Tips for Managing Online Exams in the Blended Classroom

Exam management is a key skill for any educator, whether you teach in a school, university, or professional environment. While the COVID-19 pandemic threw decades of conventional practice in assessment out the window, and forced educators to accelerate their digital strategies, on the whole, the industry has made great strides in responding to a situation that was wholly unprecedented. However, virtual teaching is still a relatively new concept for most mainstream education providers, and as the world moves into a much more blended way of working, there are still some creases to iron out. 

Below we share some tips for managing online exams when you have a blended approach to learning.

Use Metadata to Organize your Exams

Assessment authoring environments can quickly become unwieldy in large scale settings with multiple authors building tests and content. And without proper organization, it can be quite difficult to find what you need buried amongst the work of your peers. Including metadata when authoring your tests and items enables you to organize and categorize your assessments in several useful ways, including by subject, test campaign, etc, making them much easier to search for. 

When aligning student exams to learning outcomes, educators can also use metadata to tie specific questions or questions meant to measure specific skills to learning and curriculum standards, like the Common Core in the United States. For example, in a US K12  assessment for third graders, metadata could be used to tie an open-response writing question that asks them to discuss their opinion and reasoning on a topic to the standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.1

The ability to leverage rich metadata in your assessments and content hinges on having robust, end-to-end online exam software in place to capture testing results data. The most sophisticated platforms enable you to use metadata to organize your data in a logical way that makes it easier to measure student performance against the curriculum and help inform teaching. For instance, testing data showing that a majority of students are scoring below average in a certain competency, as defined by metadata, can indicate where teaching adjustments need to be made. 

Define and Set up Scoring Workflows Upfront

When you’re building assessments, you want to keep in mind how they should be scored. Can your assessment questions be scored automatically or do they require human intervention? Are there multiple traits that need to be marked? Can students earn partial credit on an answer? Are cut scores involved? Different types of assessment questions will likely require different scoring mechanisms. 

For online exams that use simple question types like multiple choice or matching, setting up scoring workflows that mark your students’ work automatically can help streamline exam management in the blended classroom. Not only does this provide a better experience for students – who can find out how well they did on an assessment instantly – but it also cuts down on the amount of admin you have to carry out afterwards. Rather than individually scoring each assessment, you simply are able to see automatically generated results reflecting every student’s scores.  

When creating open-ended exam questions, make use of online manual scoring tools (often called human scoring) to simplify the grading process. A user-friendly tool like TAO Grader allows you to designate read-behind scoring workflows, to have a reviewer check your scores. This can be particularly useful when you are working with teaching assistants.

Additionally, using rubrics for open-ended exam questions allow students to have a clearer idea of what is expected of them before they submit their answers. Rubrics also help further simplify and shorten grading time for human scored exams by providing an unbiased set of criteria which defines the basis for what students should be scored on. 

Reducing Cheating Risks

Cheating in online examinations is a common problem that educators have had to wrestle with since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are strategies you can implement to help prevent it happening, the unfortunate fact remains; it is far easier to cheat on a digital test than an in-person one. However, there are some tools and strategies you can implement to reduce the risks of this happening.

Firstly, you can create assignments that prioritize thought and analysis over information retention. Therefore, even if a student is able to access materials that they shouldn’t be during a test, it is unlikely to help much. Secondly, you could  create a vast bank of questions, and have every student receive a slightly different test. Let’s say you were to create 80 questions for a 30 question test, with each student’s test generated at random. This would eliminate the effectiveness of students messaging one another to share answers during an exam.

Finally, perhaps the most powerful tool you can use to reduce the risk of cheating is remote proctoring software, which uses a variety of different functions to stamp out cheating. A camera is used to scan the student’s workspace throughout a remote online exam, and identify any suspicious activity. If such activity is flagged by the program, a report will be passed over to the teacher to investigate. The software also flags every time a student navigates away from the exam page on their computer, providing an effective deterrent to students who may be tempted to Google the answers on their device.

As we all become more accustomed to a blended way of learning, staying organized is critical. Finding user-friendly, intuitive online exam software that enables the solutions we mention in this post is the first step to streamlining exam management for your blended learning environment.

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