Examinations Amid COVID19 Lockdown

For a well-planned course of study in an academic programme, there is positive association between learning outcomes and assessment
Representational Image
Representational Image

When the traditional class room has been converted into Flipped or Digital classroom learning, when there is no eye to eye contact between a teacher and a learner, an important question arises; what should be the mode of examinations? Should we continue with the traditional examination pattern when traditional classrooms no longer exist? Delivery of the content, reaching to students has been virtual, then what about the examination system? Why teachers only set questions based on teaching? Equally, why learners are not provided opportunities to frame questions based on their learning to develop a skill set?

An examination is one of the crucial and challenging components of teaching-learning process. For a well-planned course of study in an academic programme, there is positive association between learning outcomes and assessment. While delivering content, a student is prepared for examination which helps to access, evaluate and achieve learning outcomes. Learning outcomes based curriculum framework (LOCF) based on the idea of outcomes based education (OBE) propounded by Willaim G Spady, an American Sociologist and adopted by UGC in 2018 also emphasizes on use of appropriate assessment methods to access and evaluate students' progress towards achieving specific learning outcomes. It talks about different assessment modes to be used like closed and open book examinations. Thus, providing space for projects, team project reports, case studies, viva-voce, term paper, etc. It is stressed that examination should be such that it inculcates creativity among students, evolves critical thinking and lifelong learning. To fulfill these objectives, timely feedback following examinations is an important tool to help students achieve learning objectives and be a driver for further improvement in teaching-learning process. To achieve all the above, definitely the examination system needs to be modified. So, here we deliberate upon and present our views on different aspects or changes to be adopted in present times amid COVID19 lockdown so that students are made stress free.

A Professor while presenting a seminar at Harvard School of Business, USA was asked by a 72 year old entrepreneur to define 'Management' in one word. He responded, 'FAIR'. In context with the present topic we elaborate; F for fun, A for accountability, I for innovation and R for rationality. Assessment-Examinations-Evaluation management should be fair comprising and including all the aforesaid attributes. Students should not feel bored of examinations but it should be a fun and thrill for them. There should stakeholder accountability at each and every step. Examinations ought to be made stimulating by way of innovations so that students are motivated to apply concepts and analytical skills rather than testing their memory. The entire process should be based on rationality.

The UGC, apex academic body, came up with set of guidelines on teaching, academic calendar, examinations and other issues for universities in view of COVID19 lockdown in the first week of May, 2020. These guidelines emphasize on adoption of alternate and simplified system of examinations which include MCQ, Open Book Examinations (OBE), Open Choices, assessment/presentation based assessments as well as promoting students based on their performance in previous semesters. But to us, it is the former which makes more sense and universities like Delhi University or Islamic university of Science and Technology have adopted and included open book and open choice examination as one of the modes while other universities are yet to decide the modus operandi. However, CUK deliberated upon these issues for academic orientation two years back. Different quarters have criticized DU and raised their concerns regarding the open book examination but if implemented, will surely make learning innovative. DU already issued the detailed guidelines for the conduct of open book examination on 18 May 2020. Question paper shall consist of six questions and a student has to answer any four questions in two hours. Three sets of question papers are to be prepared and uploaded after moderation. But the guidelines for evaluation of OBE are to be decided by the respective teaching departments. Here, we have two suggestions to make open choice more collaborative and innovative. The scope of open choice question paper is to be widened. First, students should be engaged in framing or constructing questions. It will start from a small class size of say 30 students. These students can be divided into four or five groups depending on the number of units of a particular course of study. The concerned faculty may ask each student to frame a question pertaining to a particular unit. Thus, covering the entire contents of syllabus and examiner will have an inventory of 30 different raw questions. Out of these 10 – 12 are chiseled and after moderations, 6 questions may be asked to the examinees with choice as per guidelines (depending upon the quantum of choice to be offered). The students will not only enjoy this exercise but will make this examination a fun and thrill. This process may start with continuous internal assessment. Different universities have internal-external weightage in 40:60, 30:70 or 50:50 mix. Second, there should be a set of evaluator expected responses (possible answer) for these questions so that evaluation is transparent. Open choice is comparatively a better option, in comparison to giving grades on previous semesters, as academic subsidy in no case makes a society strong and developed.

Another alternative which engages learners is 'term paper'. A term paper is bigger than an assignment and shorter than a project. It is submitted at the end of a course to track and evaluate students' knowledge. As it requires deep study/understanding about a particular topic, thus develops inquisitive capabilities and writing skill. A select topic is assigned to a student with pre-requisite dimensions over which it is to be spread like purpose, length, format, conclusions, recommendations and bibliography. This gives a chance to students to reach to those resources like books, papers or authors that may have remained unnoticed during classroom transaction. Term papers also generate interest of a student towards a particular discipline of study. A student starts framing his own opinions, broadens his vision and comes up with solutions to problems. It also promotes presenting arguments, counter-arguments and logical and rationale thinking. Thus, a term paper on a select topic with pre-requisite dimensions may be assigned to students and asked to submit within stipulated time at a centralized place or online. The collected term papers can be evaluated within the pre-defined set of rules or instructions.

To face the present crisis, universities should think of adopting different alternate options in order to make the learners stress free and make best use of the opportunities offered by this lockdown.

Dr. Nazir Ahmad Gilkar is a former commerce teacher and Dr. Shah Ubaid-ullah is Assistant Professor (Biotechnology) at Govt. Degree College, Baramulla. The views expressed are purely their own.

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