Online exams offer students alternative to pen and paper

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, students know that all good – and bad – grades come to those who wait. And wait. And wait. That is, unless he or she happens to be one

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, students know that all good – and bad – grades come to those who wait.

And wait. And wait.

That is, unless he or she happens to be one of many students who took an online exam this semester, where waiting no longer seems to be an option.

The amount of online exams administered in courses at Temple has steadily increased in recent years, according to statistics from Computer Services.

As a result, the days of patiently waiting to receive test scores are nearly over. On a majority of the online exams, students have the ability to access their results immediately after the test is finished.

“Students get immediate feedback about their score,” Psychology Professor Dr. David Margules said. “So when they leave they know exactly what they got on their exam.

“Some students walk out jubilant because they did so well. Some students walk out crying because they are so disappointed,” Margules said. “It really has an emotional impact on them because the feedback is so quick.”

Temple began administering online exams in 1998 when the university began incorporating Blackboard, an E-learning software, into all of its applications. Eleven courses used Blackboard during the first year. In 2005, over 8,000 courses utilize the software.

Associate Vice President for Computer Services Sheri Stahler said online testing has been an inherent part of Blackboard from the beginning and “the feature has been steadily improving.”

In recent years, one improvement has been the ability to let professors customize their assessments.

“Instructors can create their own comments while they are creating the assessment, so when a student answers a question correctly or incorrectly they receive immediate feedback,” Jaya Moore, senior technical consultant for the Instructional Support Center, said.

The Fox School of Business, School of Pharmacy and the School of Medicine first used the online assessment feature.

Dr. Thomas A. Marino, director of technology innovation and support for the School of Medicine, is one of the professors who have used Blackboard and its online assessment feature since its inception seven years ago.

To Marino, the technology has been useful in his teaching because “it’s important for students to feel good about their learning, rather then dreading the results all the time.”

Marino said he also uses the online exam feature to administer practice tests to his students.

Marino and other professors often administer their major exams in a computer lab, where the professors provide the students with a login password to access the exam.

He said this helps eliminate some of the workload on professors because separate make-up exams for absent students are no longer needed.

“If a student is not there, it’s not a big deal,” Marino said, “because if they were sick, we would allow them to come in the next day and take the same exam because it is not available to anyone else [because of the password].”

After three years of using the online exam feature, Margules decided to go back to using traditional paper exams because he had trouble reserving space in the Anderson Hall computer labs for his 125 students.

Margules said the online exam feature will “remain underused” until Temple is able to make computers available to more classes. If the problem is fixed, he said he would not hesitate to use the online exams again.

Also, in the past, professors have complained about the network running too slow or freezing up during their exams. Stahler and Moore both said that issues of that nature have become less of a problem in recent years.

In the spring semester, an upgrade to the Blackboard system, along with the introduction of TUPortal2, will include several new features for the online assessments.

According to Moore, some of the new features will include new question types, a multi-language feature, personalized content for specific users and a save-as-you-go option.

“There is going to be a lot more options for instructors to use,” Moore said. “The online assessment feature has definitely come a long way.”

Tyson McCloud can be reached at

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