Nearly Time for Timed Assessments

Friday 15th May is the first day of the summer examination period at Maynooth University. I’ve written posts at the start of every examination period I’ve been involved with over the 11 years or so I’ve been blogging but this is definitely the strangest.

Owing to the restrictions imposed by the Irish Government to deal with the Covid-19 emergency, exams in the Department of Theoretical Physics this year will be unsupervised timed assessments, similar to traditional exams but done by remotely by the students and then uploaded to our virtual learning environment, Moodle. I posted about this a few weeks ago here.

The duration of these examinations is the same as usual (2 hours in most cases) and the students should be able to use past examinations to prepare reasonably well for them. The questions, however, have been set in the knowledge that students will have access to notes and textbooks so there there is a lot less ‘bookwork’ in the papers and a greater emphasis on problem solving.

Students have extra time added to scan and upload their answers and have been given detailed instructions on the entire process. Staff across the University have worked very hard to develop this new method of assessment in the short time available and to give as much instruction as possible about the technology needed.

Our overriding concern is to be as fair as possible in giving students to demonstrate what they have learnt. There are contingency plans in case things go wrong and staff will be available for consultation during the assessments in case there are problems. The intention is to ensure as much as possible that no student is penalised for circumstances beyond their control. I honestly think that we have done everything that could have been expected of us in the circumstances to make this new system work.

Nevertheless I don’t mind admitting I’m still a bit apprehensive about the forthcoming tests. A famous General once said that “no plan of battle survives first contact with the enemy*” and some improvisation may be required. Our first examination in Theoretical Physics will not be until Saturday (16th) so at least we will find out what befell Departments in the first wave tomorrow before taking our turn.

At times like this I think the best advice for examiners and examinees alike comes from Douglas Adams.

*In this context the enemy is the technology rather than the students!

One Response to “Nearly Time for Timed Assessments”

  1. […] I mentioned in a recent post, Saturday saw the first of our new-fangled examinations online timed assessments in the Department […]

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