Systematically Conducting Online Proctored Exams with Tools around You

Based on the Computer Engineering Department’s experience in conducting the first set of comprehensive online examinations at the University of Peradeniya (UoP) using Zoom Video Conferencing, Moodle Learning Management System (LMS), Safe Exam Browser (SEB), Google Workspace Drive and collaborative Spreadsheets as primary tools.

By Isuru Nawinne, Udaree Kanewala and Roshan Ragel

The COVID-19 pandemic started to spread worldwide in the early months of 2020 and Sri Lanka was among the most affected countries, especially in the education and economy sectors. Like all universities worldwide, conducting academic activities online was a crucial requirement for the University of Peradeniya. However, being a University in a developing country, UoP had to overcome many difficulties to provide students with access to online education. Various solutions were introduced at the Department of Computer Engineering to maintain the consistency of teaching and learning activities in the online mode. However, the most challenging task was to conduct online examinations for large groups of candidates, especially where proctoring is an essential requirement. Conducting online exams posed a significant bottleneck in sustaining the consistency of academic activities online, as examinations are mandatory evaluation points in the semester system of the University curriculum, especially to ensure outcome-based continuity from semester to semester. Accepting this challenge, the computer engineering department planned and conducted the first-ever set of online examinations for final year students with newly introduced comprehensive protocols and systematic procedures.

The first set of online examinations was conducted for the final year computer engineering students. A total of 72 candidates were evaluated in eight different exams, including five technical elective courses and three general electives (complementary studies) courses. The tests were conducted in two main modes; online proctored and non-proctored. In the non-proctored mode, the examination questions were released to the candidates in a form similar to a take-home assignment. An adequate amount of time was allowed for the candidates to submit their answers online. The exam questions were designed in such a way that there is no requirement to pose restrictions on authorised material. After the exam, it is mandatory for all candidates to participate in an online viva-voce covering all content in the exam and answers. In the online proctored mode, it was necessary to guarantee that the candidates’ attempts were thoroughly monitored to ensure that no unauthorized materials were accessed. For this purpose, the familiar examination hall was replicated as an online environment as closely as possible. This mode supported both open-book and closed-book examinations. Closed-book examinations restricted the candidates to use the material provided in the examination paper only, whereas the open-book examinations allowed the use of printed or hand-written materials to various extents. In both cases, standard tools such as authorised calculators were permitted. The candidates were generally required to type or select their answers on the computer itself using keyboard and mouse inputs. However, some examinations needed handwritten answers on paper using a pen, where the answer scripts were scanned and uploaded at the end of the test while still within the proctored environment.

Both proctored and non-proctored modes and their various features were supported within a single system with a well-documented procedure. The overall system was implemented using a collection of freely accessible educational tools and minimum technological facilities to host them. Zoom Meetings software, Moodle Learning Management System (LMS), Safe Exam Browser (SEB), Google Workspace Drive and collaborative spreadsheets were the primary tools used to set up the system. The candidates were required to have a computer with Windows or Mac OS, a smart mobile phone, a sufficient internet data package and backup power.

The key roles participating in the introduced examination process were Exam Candidates, Invigilators, Evaluation Panels including the Course Coordinators, University Administration, Online Assessment System (OAS) Administrator, OAS Managers and a Technical Support Team. Comprehensive guidelines for the responsibilities and actions to be performed by each role were provided in written format.

The examination environment for online proctored exams consists of three major components: Virtual Examination Room (VER) on Zoom, Online Assessment System (OAS) based on Moodle LMS and SEB. The platform hosting the exam papers is the OAS with SEB integration. The Moodle quiz tool is used for setting up the exam questions. OAS and SEB together account for half of the proctoring done via the online mode. The candidates are required to join a VER on Zoom with invigilators using their mobile phone and stay connected throughout the exam duration, which accounts for the remaining half of the proctoring required. In case of any technical issues encountered during the examination, the candidates are allowed to resume the examination attempt while getting assistance from the technical support staff through the technical support Zoom and chat facilities.

In our pilot project during March 2021, the examinations concluded with a recorded total of 381 examination attempts, with a successful completion rate of 98%, while only eight attempts were deemed incomplete. All such cases were due to reasons beyond the candidates’ control, which were considered interruptions to the online examinations.

Professor | Computer Engineering | University of Peradeniya