MAASTRICHT. The first exam period is nearly upon us, but it will be very different from previous years because of COVID-19. Maastricht University had already pared down the maximum number of students allowed in the MECC from 1,800 to four hundred. For most exams an alternative was already sought in the summer, for example in the form of essays or presentations. For 79 tests, use will be made of online proctoring: supervised digital exams. Checking for fraud has been outsourced to American software company Proctorio.
Next Monday morning, the students from Data Science and Knowledge Engineering (DKE) will start their exams in the MECC’s west hall. This is a group of 345 students. Fewer even than the maximum set by the UM during COVID-19. In comparison: normally you can have up to 1,800 students in the west hall.
Besides DKE, the School of Business and Economics (SBE) will also be holding various exams, spread out across the week. Extra supervisors will be used so that safety is kept well in check.
The faculties already saw it coming in the summer: they would not be able to use the MECC, or only partly. So, alternatives were thought up for testing in the first block. Professor Martin Wetzels, director of SBE’s education institute, takes his own new course of Data Analytics as an example. "Where previously students had to take an exam, we now give them individual and group assignments. In the master’s, we work a lot with assessments during the programme, such as sub-assignments and presentations", says Wetzels. Other forms seen at the UM include open-book exams with insight questions, oral exams, and essays. Although Wetzels realises how much this change has asked of staff, he also sees a positive side. “It forces us to look at what testing is good for. What do you want to test? Does it contribute towards the goals of the course?”
Where no alternative is possible, for example in the case of knowledge exams for large groups of students, use will be made of online proctoring. A last resort, as the Executive Board emphasised on several occasions. Students are supervised with the use of a webcam and a microphone while they take the exam in their own rooms, and that is a considerable breech of their privacy. This first period, it concerns 79 exams for the faculties of SBE, Science and Engineering (FSE), and Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML). Still, the UM sees no other way as it wants to guarantee the quality and prevent students from committing fraud using such things as chats with friends or looking up information on the internet.
During the first wave of COVID-19, the UM chose its own variant - proctoring light – with testing being carried out with the university’s technology and its own staff. But it proved to be too complex and too much of a burden for staff. The university has now turned to the American company Proctorio, which uses software to analyse student behaviour. According to Ingrid Wijk, director of the University Library, who has taken on the co-ordination of online proctoring, the software records a number of aspects and ‘flags’ any suspicious circumstances.
The proctored exams, at least at SBE, have been reduced from three to two hours, says Wetzels, director of the education institute. Splitting them up into two times an hour and a half would also have been possible, but “that works less well. Students then experience two moments of stress.”
During discussions of the so-called Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) in the youngest University Council committee meeting, student council members were worried about the risks and the way in which students would have to defend themselves before an examination board should they be suspected of ‘irregularities’.
Wendy Degens, Yuri Meesen