June 26, 2007, by Teaching at Nottingham

Negotiating reasonable adjustments for online exams

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Kate: “One of the things that I know you have been involved with is the development and introduction of online assessments, online exams. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do with the online exams?”

Simon Wilkinson, Medical Education Unit: “Yes, well, in the unit I’ve been developing the software behind the online exam platform. Initially it was moving from what we call OMR or Optical Marks Recognition papers where people would put a pencil mark on the sheet and it would get scanned.

“With very large cohort sizes in medical school this was becoming time consuming, so we’ve been moving over to computer-based assessments where the students sit at a computer and answer all the questions. Recently we’ve been trying to develop additional question types that go beyond what can be done on a paper.

“For example, image hotspots where you have to click on a particular aspect of an image and drag and drop, which again is an image format where you put up a large image and you are dragging individual labels over the image.”

Kate: “If a student felt that they wanted to take an exam that was scheduled to be an online assessment but would definitely prefer to take it on paper, maybe because of a disability, what would be the issues that you feel would need to be addressed?”

Simon: “I think I first thing, we would try and liaise with the student to find out exactly why they felt that they would be disadvantaged by taking the exam online. This could be  issues to do with the brightness of a monitor or the flicker to do with refresh rates, etc, or could be general anxiety about sitting in a large computer lab.

“Try to liaise personally with them to find out why they feel that they might be disadvantaged by the format of the exam. Where possible we would like to try and see if accommodation could be made firstly online, if we could adjust the nature of the online to make it suitable for them, with falling back to paper almost as a last resort – trying to be fair to everybody in the first instance.”

Kate: “What would be your concerns about just putting the exam on paper?”

Simon: “I think some of the question types like drag and drop labeling, like image hotspots, these can’t naturally be replicated, or not easily replicated on paper. So if that was in a scheduled online exam we’ve got the issue of, if you set a different question on paper, is that the same academic standard as the online exam that everyone else sees?

“It’s really this issue of comparability across the entire cohort.”

Simon Wilkinson 
Medical Education Unit

Extracts from interviews with staff and students about teaching inclusively. This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Thinking about Dyslexia collection. Produced June 2007.

Posted in ExamsOnline assessments