Back to the future - using a pen in STEM e-exams

Be it a mathematical proof, a force diagram or sketching out a design, pencil on paper has long been a part of problem solving in many STEM and visual disciplines. Yet in wanting to move to use a digital environment for assessment these natural ways of working and presenting knowledge is difficult, if not impossible in many online testing systems. Most virtual learning environments such as Canvas, Blackboard or Moodle offer little out-of-the box to help. Formulae editors that use a script such as LaTex require users to be proficient in that language and so are less suitable for non-specialists. Editors that offer a complex array of buttons are easier for novices but are inefficient for experts, while those needing to sketch diagrams need to use a different tool all together. Combining fluid sketching and the formulae into a single response, showing working out and the solution is something uncommon at this time in e-testing systems. It would appear the the inability to just use a pen to work through and present a solution is holding back the adoption of e-assessment approaches in many STEM disciplines.

This session looks at a back to the future approach piloted in an online, remotely invigilated, post graduate Data Science examination in 2019 that enabled free sketching, formulae and text to be mixed into responses presented via a Moodle quiz. The options considered, what was tried, what worked and what did not in terms of technology, logistics and student feedback will be outlined. The caveats and a proposal for a refined approach and its future extension is offered as a way forward.