Bridging between computer-aided assessment and traditional pen-and-paper exams

The choice between pen-and-paper exam and digital exam is related to the learning outcomes of the course and the learning activities during the course. When computer-aided practice and digital formative assessment are used during the course for gaining factual knowledge and for learning methods and techniques, the choice for a digital examination seems very natural. But a digital format seems less feasible for assessment of scientific reasoning and deeper understanding of concepts. In typical science and mathematics courses, students are prompted to underpin their work with longer argumentations (mathematical proofs and other forms of reasoning), to derive formulae, to use sketches in modelling, and draw structural representations (e.g. at molecular and intramolecular levels in Chemistry). Such competencies are not sufficiently assessed when students can only enter a final answer or some intermediate results in a pre-set plan of work. Typical digital exam tools lack facilities for assessing complex competencies such as reasoning and argumentation; it is often limited to an essay question type with text input. This is not sufficient for science courses and that is why most of the science courses still have a pen-and-paper exams.

We present our efforts to build a bridge between pen-and-paper and computer-aided assessment. We discuss our experiences in courses with a history of many years in using the digital environment SOWISO for learning, practice, formative assessment and examinations, and in courses that, due to the Corona crisis, had to switch in one or two weeks from face-to-face to online education and had to organise a remote digital assessment at the end of the course that adequately assessed the learning outcomes of the course. All courses have used open and closed questions, randomisation of questions, and the recent feature in SOWISO for adding a note to underpin the answer given to a question, which was automatically checked and graded. This enabled remote examinations that had the desired cognitive level, were not too vulnerable for fraud, and were not too time-consuming for the lecturers and student assistants who graded the student work.

We discuss in more detail the additional note taking feature and the essay type of question in SOWISO that allow several modes of input (also in combination with each other): typing a text, adding a formula or equation through a virtual keyboard, writing or drawing by hand using pen functionality, copying and pasting a print screen from another application or document (e.g. a chemical structure drawn in ChemDraw, or computer code and output of a statistical computation in R), and attaching a file. Through this multimodal input it was possible to construct a safe and comfortable bridge between computer-aided assessment and traditional pen-and-paper exams.

This sudden unexpected switch to only online education has also been an eye-opener for many lectures regarding possibilities of ICT in their own teaching. The introduction to and familiarisation with a digital learning environment like SOWISO has inspired some lecturers to redesign their courses and include digital formative assessment in the coming academic year(s) with the goal of making their courses in this way better suited for both face-to-face and online teaching and learning.