Digital learning pioneers develop ‘fair and robust’ online exam method

Researchers from the University of Exeter have created a new approach to online exams for students in the remote learning era

A new method of reinforcing “fair and robust” online exams has been developed by experts from the University of Exeter, a recent study reports. 

The pioneering approach allows examiners to set each individual student a unique dataset during their online assessments, with automatically produced realistic data along with answers to aid marking. 

It also allows pupils to access bespoke lab videos, smart worksheets, and unique data for coursework. 

Our method allows us to create assessments that are fair and robust at a scale that would be impossible if each dataset had to be created individually – Professor Nicholas Harmer, University of Exeter 

Researchers have said that the approach could lead the way for the most robust digital exams, which have seen rapid growth due to remote and online learning. 

The findings have been published in the Journal of Chemical Education. 

“We want to protect our students who take their exams ethically, especially online. This new technique gives students confidence that there is little incentive to collude, and so they will not be disadvantaged compared to those who might otherwise share answers,” said co-author Dr Alison Hill from the University of Exeter. 

The new technique was created by co-author Professor Nicholas Harmer, also from Exter. 

Professor Harmer is confident that the method can be utilised for thousands of individual exams with little extra work, even though trials were conducted with just 60 datasets. 

A programming script was written that models lab equipment to produce random realistic data to ensure disparity between sets. 

The script also creates answer sets and workings, so examiners can easily see where a student may have made an error. 

But the method isn’t limited to data-based exams – researchers say it could be used to create a vast range of unique assessments. 

“It can create images, or provide each student with different resources – for example in a history exam – from which they should reach unique conclusions,” Professor Harmer said. 

“This approach could be applied to any assessment where you want the student to go through a logical process of analysing information.” 

The open-access paper is entitled ‘Unique data sets and bespoke laboratory videos: Teaching and assessing of experimental methods and data analysis in a pandemic’. 

The laboratory videos were created by Bitpod, and the smart worksheet was developed in collaboration with Learning Science. 

You might also like: Online proctoring: a viable alternative for lockdown exams

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