Students, like anybody else, are creatures of habit. They are often not very receptive to change, especially regarding anything that affects their grades. When the West Coast University School of Pharmacy transitioned from Scantron to computer-based testing with ExamSoft in Fall 2017, our students were initially skeptical. They were anxious to take tests using a computer and read questions on a screen rather than on paper.
To help get students more engaged with the process and enthusiastic about ExamSoft and its benefits, we employed a few strategies:
Formative assessments with Examplify: We created assignments that were either very low stakes or graded only for completion. We allowed students to complete these assignments multiple times for practice to become familiar with the platform. This had a threefold impact: (1) students learned how to use Examplify; (2) technical issues were unearthed during the practice tests—well before the actual graded exams; and (3) students learned how to study course content using practice questions.
Immediate release of grades: Students crave feedback. In the first semester of our ExamSoft rollout, we allowed students to see their grades almost immediately. Some courses enabled the feature to see grades on exam submission, and other courses released grades by that evening. During our initial implementation phase, we had three courses that used ExamSoft and three courses that used Scantron-based paper exams. Students’ enthusiasm for ExamSoft became evident when they could see their grades immediately on ExamSoft—but they had to wait up to a week for their grades on Scantron-based exams.
Backup devices: To ease student anxiety, we let them know that we always had backup computers ready in case their devices had technical issues. Our general rule is to carry at least two backup devices for a class of 60 students. One key suggestion I will make is to never use paper exams as a backup. This practice encourages anxious or tech-averse students to find excuses to receive a paper exam.
Secure exam review: Again, students crave feedback. We allowed students to review their quizzes and exams either immediately after the quiz or as a delayed exam review on their own devices about two days after the exams. Using this review option turned a take-home quiz into a true formative assessment, and students benefitted from receiving this quick and meaningful feedback.
Faculty/proctor behavior: It is important that those proctoring ExamSoft-based exams know basic troubleshooting tricks to help a student who may be experiencing technical issues. How that situation is handled will determine how the student will respond to technical difficulties in the future. Therefore, training of proctors is crucial to ensure that students feel empowered to use computer-based testing.
These steps helped our students feel more comfortable transitioning from paper exams to ExamSoft. After overcoming initial hesitation, students began to value key features of ExamSoft such as being able to flag questions, highlight text, and view one question at a time. They also appreciated that they were less likely to mismark their answers as they would on a Scantron.
By the second semester of using ExamSoft, students in elective courses were bringing their computers for exams and requesting that we employ ExamSoft in all courses. After experiencing ExamSoft, most students now request to use the software on all exams in all courses. That shows me that we accomplished our goal to engage students in the implementation process.
About the Author
Dr. Gauri Sabnis is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Sciences at West Coast University. She also serves as the Chair of Curriculum Committee and is the acting institutional administrator for ExamSoft. She heads the ExamSoft implementation task force that was created to ensure effective rollout of ExamSoft across the Pharmacy curriculum. She has more than 15 years of research experience and has received numerous awards for her research from organizations such as the American Association of Cancer Research and Endocrine Society. She has published more than 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts in journals such as Cancer Research, Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, and Endocrine Related Cancer. She has also taught pharmacology to medical students, graduate students, and dental hygiene students for more than 5 years.More Content by Gauri Sabnis