For students especially, exams are very result-oriented. And, as an exam is an environment of measurement, that is only natural, but sometimes you need to focus on the process, not just the outcome. This is true in life – and in math exams as well.

In math exams, it is typically necessary for students to add their intermediate results and calculations as addendums to the exam, so assessors can track the progress in the students’ calculations. These calculations can be crucial to assessors when assigning grades, as the calculations tell them whether the student made a single continuous error that skewed all results, or if the student has made many different errors. In essence, it can pinpoint whether the student has understood 5% or 95% of the curriculum, which can make quite a difference when grading.

But for digital assessments, how do you include this part of a math exam digitally? Countless high-tech try-outs have been attempted, such as digital pens, smart math editors or highly sensitive track pads. All of these have one thing in common: they are all still inferior to pen and paper.

Our answer is quite simple – and not what you might expect: you just use the camera in your computer to take a picture of your handwritten calculations on a piece of paper. This might seem counterintuitive or even like a non-solution, but the reality is that it is simply the best solution available at this point in time.

An obvious objection against this sentiment is of course that we are providers of a digital exam and assessment platform, and that one of our priorities is to rid the exam and assessment process of paper. And, while this is true, our two much larger priorities are: supporting the academic content and exercises in exams and making the workflow and administrative processes more efficient. These are our two main goals and the choices we make regarding functionality reflect them at all times.

 

Digital is not ALWAYS Efficient

Regarding efficient processes, our solution is simply the solution that entails the fewest processes in correlation with the issue at hand: to append the progress of mathematical calculations to an exam. We considered a multitude of solutions to digitise this process, yet, we deemed none as adequate as our current model.

Some suggest using an electronic stylus to register the students handwriting digitally, but the problems with this approach are plenty. First of all, it goes against the idea of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). While computers are standard equipment of students, these styluses are not. So, who are to provide them? Second, students generally write a lot slower with styluses, meaning they will use their exam time less efficiently – an unwanted scenario for students.

Another suggested solution is to use a scanner for handwritten calculations, but that too is ridden with difficulties, as this approach involves applying a lot of unnecessary processes. First of all, to be able to match the calculations to the exam, the students must be supplied with calculating sheets with numbers or IDs matching their exam number/ID, greatly increasing the risk of mixing students up during the hand-out. This step becomes even more problematic when students need additional sheets for calculations, do not fill them out in the correct order or choose to leave out some of the sheets – how is the assessor supposed to know whether a missing sheet is intentional or a mistake?

And to actually digitise these sheets, exam administrators have to scan potentially hundreds of calculating sheets manually after the exam, which highly increases the risk of losing sheets. And in the end, this approach yields the same result as ours, only more time consuming and with more room for mistakes. The only difference in the result is that our solution can insert the picture of the calculations in both text and appendix, while the manual scan post-exam can only be added as appendix.

No matter how you approach these solutions, they just add unnecessary processes and technologies without actually adding to the support of the academic content. The fact of the matter is that it is still faster and easier to perform mathematical calculations by hand rather than digitally. It is neither necessary nor advantageous to the students’ exam experience or the exam administrators to digitise this part of the process – at least not until technology can improve rather than impede the process.

 

Digital Functions Should Support – Not Inconvenience

By and far, the strongest argument for still using paper in this specific part of exams is that it supports the learning situation most known to students. In maths, the majority of students still do their calculations on paper, so it makes sense to match this process in the exam situation. In the exam situation, the academic framework should support and be aligned with a student’s approach to learn. At least if the exam is supposed to be an indication of the student’s academic standpoint, and especially if there is no academic justification to alter the specific practice in exams.

Our solution might not be what you would expect from a company that makes its living digitising exam and assessment processes, but it is fully viable and – with a singular action rather than a chain of processes – results in a digital version of the students’ calculations being appended to their exams.

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