Published: June 4, 2020

Harrison StalveyHarrison Stalvey designed a new approach to writing exam questions for his Calculus 1 exams during the move to remote learning in Spring 2020 to avoid using a proctoring service. 

During the sudden switch to remote learning this spring, many professors were left with a challenging decision to make regarding assessment proctoring. Many large classes on campus were planning to give in-person, closed book exams with TA-assisted proctoring. As students would now be taking exams at home through the quiz feature on Canvas, they could decide to work with other students or access internet solutions to exam problems either by searching for the answer through various disciplinary-specific platforms or use online tutoring services such as Chegg, which would compute an answer for the student during the exam.

Dr. Harrison Stalvey, the coordinator for the MATH 1300 courses, organizes committees of instructors for exam writing across the 19 sections that serve over 500 students in the course. They needed to make a decision regarding online proctoring services.  “The students didn’t sign up for an online course, so they might not have been equipped with a webcam needed for online proctoring. I didn’t want to ask them to purchase a webcam in the middle of the semester,” commented Stalvey.

The MATH 1300 team was accustomed to writing exam questions that were either conceptual or computational in nature. As they began designing questions for the third midterm, Stalvey and the exam committee worked together to adapt their typical exam-writing procedures to be applicable to remote exams. They concluded that a strategically written exam, in combination with allowing students to use any resource except another person, could create an assessment environment that facilitates the learning process, as opposed to only testing the result of the learning process. Rather than give students a traditional problem where they had to find an answer, they were asked a question with information about a solution, and they had to describe the meaning behind the solution, such as: “Based on this given information, what can you conclude?” The focus was on the student process of problem-solving and interpreting the result, instead of simply calculating the solution.

In order to accommodate remote learning barriers, such as being located in different time zones, Stalvey set up the availability window for taking the exam as twice as long as original scheduled time for exam. The students were given an extra 45 minutes to use their resources. If students requested advice on how to prepare for the exam, they were told to approach the study resources on the course website by focusing on the justification for the steps in the solutions rather than only the steps themselves. The MATH 1300 team appreciated using the SpeedGrader tool in Canvas to add comments to students’ exams while grading, allowing for feedback on their problem-solving process.

“The benefit of the remote/online exams from last semester was how even though the difficulty level was a slight bit higher (which was expected), the opportunity to use my resources to help me has reduced my overall stress. My notes were very organized and detailed from attending my lecture classes, so the stress level was lower for me, and because of that, I was able to have more confidence to do well in the exam.” 

– A MATH 1300 student, Spring 2020