How cloud-based online examinations can help keep educational institutions relevantKetan Kapoor
Cloud computing is a major buzzword at present and is very likely to continue being one in the future as well. Its application in any area of work promises much higher levels of efficiency and cost-effectiveness than otherwise possible. The most obvious reason for this differentiation is that as it doesn’t require enterprises to invest in or manage a physical IT infrastructure, a majority of their key business processes can be automated through a digital platform.
Given the pace at which cloud computing has pervaded multiple industries, it was unlikely that the education sector would remain untouched for long. In fact, the sector is one of the most disruptive use-cases of the technology today and has witnessed several large-scale transformations in the way learning is delivered. A report by Google and KPMG predicts that the market for online education and technology-driven education solutions in India will be worth USD 1.96 billion by 2021, up from the USD 247 million it is currently estimated to be worth. This is an opportunity too massive to be overlooked.
The implementation of technology-driven applications in education has also become much simpler today, thanks to the ubiquity of digital devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones among young individuals. Many universities, schools, and educational institutions have adopted advanced technologies like learning management systems (LMS), wherein software applications are used to deliver educational content to students and to efficiently track their performance and progress. As a result, it has also become easier for educators to provide students with a parallel and balanced mode of learning and gaining knowledge, as well as evaluating them on how well they retain and apply their knowledge. Now, cloud computing is transforming the way examinations are being conducted.
The inadequacies of pen-and-paper-based tests
Conventional evaluation techniques are proving to be highly inefficient in today’s educational and learning landscape, and the faster the sector adapts to newer developments, the faster its growth will be. The majority of traditional universities and institutions, however, have been largely apprehensive of and reluctant about adopting technology and undertaking such massive systemic changes.
The more reputed and sought-after the university, the more applications the admissions department has to screen. With all of this, the logistics of conducting written entrance tests become quite difficult to manage. Tasks like deciding physical test centres and arranging for invigilators to proctor them involve time, effort, and money that can be channelled elsewhere. Over and above this, the disruption caused to students during their academic pursuits, when they have to travel to far-off locations to appear for tests, is another problem altogether.
Why online cloud-based examinations?
Cloud environments allow online testing platforms to accommodate a large number of students located remotely and maximize the cloud system’s processing power as and when required. Online examinations can also follow an adaptive pattern of testing with the help of analytical tools, wherein the system will adapt to the patterns within the students’ responses. This feature is critical in designing question papers that are unique for each person taking the test, meaning that no questions are repeated. As educational institutes can test the candidates without having to physically verify which candidate receives which set, it significantly reduces the likelihood of cheating.
Online cloud-based testing can also allow a vast number of resources and multiple references to be used for the purpose of creating multi-level tests and different question types. Moreover, examination conductors can also run simulations, for instance, to test the coding skills of engineering students. Doing this offline is an extremely inefficient process, as a pen-and-paper-based testing format only ends up wasting resources and limiting the extent to which students can apply their knowledge effectively to answer questions.
Furthermore, since most entrance exams are usually conducted on a massive scale, online testing allows greater flexibility in timing and scheduling the test. For instance, GMAT aspirants are allowed to take the exam at a time and place of their choosing. As a result, the reach of such competitive tests can be much higher than offline examinations and enable participation from a large number of students who don’t need to travel long distances simply to appear for a test that takes a few hours.
The administrative benefits to educational institutions cannot be overlooked either, as online cloud-based testing platforms make designing, delivering, evaluating, and grading tests a quick process. The system can be easily scaled up or down to handle any increase or decrease in the number of test takers. More importantly, students get their results much before they would with offline tests and can accordingly begin the process of choosing the colleges based on their grades.
The concept of cloud-based testing is gaining massive acceptance globally, and with the parallel adoption of online proctoring services, the examination and testing systems of the future will be strong enough to allow students to take tests remotely without the risk of cheating. The biggest benefit of online testing, however, is for the test providers, as it gives them a great deal of flexibility as far as creating, managing, and evaluating tests are concerned.
The troubled tasks
We all are yearning for a system that instils our faith in examinations. Quite clearly we are losing our confidence in the current pen-and-paper assessments, which no longer appear to be fit. Let us look at what dwindles the confidence of schools, colleges, universities, and training institutes in the traditional system of evaluation and marking.
The entrance exams exertion
The more sought after the university, the more applications to screen. Every year, the universities are flooded with applications for various courses, and screening them through with written tests is a costly affair. In addition to this, a lot of effort gets consumed in shortlisting physical test facilities. Added to this is the burden of making arrangements for invigilators who are supposed to proctor far-off test locations.
The institutes face considerable challenges in managing the logistics and financial burden that comes in a package deal with the pen-and-paper format. Disrupting the daily college life of students to make space for exam centres adds the cherry on top.
The semester setback
Imagine the plight of universities during exam days. It’s not only an evaluation of the students’ learnings but also the faculty, who are expected to manage and organise the examinations successfully. Accommodating hundreds of pupils, converting gyms and auditoriums into exam halls, looking for invigilators to proctor them, and checking papers for hours and days to get the result out – the list of tasks for faculty goes on. Revaluation is another big concern – students often dissatisfied with the checking want their papers to be rechecked, which is nothing less than an added burden for the teachers. Besides, the authenticity can still be a question mark for the students.
The pre-placement perplexity
Once students are ready to graduate from colleges, but before they do, comes the moment of placement drives, where there is an influx of companies looking to hire people. For hiring, what’s required is assessments, and again the age-old tradition of the wasted time, effort, and money begins.
Satisfied with the old ways of life, anything new alerts our question-asking antennas. A reluctance to change makes us question the good and find fault with the system. We do all this just to remain in our comfort zone. Talking of reluctance, let me explain the consequences with an example.
We all are aware of Kodak. It was a name that resonated as the world’s largest film manufacturer. Where is it now? Do the millennials even know about it? Why did it lose its spot?
Hit by the wave of digitalization, Kodak was not agile enough to adapt to the needs and changing times. It loved its space, but then that’s not how relevance works. Sometimes change is difficult but necessary to survive.
Each time the thought of Kodak’s misfortune crosses my mind, I fear that this might be the future of the people in the educational sector. They find it difficult to change. Well-adjusted with pen and paper, they fail to understand that the educational sector is reshaping itself and they are still stuck on the basics. Satisfied with the old ways of life, the idea of online assessment discomforts them. They fear technical mishaps, cost, and academic dishonesty. But only when they try the new ways will they be in a better position to list their fears, and once adopted, rest assured the list will shorten.
The inadequate auto-grading
Riding on the horses of fame, coaching institutes have converted themselves into full-grown giants in the education sector. Accredited with integrated learning programmes and well-versed teachers, these training institutes have their share of miseries. Reaching out to the untapped talent beyond the geographical limitations, ensuring a wider reach of their assessments and simulators, as well as a quick evaluation of the student’s performance is what they desire. Caught up in the spiral of inadequate auto-grading, which results in strenuous manual correction of answer sheets, they search for cost and energy efficient solutions.
The confused career guidance
Schools, the second home to children, are the building block of a child’s future. It is here where desires, aspirations, and dreams of achieving something are shaped. Teachers play an integral part in guiding kids in what they think is the best for them, telling them the various career opportunities and what they shall pursue in the future. What they lack is a definitive way to measure the ability and personality of the children, which tells them precisely about the behavioural and cognitive competencies.
The staff recruitment ruckus
How do we propose to evaluate our teaching and non-teaching staff? How do we just go by our instincts and grade them? Conducting interviews to choose teachers of different subjects as well as non-teaching staff is very cumbersome. Instead, a defined approach, with some set parameters, will make recruitment easy.
Common to all
Common to all, educational bodies are highly concerned about the logistics incurred due to written examinations. Indulgence of candidates in unethical activities is another major concern they are desperate to solve. What they want is to reduce the turnaround time which keeps adding to their cost. But the root causes always remaining at the heart of the assessment process are security, transparency, the cost in terms of infrastructure, people, and operations.
The educational landscape in India has undergone quick development and is right now the biggest in the world, enroling 70 million students. Truth to be told, India has even created extra space for 40 million more students. That is a lot of assessments and a considerable amount of cash blown.
Ketan Kapoor is CEO and Co-founder of Mettl, India’s leading and fastest growing assessment and skill-measurement company.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)