Implementing new methods and tools at an established institution is bound to encounter obstacles. For educational institutions and the implementation of electronic assessment, the largest barrier seems to be spatial and/or economical, according to a 2018 survey from HeLF (Heads of eLearning Forum).
44 % of the responses cite ‘room capacity’ as the largest perceived barrier when it comes to electronic management of assessment and digital exams, with respondents argumenting that ‘PC’s and PC rooms are inadequate in numbers’ and ‘infrastructure and space hinder a wider adoption’. Initially, this barrier does seem like a massive problem, as dedicated computer suites are a costly affair – especially if they are a single-purpose investment.
At the same time, this overwhelming response begs the question of why only 13 % of the respondents report that they are focusing on a BYOD strategy.
BYOD simply means Bring-Your-Own-Device, and in an educational setting it refers to students using their own devices rather than devices issued by the institution, such as desktop computers in labs.
Breaking the Barrier with BYOD
Approaching electronic management of assessment with a BYOD strategy in mind removes most – if not all – of the spatial and economic concerns about investing in new computer suites. Relying on the students’ own computers, the infrastructural demands are reduced to power outlets and Wi-Fi with proper bandwidth and stability. With BYOD, the room capacity necessary for exams is unchanged, as students sit exams in the same way and the same places as before, but with their own laptops rather than pen and paper.
Resistance to a BYOD strategy is often based on fears of compromising security. Many educational institutions are concerned that by letting students use their own laptops to conduct exams, they are effectively letting the reins go and students are free to use whatever resources, tools and cheats they want.
But BYOD does not equal the complete dereliction of academic integrity. Digital exams can be sat in a locked down exam environment, even on the students’ own computers. This is what Brunel University London has been doing with more and more of their exams and assessments since 2015.
By using WISEflow for their digital exams, they have security measures available that easily compete with that of institutional computers:
“The procedure is easy and secure. In advance of their exams, students install a lockdown browser on their laptops which, come exam time, prevents access to any other applications (although access to chosen websites can be allowed if required). The password-protected exam script is kept secure online and is only available during the exam.”
Students Not a Barrier to Digital Exams
Another point in the BYOD resistance is the students. Not the students themselves, mind you, but voices from the faculty expressing concern whether the student body actually have appropriate devices to sit exams on.
But students already use their devices for educational purposes and in connection with their educational institution’s existing software. According to the latest Jisc survey on Digital Experience among students, 93.5 % students in UK higher education reported that they used their laptop to support their learning at their educational institution.
At Brunel, they have found benefits for the student experience as well:
“Students are now entering HE with expectations set by the increasing use of technology in their secondary schooling. Some studies suggest that students type faster than they can write, and being able to edit and reorganise ideas in exam scripts comes naturally to a generation of students who otherwise are not required to hand-write pieces of work. The students can create simple drawings electronically or capture hand-drawn diagrams using the webcam of their device, while still ditching pen and paper for the written elements of the exam to cut down on hand cramp. And faster turnaround at the end of exams means students can head out from the hall more quickly.”
Best Practice BYOD for Higher Education
A digital assessment strategy that includes BYOD is bound to include some hurdles and barriers, but one of the key aspects of implementing new technology and methods of operation is sharing knowledge and best practices – especially for educational institutions. After all, it is part of their nature.
At Brunel University, they have taken that to heart in their digital exam project. They have shared their findings with visitors from other educational institutions in the UK at a workshop and they even hosted a conference under the name “Learning from Digital Examinations”. They have provided sound advice for other institutions on the same digital path, such as the importance of strong Wi-Fi, spare laptops and “ensuring that reasonable adjustments are made for students with additional needs”.
As an ongoing process, three years into implementation, it can be difficult to judge the results of a BYOD approach to digital exams as of yet, but so far Brunel University London has had very positive results with BYOD rather than dedicated computer suites for exams: “It is also clear that BYOD exams are more scalable, more flexible and less costly than solutions where desktop PCs are provided to all exam-takers.”