

“It is fantastic to receive a national award that recognises the dedication, teamwork and ‘can-do’ attitude of Brunel staff and students,” said Professor Mariann Rand-Weaver, Vice-Provost for Education at Brunel, who worked with a diverse team of 18 academics and professional staff to roll out the programme.

“What we have achieved is even more impressive given that the cross-institutional collaboration required to successfully deliver digital examinations has been additional to the team members’ various day jobs.”


The award-winning team (not all present in photo)

Simon Kent - Director of Learning and Teaching, Computer Science
Mariann Rand-Weaver - Vice-Provost (Education)
Alistair John - Lecturer (Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences)

Digital Education Team:
Claudia Cox - Digital Assessment Advisor 
Sulanie Peramunagama - Digital Assessment Advisor 
Alice La-Rooy - Head of Digital Education 

Maria Hunter – Examinations Manager

Information Services:
Simon Furber - Network Manager 
Sarah Gardner - Head of Customer Services 
Paul Kirk – PC Support 

Stuart Bonney – Senior Projects Officer 

Madhavi Thottempudi – SITS Project Officer
Jen Kendall – SITS Development Officer

Departmental Administrators:
Emma Batley - Senior Student Programmes Administrator (Computer Science)
Sara Brown - Student Programmes Manager (Computer Science)

PhD students and Student Associate Learning Technologists:
Babak Hosseininezhad Rahi
Nurul Md Saleh
Diana Suleimenova 

Initially launched as a proof of principle to 115 sports science students, Brunel’s BYOD scheme has since been expanded annually, first taking in the Department of Computer Science, then the wider College of Engineering, Design and Physical Sciences. This year the College of Health and Life Sciences contributed to a doubling of the number of digital exams, and numbers are expected to grow significantly in 2019/20 when the College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences roll out BYOD exams.

“We have had to be quite brave to be an early adopter of BYOD examinations,” said Dr Simon Kent, Director of Learning and Teaching in the Department of Computer Science. “It has only been possible to take this risk with the confidence that we have such a dedicated team.  We have also had great support from our students in their willingness to adopt new ways of doing things for such an important aspect of their education.”

Despite early concerns from a small number of students that factors such as typing speed could lead to some students struggling to perform as well with a computer as they would do with pen and paper, the team have reported no discernible negative effect on exam performance, with students tending to focus their post-exam feedback on the exam paper, for example it was too long or too difficult, rather than on the medium used for assessment. The team also report that there has been no obvious correlation between someone’s typing speed and the grade they achieve.

Prof Rand-Weaver said: “We’ve been able to show a demonstrable benefit to various stakeholders – students can type their exam answers using a familiar medium, academic staff no longer have to struggle to read handwritten answers, and professional staff have fewer administrative tasks. Nationally, it has captured the imagination of many universities that, like us, are seeking to use technology for the benefit of students and staff.”

Other universities are now hoping to emulate Brunel’s BYOD success, with 32 institutions attending workshops or conferences about the scheme, and 11 institutions visiting Brunel to observe the exams in action. At least nine other institutions are now trialling digital examinations.

“I would like digital examinations to be a catalyst for innovative assessment practices,” said Prof Rand-Weaver. “The use of technology should allow us to go beyond replicating pen-and-paper exams digitally – it should help us design authentic assessments that develop skills and attributes required for successful careers. With the worlds of pedagogy and technology colliding, we are at the beginning of an exciting time!”

The annual Collaborative Awards for Teaching Excellence (CATE), which Brunel last won in 2016, showcase the outstanding impact of individuals and teams who teach or support learning in UK higher education, recognising their success and providing a platform to share the learning from their practice. This year, 15 teams and 54 individuals were recognised for their work.

Winners will receive their awards at a special ceremony on 16 October in Manchester.

Reported by:

Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268965