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08 October 2020

The test dream

Even as a teacher, I still dream about taking a test sometimes: I’m on campus, suddenly realizing that I have a test, but I forgot to study the material. And I can’t find the test room. Relatable? Perhaps, but not for the current generation of students. They will have to take a test at home, that is, on their own computer, relying on their own internet connection, in their own room. 

Speaking of rooms. I once lived in a room that was so hot that tin foil on the windows had to keep out the sun. It was so small that you could visibly and audibly follow the neighbor’s phone calls. It was packed with food, because the shared fridge was regularly visited by thieves. My dreams do not feature past rooms, but students’ dreams might. Students who take a test must be monitored (to make sure they do not cheat), and to make this possible they have to install spy software. This software takes over their camera and registers every key stroke. Before the exam starts, they have to show their entire room including their desk. During the exam, the wall must be uniform, the light must be ‘right’, and other people should not be visible or audible. Everything that deviates is suspicious and will be investigated as possibly fraudulent. And that’s how one’s own room becomes a source of stress and uncomfortable dreams.

I advocate a return to testing on the VU campus

Why are we so hard on our students? Is this really the only alternative when testing large groups? Like many other teachers, I advocate a return to testing on the VU campus. Granted, this requires the availability of large rooms, but why wouldn’t we rent rooms in the RAI? Also, we understand that having all students come to the VU in the same week is too much. But it is possible to restrict on-location-testing for exams that assess knowledge and understanding; all other exams (for instance assessing application of the material) can be done as an open book exam at home. Furthermore, some exams can be scheduled a week before or after the regular exam week. And of course, we realize that supervisors are part of a risk group, but there are also young people who want to earn some money by supervising exams. What we don’t understand is the lack of thinking in this direction.

Online monitoring during at-home testing benefits almost no one

Nowadays, individual students can request to take the test on campus, if they do not want to be monitored online. But all things considered, online monitoring during at-home testing benefits almost no one. No teacher can know for sure if students are cheating in case of technical failures. The computer, the spy software or the internet can fail. Is the latter caused by a well-intending roommate who turns the internet off and on again? Or is it on behalf of the student who forgot to study? If the student is expelled, this might be unfair for the student. So it seems reasonable to give the student an extra chance. But every extra exam must be prepared by the teacher, and this may take a week. In the end, the VU also loses out: The VU runs the risk that disadvantaged students start a lawsuit.

Of course, at-home tests with online monitoring can be convenient, for instance for students with restricted mobility. But for almost everyone else, in the short and in the long term, on-locations tests are better, if only because you do not want to wake up finding yourself in an uncomfortable dream.

KATINKA QUINTELIER

Works Council member, teacher of strategy and ethics

Katinka Quintelier

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