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December 3, 2021

Students and faculty weigh the benefits of online vs. in-person exams

Some aspects of the virtual world may be here to stay

By NICK CHARANJIVA | October 4, 2021

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COURTESY OF DAIVIK CHAWLA Though in-person classes have returned, some courses will continue to offer tests online.

This semester’s hybrid academic format has posed a multitude of technical and logistical challenges for proctoring exams. Contrary to last semester, professors can now opt for in-person exams depending on the format of the class.

However, courses are not required to administer their exams in person even if the course offers in-person accommodations. This shift has been viewed as a critical step towards returning to some sense of normalcy, but students and faculty continue to weigh the benefits of each format.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Applied Mathematics and Statistics Senior Lecturer Mario Micheli explained his approach to online testing for the past two semesters. Though he was reluctant to proctor exams virtually or force students to lock down their browsers, he was concerned with upholding academic integrity. 

For his exams, Micheli allowed students to access the internet, their notes and even a calculator, which was a drastic departure from his course before the pandemic. He explained that this adaptation went smoothly in the online format. 

“It seemed to work quite well because it was timed — the students were so focused for such a short period of time that it would have been a waste of time to talk to others,” Micheli said. 

He also noted that grade distributions for the course did not seem to change despite this modification.

“The kind of curve I got was very similar to the kind of curve I would get pre-COVID. I did make the tests a bit harder to compensate for the open-note environment, but it was fair because I suggested that they use cheat sheets, and they also had access to MATLAB and calculators,“ he said. “I made it not computationally harder but conceptually harder, so I could test the students’ deeper understanding of the material.”

This semester, Micheli considered continuing online exams as a precaution against COVID-19 transmission, but he told The News-Letter that his courses will return to in-person testing, mainly to mitigate any issues with academic integrity.

Spanish Language Senior Lecturer Naiara Martínez-Vélez explained that her courses will also have in-person testing, but she explained that her exams would still be completed online.

“My exams will be held in Blackboard but completed in class at our regular class time,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, it is better to avoid passing along papers from teachers to students and vice versa.”

Martínez-Vélez detailed some of the benefits of continuing online testing.

“It is ecologically friendly; it makes it easier to keep students’ records for longer periods of time; it offers faster tests results,” she said. “It offers flexibility for those students that may need to quarantine and cannot attend class in-person on the specific date of the exam.”

Like faculty, students have had to adapt to the online testing environment. Some, like junior Jeffrey Ding, expressed hesitations about returning to in-person exams.

“It is a little strange, as we have not done in-person exams for so long,” he said.

Ding noted that for online exams, many professors allowed access to notes and the internet, which he says made studying easier and reduced stress. However, he pointed out that many of these exams were also much more difficult than in-person exams and often took much longer to complete.

Other students, like senior Jayden Kunwar, were content with the return to in-person exams and noted the advantages of in-person testing. Kunwar said he appreciates the value of dedicating a certain location and time to important exams.

“I am a big believer in creating the right environments for certain events, and having a dedicated environment for test-taking can promote academic success,” he said.

Sophomore Hallie Gallo took her first in-person exam earlier this week and told The News-Letter about her experience.

“It was really strange returning to in-person exams, and I was stressed prior to the exam,” she said. “However, once I was taking the exam, I enjoyed it a lot more than online exams.”

Sophomore Fred Miglo recently took two in-person exams — one in Nervous Systems and another in Organic Chemistry — and explained that his exams felt less content-heavy than when they were online.

“When we were online, [professors] assumed that we used notes, so they made the questions more in-depth,” he said.

Miglo hopes that aspects of online learning like open-note exams will continue after classes become fully in-person.

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