Online town hall meeting for QM2 students
MAASTRICHT. "Do we actually have a chance of changing any of your decisions or are we just here to listen to hear you explain them?” Last Friday afternoon, the School of Business and Economics held an online town hall meeting via Zoom for worried, angry and disappointed students who did not pass the first-year subject of Quantitative Methods 2. The exam was declared invalid because of fraud. The Faculty board is at a loss with the situation and is trying to find solutions where possible. Students (among 160 were present during the meeting) have questions. A lot of questions.
The meeting has only been going for ten minutes and the board hopes that by changing course they can take the sting out of the situation. The exam that the wronged students can take on 17 July will actually not be seen as a resit as was initially stated by SBE earlier this week, but as a first chance. The second chance will be given in the next academic year: at the end of September or in the exam period of the first block. That exam will most likely take place in the MECC.
It is a small plaster on a big wound. Many students most likely switched off their computer screens after the hour was up feeling dissatisfied. Because of the time limit of the meeting (one hour), most of the one hundred questions that appeared in the chat could not be answered.
What was the meeting about? About the usually tough Statistics course Quantitative Methods 2. A week ago, a painful e-mail message was delivered to approximately 1,200 students: the exam that they had taken, had been declared invalid. Some of the students had apparently cheated. Answers had been exchanged in chat groups. Erik de Regt, chairman of the Board of Examiners, previously said to Observant: “What you saw happening was that a lot of people had access to the answers in the chat, but that we do not know for sure who did and who didn’t make use of it. But they did at any rate have the opportunity to look. This affects the integrity of the exam.”
Answers could be exchanged, because everyone had received the questions in the same order. That was not supposed to have happened. Randomisation – varying the order of the questions – was supposed to have served as an anti-fraud measure. But because of a human error, this button was switched off in the system for online exams. And no, this was not overlooked by just one person, as Maastricht University had previously stated, but by several people, dean Peter Møllgaard admitted to a student’s critical question.
Erik de Regt emphasised that this human error was not the reason to declare this exam invalid. “The reason is fraud.” De Regt reacts slightly furiously to a student when he says “that they could have expected” fraud to be committed after that mistake. “I do not agree. Students sign an agreement when they take an exam, stating that they will do it individually and without help from others.”
Reinventing the wheel
The faculty board is trying to make the listeners aware of the tough time in which the School finds itself, just like the rest of the UM and other universities. Due to the corona crisis the wheel had to be reinvented double-quick, with digital education and testing, taking all things into account such as students, rules in the Education and Examination Regulations, work pressure on staff and privacy issues. Initially, the idea was to use proctors for such large subjects as QM2 – whereby supervision is carried out using a camera in the students’ rooms – but the stress test brought other problems to light that forced the faculty to abandon this idea.
Vice dean Wilko Letterie emphasises the important role of the Board of Examiners in “safeguarding the quality of diplomas”. While certainly it is an unfortunate decision for many, he says, it is a wise one. For all SBE students, he adds, because the outside world and employers must know that SBE and the UM rate integrity highly. One of the students had a question about that future employer: “How do I explain where that ‘pass’ came from, why is it not a grade?” An explanation by the Board of Examiners regarding the adaptation of the assessment “in connection with COVID-19” is being drawn up; students can add this to their list of marks.
Personal stories are shared. Like the young man who was advised by the university to stay at home because of viral symptoms just before the UM closed its buildings. “Because of this, I couldn’t participate in one of the quizzes so now I have failed”. Those quizzes are cause for most of the discussion. These are tests that students are allowed to take throughout the QM2 block in order to test themselves. They were not compulsory.
As a form of concession after the exam was annulled, SBE decided to use the scores from the quizzes to issue a fail or pass: anyone who had scored at least eighteen bonus points had passed after all. Students are surprised: why, for example, was not a limit of fourteen points chosen?
Mark Vluggen, director of the bachelor’s programmes, admits that it is not a perfect measure; it is a “repair measure. The exam was no longer bona fide; we had to go and look for alternatives for measuring the individual achievements of students.”
The indignation continues to be great regarding the choice for that measure. Why will students be assessed, during the exam in July, on the whole course, a student in the chat wants to know, while others have passed on the basis of four quizzes, only part of the course [two quizzes were cancelled because of COVID-19]?
And, more in general: “Did you take into account the fact that we only received information concerning the exam a week and a half beforehand?” Regarding the tough situation: “Because we had to answer the questions at high speed during the exam, it was already difficult enough.”
The faculty management and the Board of Examiners will draw up a written statement next week; in it they will try to answer most of the questions. “Sometimes, the answer may be unsatisfactory,” they said, “but please believe us: we do not want to punish anyone." They want to help, they say, but unfortunately not everyone is helped with this. They realize that all too well at the SBE.