Digital testing environment
We offer a digital testing environment, based on the open source product TAO Testing, which can be used for both summative and formative testing. The testing environment supports several types of questions, but there is no support for entering mathematical or chemical formulae in answers, although formulae can be used in questions. Entering computer source code is possible in a free text field, but not in a manner which resembles the computer program development environments people are used to nowadays. So, in general, questions which require free text or multiple choice answers are currently supported. Images can be used in questions and it is possible to let the student make and upload a drawing (using a basic tool available on the desktop such as Windows Paint) as (part of) their answer. This feature was used in a real life digital test and functioned properly, although it is not ideal. All in all this means that at the moment the environment can only be used for a limited set of our courses. Additional features must be implemented for the environment to become a general purpose digital testing facility for the Faculty of Science as a whole.
The environment consists of four parts, all of which are web-based.
- A “database” environment in which lecturers can create and manage their own collection of exam questions and answers.
- An “authoring” environment in which lecturers can create exams from questions from the database.
- A “testing” environment in which tests can be performed. The tests take place on the computer lab PCs managed by C&CZ in a so called Secure Exam Browser environment.
- A “grading” environment in which the answers that were handed in can be reviewed and graded.
At this moment the grading environment does not exist yet. Instead the results of the test are exported from the testing environment into a spreadsheet for the lecturer to review and grade the answers. For multiple choice type questions automatic grading is already supported. The other three parts of the environment do exist and are operational.
Advantages and disadvantages
As of November 2015, our digital testing environment was used successfully for about a dozen exams. The advantages of digital testing are big.
- Correcting/grading, especially for large numbers of participants, can be done much faster.
- Answers to open questions are typed in, solving the poor handwriting problem.
- Automatic grading of multiple-choice questions is possible.
- As the database of exam questions grows it becomes easier for lecturers to create tests.
- For most students typing and/or clicking is much easier than writing.
- For courses in Computing Science, especially computer programming, the possibility to type and modify code instead of writing code on paper is a major improvement.
- Functionality like what is offered by Versatest (digital microscopy) is only possible in a digital environment (but it has not yet been integrated in TAO Testing).
- We have integrated the course survey (Alice) at the end of the digital test which has led to a vast increase of the survey response percentage.
There are also disadvantages:
- Digital testing introduces new cheating risks. It may be difficult to eliminate all of them.
- Digital testing places a burden on the available PCs for students. This problem increases as the use of digital testing grows.
- It may be necessary to schedule digital tests in the evening due to the previous issue. Currently this is not possible because IT support cannot be guaranteed outside office hours.
- The PCs in the computer labs are not shielded from a major power outage. If this happens the exam can only be cancelled.
- The current solution can not be used for exam questions where the answer requires the use of mathematical or chemical formulae, reaction equations, diagrams, in general any substantial amount of free format “drawing” by the student.