Remote open-book exams: what do they look like in Computing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way we live in just a few days/weeks. One of the consequences of that is the new exam organisation at Imperial this year. Using my own computer at home, I have already sat two remote open-book exams and I am about to have another six assessments in the next 3 weeks.

In this post, I am not going to comment on fairness of the Imperial’s decision to hold remote examinations. What I would like to do instead is describing what they look like in our department.

Exams in the Department of Computing (DoC)

We don’t use Blackboard to submit our coursework during term-time. We have our own assessment system called CATe and this is what we use for remote exams.

Every examination appears on CATe as “limited-time coursework”. Once we’re past the official exam start time, we can download the paper from there.

Afterwards, we have X minutes to answer questions from the sheet, using a classic pen-and-paper approach. When the time is up, we have 30 minutes of post-processing time to scan our solutions and send them to CATe as a PDF file. There were a few trials before the first official exam and it was agreed that the best way of producing scans was via a smartphone app (unless you have a proper scanner).

There’s a Piazza board for all exam-related technical issues and one Piazza board per each module for any urgent updates made during an exam. If you don’t know what Piazza is, no worries: it is like a Facebook group, where every student and member of staff can post notes and ask and answer questions.

All exams are scheduled to start at 11 AM BST (UTC+1).

My first remote exam experience

On 27 April, I had the first real exam delivered remotely, following a trial run in the Easter break and signing the Honour Code Declaration.

You may wonder what the Honour Code Declaration was. I had to declare there that:

  • no person would help me complete the assessment,
  • I would not communicate with other students during an exam,
  • I would stop writing immediately after the exam time was over (excluding the post-processing time).

Going back to the exam, everything looked like exactly as described above. However, I cannot say that there were no problems. The question paper had a serious error, making one of the problems unsolvable. Even though an urgent correction post titled “EXAM CORRECTION” was published, many students wasted their time, attempting the flawed question. Some people had even failed to see the correction post before the exam finished, not necessarily due to their fault. Luckily, we have been promised that this issue will be fairly addressed in the marking process and I really hope it will happen.

Despite the above, I remain optimistic about upcoming exams. For example, no serious problems occurred in the second exam held today (29 April). Stay safe 🙂

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