Learning from Digital Exams

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This week Craig went to Learning from Digital Examinations, an event hosted by Brunel University London. Here are is a brief summary of the event

Typed vs Handwritten examinations

One of the key themes for this event was hearing different university’s perspectives on the impact on moving from traditional hand written examinations to online, typed examinations. Dr. Liz Masterman and Jill Fresen (University of Oxford) offered a review of literature on the subject. Reported findings pointed to issues with:

  • Poor handwriting can have a negative impact on grades, but can also lead to increased ‘empathy’ with graders.
  • Typed answers typically look shorter than handwritten, and some studies have shown markers expect greater quality of answer from a typed response.


Geraldine Foley and  Athena Chatzigavriil (London School of Economics) added to this with some research into student perspectives of typed vs written examinations, highlighting mixed responses. Some students preferred typed examinations, as this allowed easier editing and spell checking for example. However negative responses include students fearing there was greater expectation on quality, and practical issues such as the noise of multiple keyboards being off putting (again this was raised throughout the day). In conclusion, this is still a poorly understood area, and some institutions are proposing given students the choice, which itself creates a number of practical issues moving forward.



What institutions are currently doing

Both Richard Walker (York) and Rebecca Gill (Newcastle) discussed their implementation of online examinations with Blackboard, and in reflection are in a similar situation as us here at Brighton. Blackboard has the features most academic areas need for examinations, although specific requirements (such as Chemistry and Maths notation) are not catered for as well as desired. However both institutions discussed issues moving forward with physical space for examinations, with Newcastle reporting a ‘plateau’ in online examination take up because of this.

BYOD examinations

To solve this issue of physical space, many institutions are looking at Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) as a solution. Most if not all the institutions that presented their findings have planned BYOD examinations trials this year. Brunel offered some detailed experience in this area, having piloted BYOD exams the last few years and are now implementing this on larger scale. Key findings/recommendations were:

  • Portable WiFi boosters were used in large halls to ensure reliable WiFi for student devices.
  • Students were contacted in advance with details of what was required from their devices, details on downloading the software needed to complete the exam (a lock down browser), useful advice (e.g. fully charge your device!)
  • Students who couldn’t provide their own device could apply in advance for a institution laptop.
  • Drop in sessions were offered so students could seek technical support prior to the exam, and complete a mock test.
  • Spare laptops were provided in case of student machine failures, as was a separate PC cluster room.
  • Power was provided for 30% of the total capacity. With exams over 2 hours, they saw huge increases in demand for power.
  • Along its invigilators, student technology ambassadors were trained to provide technical support.

More detail on this project at Brunel can be found here

This provides a really good starting point for any institution thinking of BYOD Examinations and certainly offers food for thought moving forward.


brunel poster


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