With the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, and closure of institutions of learning, a shift was witnessed from brick to click classroom, seminar to webinar, teacher-centered to student-centric pedagogy. This change in delivery of content and teaching-learning process necessitated the change in the assessment.
Assessment and evaluation form an important component of teaching-learning process to get an idea of efficacy of teaching and its impact on learning to groom students with an understanding of a subject. Responding to these changes and the pandemic circumstances, the apex academic body in the country, the UGC, came out with a series of guidelines for the conduct of examinations in colleges and universities. This was followed by a meeting held at the University of Kashmir inviting college administration from affiliating colleges on 4 June 2020 to deliberate upon different issues pertaining to examination and evaluation. Subsequently, guidelines were framed for the conduct of UG examinations called as ‘University of Kashmir Mode and Method of UG Examination Guidelines, 2020’.
These guidelines emphasized on credible, transparent and accountable alternative mode of examination with due focus on sanctity of examinations to be conducted by the concerned faculty under the supervision and continuous monitoring of their respective college principals. The broad parameters in these guidelines included written assignment/projects/case study, continuous assessment, MCQ, individual/group viva or any other mode as decided by the faculty in consultation with the principal. The detailed guidelines have been made available in public domain. One of the best features of these guidelines is that it gave teachers the complete authority, hence empowering them to assess and evaluate students as per their wisdom and choice which best suits their subject of study.
Following these guidelines, the present author was given the assignment of assessing and evaluating the students of two semesters by the principal. It was decided to divide the process of evaluation into four components viz. continuous assessment, open book/open choice paper, MCQ (online), and viva. Continuous assessment was done throughout the duration of online teaching. For open book/choice paper, students were given one weeks’ time to submit their responses. Open book paper was divided into two sections; Section A was having six questions and students had to answer any five, each question carried 2 marks. Section B consisted of five questions and student had to answer any three, each question carried five marks. While assigning open book paper, student were advised to consult any resource at their disposal, however, they were instructed not to reproduce the same verbatim. While evaluating the responses of the students, it was found that most of them really worked hard and explored different resources and put in their efforts to find answers to ticklish and well-constructed questions. There was a case or two where students directly copied from certain web pages which Professor Google searched for them. Even one studen, in response to a question, directly pasted a paragraph from a research paper. One of the questions, which combined the concepts of Biotechnology and Chemistry, was attempted by none of the students. After the submission of responses, only one student, because of inquisitiveness asked about the answer to that question. The evaluator’s expected response for each question is available and shall be shared with the examinees after the declaration of the final results.
MCQ was held in real time basis using Google forms, link was shared on respective Google classrooms and on WhatsApp Groups. For 20 questions, time of 30 minutes was allowed to students. The examinees responded well in time, though in some cases some extra time was given where students complained of very low internet speed or network issues. The score of MCQ was released to the students after response from every student was recorded. For viva, Google forms were again used sharing the link with students to record their response, though more promptly. For computing the overall score, all the four components were taken into account. A proper gradation was observed. The entire process was completed within two weeks and the award is ready to be uploaded and forwarded to the University through coordinator examination of the college.
This was the approach that was used for assessment and evaluation. It suited best to evaluate students and assess them on different parameters, and grading students according to their merit, and the efforts each had put in. This is in comparison to a situation, where in a particular subject same assignment was assigned to six hundred students. Out of these six hundred, nearly 300 students submitted same answers to this assignment, thus leaving no scope for grading. Better approach could have been to give different assignments in batches and use a combination of assignment/open book paper with MCQ or case study or viva rather than restricting to only one parameter or mode. But talking about the Degree Colleges, almost each college and faculty put in their best efforts to carry out this task of evaluation in the best possible way. It was a good learning experience for teachers and students to set up open book paper, online MCQ and conduct viva using WhatsApp.
The scheme adopted by University of Kashmir to hold examinations in alternative mode and empowering the teachers or trusting students for the same is more credible and reasonable rather than awarding on previous semester performance or giving mass promotions. It was observed that when University of Kashmir decided to conduct examinations and issued guidelines, there was a surge in the number of students joining or taking online classes as now it was clear that there is going to be no mass promotions, that students were expecting. This sent a clear message to all students that no academic subsidy will be be given, prompting students for self-learning, self-exploration and critical thinking, and thus making students accountable.
The present situation provided a chance to shift to online mode of teaching-learning and using alternative mode for assessment and evaluation. It is time that we have to adapt to the modern technology for teaching-learning or assessment-evaluation rather than criticizing it, as ICT is going to be an important tool for future education. We must also not forget that this was the first experience for all, both teachers and students, so in some cases if there are or were some shortcomings we must learn from them and try to make the process more efficient. In those subjects which are common to all students or where the number of opting students is huge, it is really a challenge for a teacher, and the process of assessment and evaluation may take time. But it is not impossible. Sharing experiences will be good as these will serve to better the process and make it more fool proof. The entire process is open for evaluation process audit.
(Dr. Shah Ubaid-ullah is Assistant Professor (Biotechnology) at Govt. Degree College, Baramulla. The write up is based on empirical evidence.)