With an extended lockdown and social distancing firmly in place, universities and institutions have been grappling with the conundrum of whether to continue with examinations or suspend them? However, technology can be your enabler in these uncertain times. Proctoring and Platform solutions are the latest developments promising great potential in enriching the learning and teaching experience for students and educators alike.
International markets have already begun employing them for an uninterrupted experience. India, too, is greeting these technological advantages gingerly.
Mercer | Mettl hosted an informative virtual fireside chat, in association with Amazon Web Services (AWS), to help institutes and universities understand ways to leverage modern and scientific tools and fill the existing gaps in education. This dynamic discussion, between Prof. PD Jose, Chair Digital Initiatives, IIM Bangalore, and Siddhartha Gupta, CEO, Mercer | Mettl, was moderated by Durga Prasad Kakaraparthi, Solutions Architect Education and Government, Amazon Web Services.
The webinar exemplified Prof. Jose’s experience of leveraging proctoring technology to build a scalable, secure, and credible online examination solution for IIM Bangalore. Mr. Gupta simultaneously explored a broad spectrum of scenarios with valuable and perceptive answers that addressed the core concerns of the participants.
The webinar was well received by an expansive community of educators and decision-makers (Deans, VCs, HoDs, etc.) from over 300 universities across the nation.
Below are the excerpts from the knowledge sharing webinar:
SG: The extraordinary impact of the virus prompted policy-makers to call for an extensive shutdown of places of mass gatherings. Seeing this as a logical necessity, the order has also been enforced on schools and centers of higher education. Unfortunately, it has stranded 1.5 billion learners across 88 countries without any access to learning. As much as educators want to contribute to curtailing the spread of the outbreak, there are serious concerns about educational continuity. They’re all waiting for the curve to flatten while speculating on the appropriate time to bring in the next generation of learners into the classrooms. Several progressive setups like IIMB had begun investing in making learning available to their learners round the clock, through an online approach.
But post-COVID, I believe we will be able to bridge many challenges associated with online education and create an enabling environment for learning. From overcoming the digital divide to ensuring robust and sophisticated studios for quality training and content generation, post the pandemic and the recovery phase, the education ecosystem will transform by leveraging technology to solve many of these issues.
The proliferation of technological advancements will create a more dynamic experience for the education industry. Connection and cohabitation will alter the DNA of digital learning. By capitalizing on the digital habits of students, web-based, app-based and tv-based learning can be used to foster rewarding and inspiring virtual environments.
Concurrently, online exams will also create its own space among learners and examiners, with the advantages of being location-agnostic, secure, and reliable.
Prof J: 320 million Indian learners are currently out of school – 143 million in the primary sector, 133 in the secondary, and 34 million in the tertiary education sector. Additionally, the impact is visible, with a considerable disruption in academic schedules globally. More than regular classes, it is essentially the entrance exams that have had to be rescheduled with no clarity on the revised schedules. And lastly, career development plans for many are also on hold with the ongoing churn.
The question of ‘when will we return to business as usual,’ is overshadowed by ‘will there be business as usual post-COVID?’ Because this crisis isn’t the last of it. We are bound to face periodic disruptions for a year, even more. Hence, there is a dangerous ambiguity. I presume the adoption of online technologies can help educational institutions tide over the disruptions better in the future.
Prof J: IIMB had concluded its term and placement opportunities timely. However, the impact continues to be the same, irrespective of your association with an institute or a B-school. The pedagogy has been compromised universally. IIM took pride in learning methods like case discussions, group work, faculty-student interaction in the classroom, to name a few. But the lockdown has changed the whole gamut, forcing us to brace the digital society.
Additionally, we were amongst those few institutes that proposed canceling prominent programs to mitigate the risks. With the lockdown being extended, specific internships that are integral to both MBA and engineering programs are now in limbo. We aren’t sure whether to curtail or abandon them. This dilemma is the same across the education system.
Prof J: Both the learning model and pedagogy are changing. Implying business as usual post-COVID isn’t possible as there will be significant modifications. But, it is imperative to understand that while digital can substitute some parts of education, it certainly can’t replace all of it.
From a student’s perspective, you can digitize education and engage in distance learning models, but education isn’t restricted to learning concepts and taking exams. It encompasses a vital process of socialization that is enhanced in a brick-and-mortar situation. To comprehend the extent to which technology will enable the same experience and essence as face-to-face interactions is a challenge.
From an institution’s perspective, there are multiple challenges.
Infrastructure: With the digital divide and limited internet bandwidth in India, institutional infrastructure will take a while to adopt digital learning.
Competence: Teaching in the digital format will require significant re-designing of the curriculum and delivery. It entails a structured and speedy approach with a repository of solutions.
Change in Mindset: The concept of digital varies significantly for both the faculty and the students – both will have to partner to function collaboratively and symbiotically.
Ethical implications: Many of us use digital tools like zoom for connecting online, but they pose ethical implications concerning security and privacy. These also have to be mitigated before making a dramatic shift to the online space.
Thus, these are some components deterring our students and staff from digital orientation. We are focussed on finding concrete solutions to these bottlenecks and increasing our online competency.
Prof J: Primarily, the reality of the digital India story reflects a substantial digital divide. Remote layers still lack access to quality education and relevant tools. For example, an institute once asked the incoming class whether they would be willing to take digital courses. Out of 600 students, more than 100 expressed concerns about access to bandwidth connectivity in their locations. If we try and penetrate extensively, the disequilibrium will magnify.
Secondly, infrastructure and re-training require time and economic investment. Currently, there are financial issues, with the future in oblivion. So scaling opportunities have to be achieved at a minimal cost.
Thirdly, while the reach of the digital medium grows, it might curtail the richness of the content.
Lastly, not all subjects or concepts can be taught digitally. It is not plausible to teach science practicals or laboratory experiments online.
Along with the digital divide, there is also a generation gap. As old-school teachers, our restricted outlook tends to cripple the transition into this space. All of us do have a great deal to learn from our children (digital natives) who paint a realistic picture of what awaits us in cyberspace.
SG: First is the lack of surety that only a credible and deserving person is presented with the benchmark certificate to ensure integrity. This curtails the pace of digital adoption.
Secondly, the IT setups for a majority of institutes aren’t aligned to manage scale. Large universities with more students need considerable resources to help IT teams guide through the transition.
While a few prestigious setups are already ahead of the learning curve, the ability to go ‘online’ for most education entities is under process. Be it for enhancing learning offerings with highly immersive technology or ensuring accurate evaluations for integrity and certificate distribution – the ratification is gathering momentum.
Prof J: IIMB experimented with online education through IIMBX about five years ago. Initially, we faced several challenges as we weren’t familiar with adapting education and delivering in the new format. But our faculty were competent at embracing the change as our association with Mercer | Mettl guided us in reinventing examinations and assessments in the digital age. We were even enlightened about engagement and delivery to ensure continuity and interest for curious minds.
As a result, we now have 40 popular courses spread across three platforms. Over the years, IIMBX administered 16 Faculty Development Programs to faculties of various schools that are trained to create and teach using MOOCs in a blended format. IIMBX also hosts international conferences like the Future of Online Learning. It brings together leading technologists, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and educationists to deliberate over digital education models. By introducing a proctored environment, we were able to seamlessly host online exams for a variety of our groundbreaking digital courses remotely.
In retrospect, IIMBX is a validation of a trusted online learning and examination model, transforming educational experiences and learning strategies at scale.
SG: One of the most significant present-day concerns for reputed institutes is comprehending the seriousness of exams that guarantees a learning outcome and ensures brand legacy. Here, online assessments play a crucial role. And in this post-COVID digitally paced world, online evaluations will be expected to be quick, scalable, and authentic.
The Mercer | Mettl platform has conducted 150,000 scalable assessments in a day. Out of this, 70 percent are proctored remotely with either an AI-based algorithm or an AI-assisted human proctor. This means a professor will be assisted by our AI algorithm to invigilate his class’s credibility. Our state-of-the-art AI algorithm has been trained with more than 2.8 million proctored assessments to detect 18 digressions, meaning only the most deserving students are awarded the much-acclaimed certificate.
The tailoring of auto-grading is the second assured breakthrough with our tools. After understanding learning and measurable outcomes for the exam, we create blueprints with a grading logic for the test engine. We currently take about 26 different formats so that we can automate work, increase scale, effectiveness, and accuracy in measuring assessments.
Mercer | Mettl is hosted on the Amazon platform, which allows cloud-based rendering and access to these assessments from anywhere in the world using any device.
Several questions arose in the Q&A during the webinar; we’ve shared answers to the most relevant and interesting ones.
SG: Depending on the authenticity of the exam levels, we have tools that predict and prevent students from cheating in an online exam. Our custom settings enable you to decide the level of the exam’s authenticity. At a basic level like a quiz or subject test, we record the exam screen in real-time via a webcam while the AI measures students’ actions. If we take it a notch higher, say for a certification examination, the security environment will be different. We disable ports for external devices, restrict navigation control, block internet browsing, and the use of unauthorized software. If the AI proctor finds any suspicious activity, it will raise a flag that will reflect on the professor’s screen in real-time. Thus, the level of authenticity varies as per the nature of the exam. Mercer | Mettl has conducted proctoring services for over 100 clients across the industry, with over 95 percent cheating accuracy.
Prof J: We work very closely with Mercer | Mettl, and therefore I am in a position to endorse what’s being said. We’ve used Mercer | Mettl’s platform for several use cases, such as assessing our online programs and evaluating our academic admission process, among others. It has lent an excellent level of authenticity to the exams with a great deal of assurance to our faculty that the certificates and grades are well-deserved.
Prof J: It’s a brave new world, but one doesn’t have to abandon the old one. Digital offers advantages with flexibility in terms of quality and pace of learning. However, ‘digital’ does not yet allow socializing where you learn from peers and through cultural diversity. Let’s see how one encourages teamwork, achieves a more personal connection and participation in the digital world.
SG: We are introducing an Equation Editor to handle STEM courses like advanced math, chemistry questions, and freehand graphs in Long Answer Type Questions. Simple to Complex formulae writing, math equations, calculus, integration, differentiation, trigonometry, matrices, etc., all chemical notation and comparisons are possible on it.
SG: We are working with the Government of India, in close partnership with AWS, on delivering Digital Saksharta Mission Project. We work in extremely remote corners of 600 districts, where people take digital literacy certificates using old desktops, minimal bandwidth, and merely a webcam. Hence, connectivity and cost for students aren’t hefty.
Prof J: We were habituated to a more old-school classroom functioning. The faculty’s concerns were focussed on teaching and not towards investing time in technology. So our robust support system addressed the issues hindering their shift to online education. With platform demonstration and positive word-of-mouth references from fellow faculty members, there was a piqued interest and visible transition.
SG: A couple of ways we’ve seen faculty adopt the new learning models amicably and productively is when the platform is integrated within the institutes’ legacy LMS. The system is the same. Both the students and the faculty are accustomed to working on it, with no magnified change in the experience. The only visible requirement is getting used to swift typing as opposed to writing with a pen.
Prof J: The right tool won’t compromise the rigor of the assessment or the delivery of the product because academic integrity depends on them. It should also provide a high degree of authenticity and assurance to your work. Flexibility with evaluation and integration, cost-effectiveness, scale, safety, and security are additional criteria. Lastly, but most importantly, a great tool is one that requires minimal learning and training.
SG: Authenticity, the ability to scale, robust, secure, technical capabilities, and assessment technology are paramount.
Prof J- Post COVID, the world is expected to be different, and we need to adapt and adopt to build an edge. There will be a boom in technology, bringing in a magnitude of opportunities. How we adapt to it is up to us. Disruption can either be termed as a crisis or leveraged as a challenge to seek viable opportunities.
SG- Education is an essential service, and we need to address how to educate our next- generation. Today, a crisis is the best teacher, and we need to marry the entire ecosystem to ensure learning continuity. IIMBX, in this regard, has put across an exceptional template that showcases the capability of an open-source platform.
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Originally published April 16 2020, Updated August 6 2021
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Online examination, also known as virtual examination, is conducted remotely on a computer with high-speed internet. Like a classroom exam, it is time-bound and usually supervised through a webcam and proctor, making it cheating-free, secure and easily scalable.