10 Mar 10 Indian Higher Education_Moving Ahead with Online Exams

The controversy surrounding the entrance exams to the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) refuses to die down. The latest has students expressing doubts about the results. Prometric has gone on record with a press release saying the results are correct and that the company is convinced and satisfied about having followed all international norms and standards. In all of this, the fact was ignored that there are other institutes such as BITS (Pilani) and Manipal Institute that have been conducting online entrance exams successfully for the last few years.

ValueNotes and EDGE recently released a report titled, ‘Examinations and the Role of Technology: Emerging Directions’ at the EDGE Forum 2010 in New Delhi. The scope of this study was ‘e-assessment’ also known as ‘online assessment’. Online assessment is a step towards making assessment more secure, transparent and fast. The report aimed at understanding and revealing opinions of the stakeholders with regard to online assessments. Here is a quick snapshot of the report findings:

Global trends in online assessment

  •   As education moves to becoming more learner-centric, assessment techniques need to keep pace with this evolution resulting in adoption of online assessment.
  •   Online assessment has become easier with growth in computer and Internet penetration. Technology has also improved with faster and more accurate computers and applications.
  •   Online assessment enables use of diverse applications, which include online quizzes and discussion forums.
  •   The greatest impact of online assessment has been on the administrative tasks. With almost 50% of the assessment cycle consisting of administrative tasks, these should be the biggest and fastest portion to offload.

Online assessment in Indian Higher Education
Indian higher education has received a lot of attention in the last year, as pressure from public and media mounts for reforms. The Education Minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal has also reacted positively by announcing a lot of changes. As the stakeholders, viz. , universities, exam boards, educators and students get used to this new found status, it is now completely up to them to utilize this opportunity and bring about the long sought changes. The focus areas identified include policy changes, greater deregulation, bridging the demand supply gap, greater use of technology, among others.

This report survey, where we talked to about 75 decision makers in universities, national institutes of importance and other experts, brought out the fact that all of them see technology as an important tool to bring about changes in the Indian education sector. Issues such as greater transparency, increased geographical reach, improving quality of education, and others can be dealt with more successfully with introduction of ICT into education. Opining on various benefits and issues that are expected with implementation of online exams,  most of the respondents said that though they were expecting challenges, they were willing to try given the improved efficiency and transparency offered by online system in exam process. The following graph represents the areas where maximum impact is expected.

Exhibit 1: Online examinations – many potential rewards

Source: ValueNotes Research

Similarly respondents expressed that they did have a lot of concerns as this was a huge shift from their current processes. The challenges that are expected to influence their decision in a big way are enumerated in the following graph.

Exhibit 2: Challenges to online examschallenge.gif

Source: ValueNotes Research

Online exams in India – Future trends
The majority of exam authorities (68%) said they want to implement online exams in the future. Going forward, Indian higher education needs to be equipped with trained teachers, infrastructure, technology that can adapt to Indian requirements, which in turn calls for a lot of experimentation, innovation in assessment techniques, technology upgrades and readiness to adopt changes and failures.

Exhibit 3: Are online exams a part of Indian higher education’s plan?


Source: ValueNotes Research

With almost half the respondents believing that less than 10% exams will be online in the next 2 years, and nearly 50% looking to go online in the next two years, the gap or opportunity is tremendous. It establishes the need to share knowledge, experience and beliefs about the entire process of going online. It also firmly establishes that improvement is assessment using technology is the way to go.

During our conversations with university decision makers, many mentioned that one of the reasons behind the slow growth of online assessments in the country is the hesitation on the part of students. To bridge the perception gap between university officials and students, ValueNotes conducted a nationwide survey of 400 students from across Tier I, Tier II and Tier III cities, studying mostly at graduate and postgraduate levels. The aim was to capture the students’ awareness, readiness and experiences with online examinations.

  • The survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of students (95%) are aware of online assessments.
  • The majority of students (69%) felt that universities that use online assessment are more technically advanced, though students originating from Tier III cities are far more impressed with said universities.

While most students are yet to experience the online exam format, they have strong opinions about the benefits they can expect from the system, over and above prevailing methods. These stated benefits were mostly consistent across both, university and entrance exams.

Exhibit 4: Perceived / expected benefits of online exams


Source: ValueNotes Research

However, students do not yet have a greater level of confidence with the online exam process, compared to traditional exams. The study also found that students are concerned with many aspects of the online exam processes, including security risks, the lack of infrastructure, the difficulty of use, followed by the lack of support from exam authorities.

Exhibit 5: Perceived / expected issues with online exams


Source: ValueNotes Research

There is little doubt that Indian higher education students are indeed aware of online exams, and most are ready to try the system. Though they do have some apprehensions about online tests, the predominant perception is definitely positive. We believe that the university officials’ perceptions about students’ resistance to online exams are overblown. These may in fact be more likely used as a justification by those resisting the inevitable change in current systems.

Our research and survey findings present strong evidence that there is a need for online assessment exams in the Indian higher education sector. The respondents reacted positively to the idea, and almost 50% said they would want to start online exams in the next two years. Those who have already started would like to extend usage. This is because benefits of greater efficiency and costs savings of nearly 20-50% are difficult to ignore.

Students, the primary stakeholders are definitely aware of and ready to appear for entrance and university exams online. Their lack of experience in no way seems to adversely affect their opinion.

Considering there is still a lot of groundwork to be done, the penetration of online exams will increase by 5 -10% in the next two years. However, given the greater levels of experiments and innovation in assessment we believe that there will be significant traction over the next three to five years.

ValueNotes Research
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