Friday, March 18, 2016

Tablet test troubles travel in threes

Hi all,

I'm just writing three quick thoughts as I proctor my DISCOVERe tablet course's (BIOL 102: Genetics) second exam.

1) When having students complete open-note exams using tablets (by annotation of a PDF version of the exam), a vast number of students bring and access written notes. Some students do access digital notes and materials (i.e. the web) as well, but I'm hearing a lot of paper-shuffling.

2) I had an extreme Google Classroom fail last night (the type of professor nightmares!) I uploaded the exam PDF to the Classroom assignment I use for distributing and collecting the exams. I used one drop-down menu in Classroom to choose the "Make a copy for each student" (i.e., Classroom will send each student his/her own copy of the attached PDF exam file). Then, I (swear I) clicked on the downward-pointing triangle next to the "Assign" button (to access the "Save as Draft" feature), but Classroom just flat-out assigned the exam. Maybe I was tired and not mousing accurately… so at about 9 pm the day before the exam, Classroom sent the exam! Yes, I willingly acknowledge that a computer didn't do anything I didn't physically instruct it to.

Of course, I immediately deleted the assignment. To Google's credit (and perhaps for your future use), I learned that the student copy Classroom sends each student only gets created when the student loads the assignment on their computer! Thus, I was able to determine that a single student (whose name I know because Google Classroom adds the student name to each filename) was, indeed, able to access the exam in that ten-second span when I accidentally assigned it and then deleted it. To her extreme credit, she had already e-mailed me immediately to let me know she had accessed the file, not having realized what it was (honesty is the best policy - always!)

3) Here's the potentially bigger concern for me, and if you have a suggestion, I'd love to hear it! My brainstorm has fizzled into a drizzle at this point. During each exam, I keep a tally of students physically in the classroom. Right now, almost half-way through the exam, I have 81 students present. My total enrollment is 86, and Google Classroom has generated 85 exam copies. Now, I'm partly concerned because although this is an "open-resource" (note, textbook, internet) exam, I'm partly OK with this apparent remote-testtaking. However, one thing disallowed (this semester) is student collaboration (i.e. no talking, no texting or chat sessions). Thus, I'd like to be sure that the four missing students who are apparently taking the exam aren't physically together and collaborating on the exam. Yes, that's the ultimate goal (for me) in tablet courses, but this semester we're not yet there. Fortunately, because I don't curve my grades, this doesn't negatively impact any of the other students in class, but I still want to have fair and equitable testing.

So, can you please help me? If you were me, what control could I put in place to know what students are missing from class on test day? In a class of 86, there's no way I would be able to easily determine just by looking at faces which five students were not present. Yes, I could use a sign-in sheet, but that's easily cheatable if an in-class student decides to add the names of a few classmates who happen not to be present. How do I find out who is absent (but digitally present)?

Thanks for your input as I keep refining this approach of in-class digital exams that leverage internet access!

Now, back to proctoring - to make sure that the students taking my purportedly cheat-proof exam aren't cheating…?


  1. I am not sure if this is possible for google classroom, but there might be a way to password protect the exam/PDF/file. On test day, you can provide the password in class so only the students that are present can successfully access the file.

  2. Since the exam is proctored on tablets then you still have the projection space available. To ensure the students turning in the exam are actually present it may not be a bad idea to project a code/phrase/whatever on the screen for the students to write on their exams.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Unknown and Anonymous! I'll consider these approaches, although they suffer from the same potential problem as an in-class sign-in sheet: if a physically absent student has a friend in class, the friend can send them any code/phrase/password electronically.


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