The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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80% of university students prefer open book and online examinations – KSU report

Wednesday, 27 October 2021, 12:10 Last update: about 4 years ago

80% of respondents to a survey by the University of Malta’s Student Council (KSU) said that they prefer open book and online exams to traditional ones.

The survey formed part of the KSU’s Post Covid-19 Academic Strategy, which looks at the educational methods brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report reads that in light of the Covid-19 Pandemic, traditional ideas and methods of teaching and learning had to be digitalised and converted into a new, online reality. “The impact of such a quick and unexpected transition was felt by both students and academics alike. Though statistics seem to point towards stability in terms of assessment performance, one must also acknowledge the importance of student wellbeing in such uncertain times,” the KSU said.

The report, which was drafted before the start of this academic year, reads that despite the perils and difficulties that came with online learning, be it academically or psychologically, “students have become accustomed to an online model of learning and assessment. Thus, a transition back to physical learning might pose even more uncertainty and ambiguity which KSU believes needs to be addressed.”

The Post Covid-19 Academic Strategy is based on three pillars: Benefits stemming from online learning; an academic way forward; and student feedback.

KSU said that through the contributions of both University students, Faculties and academics, it hopes to present viable and beneficial recommendations and solutions to ensure a smooth transition back to normalcy in a way that acknowledges the need for a cautious and mindful transition.

On the first pillar, regarding the benefits that came about from online learning, the document mentions recorded lectures, describing them as one of the simpler, yet more effective benefits. “Though this was not followed through by all lecturers, in cases where lectures uploaded, they served of great benefit in terms of revision and consolidation, especially in the absence of certain tutorials.”

It said that while acknowledging the logistical difference between recording an online lecture and a physical one, a software used would allow lecturers to simply record on their laptops. Those recordings could then be uploaded to university’s virtual learning platform. “Ideally, this would be implemented as a recommended practice for academics.”

The KSU also mentioned open book exams.

“The shift to online exams was potentially the most radical change caused as a result of the pandemic. Given that traditional methods of examinations focused primarily on memory work and essay-based questions, online examinations posed a new task to students.”

Examiners had to change the structure of exams, given the accessibility of notes and materials. “Essay-based questions were kept to a minimum, and case-study questions were introduced. Case-studies offered an opportunity for students to think critically, and to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios.”

The KSU said that keeping open-book exams might encourage a new culture of education, one which fosters critical thinking and practicality, “as opposed to regurgitation of lecture materials.”

“This may adapt into a physical-learning reality both on campus and within students’ homes. However, on-campus online exams come with potential logistical issues.”

“One might not necessarily exclude the idea of take-home exams,” given that a number of the logistical issues would not need to be considered. “However, it would be recommended that there is a level of consistency in invigilation and enforcement of University Assessment Regulations vis-à-vis proctored tests and assessments. On this note, despite the benefits and convenience of online exams, this sparks a debate on the disciplinary implications open-book/online exams potentially have.”

The KSU said that should open-book exams be retained, it is integral to establish a clear modus operandi for students to follow during their respective examinations, among other things.

In terms of hybrid learning, the KSU said that, firstly, “one must consider the larger numbers in certain courses, such as Law, Commerce, Engineering and Medicine. Should cases persist, it would be prudent to ensure that university is equipped to offer hybrid systems of teaching, with an organised and efficient switching method between online to physical learning on a weekly basis.” It said that the university should ensure all lecture halls used by courses adopting a hybrid system be adequately equipped for high-quality streaming of lectures.

It also mentions the possibility of hybridising a number of part-time, Master’s courses. “This would greatly facilitate part-time studies for a majority of students who are in full-time employment whilst reading for a Master's Degree.”

The document also deals with oral examinations. “The approach KSU would like to propose is that the concept oral examinations start to become more normalised throughout different faculties deemed to be beneficial. This would serve as an opportunity for students to further express their views and work in situations where a verbal form of examination might be of more fruition than a written form.”

As for the second pillar, ‘An Academic Way Forward’, the document highlighted the positions of different faculties on the aforementioned topics, and the problems they face with some of the ideas.

As an example, the Faculty of Law pointed out that attendance was already an issue pre-Covid-19 and they fear that implementing a system where lectures are recorded and posted might encourage students not to attend their lectures given that they have an option to follow it from home once posted.

“With regards to open book exams, the Faculty of Laws is entirely in favour of implementing paperless, online examinations even post-Covid-19.”

As for the 3rd pillar, ‘Student feedback’, the KSU conducted a survey among 500 students from different Faculties.

The vast majority of respondents found uploaded lectures beneficial, especially when it came to consolidating certain topics during post-lecture revision and whilst studying for exams.

The vast majority (80% of respondents) said they prefer open-book/online examinations to traditional examinations.

With regard to whether they agree with the introduction of oral examinations, 63% of respondents answered no, whilst 37% of respondents answered yes.

Students who form part of large courses (consisting of over 100 students) were asked whether, if Covid cases remain, they would be comfortable returning to fully-functional lectures or if they prefer a hybrid system. 75% of respondents would prefer returning to a hybrid system given the large cohorts, whilst 25% are comfortable returning to fully-functional in-person learning.

The KSU noted the importance of not only having online learning due to the effects this would have, including both academically and psychologically.

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