Scaling up your digital exams

This year many schools who have experience with digital exams will be scaling up the number of entries or digital exam sessions at their school.

When scaling up digital exams, the challenges each school faces will be different, depending on their size and location as well as device availability, infrastructure and the community’s desire for digital exams.

What to consider while scaling up digital exams

When you’re increasing participation in digital exams, you should consider these three factors, to ensure your increase in participation is sustainable:

Desirability

This considers the attitudes of your school community as well as their confidence with and awareness of digital exams. 

Think about what people in your school community want and how digital exams fit into your short and long-term goals as a school. There may be different levels of desire and awareness in your school community.

Resources to help you increase desire in your school:

Short term management

This considers infrastructure and resources you’ll need this year.

For example, can you prioritise any improvements in your infrastructure such as increasing your internet bandwidth so you can have a larger cohort of students completing a digital exam.

Network for Learning (N4L) is providing Network Assurance Checks for schools that have expressed interest in offering digital exams this year. If you haven’t received an email yet, please contact nceaonline@n4l.co.nz

You can use the NCEA Online preparation timeline (PDF, 527KB) to see who needs to do what and when.

Long term management

This looks at where you are currently on your journey to delivering digital first assessment and the steps you need to take to move closer to this goal.

This year, you can think about small changes you can make, to build on next year and beyond. This could mean entering a limited number of students in a cohort into a digital exam and increasing the number of entries this year.

How to scale up digital exams

There are several ways you can do this. For example, you can add more exam sessions, each with a limited number of students or have a larger cohort of students in a single digital exam.  

The way you choose to scale up is up to you and should allow you to test different aspects of your readiness. For instance, a few smaller sessions may allow you to test what back-to-back digital exams on a single day look like and how to manage charging and/or moving devices between sessions.

Larger sessions involve ensuring your bandwidth supports all students on the network at once as well as confirming you have enough appropriate spaces for all these students.

Below are some key areas to focus on as you scale up. These have been informed by the experiences of schools with experience doing digital exams.

 

Device Management

This depends on whether your school is BYOD (Bring your own device) or provides devices for students.

As you scale up, aspects to consider include:

  • Testing and setting up devices for digital exams
    This can be time consuming, especially if different kinds of devices are being used. Think about how students can assist with checking and setting up devices alongside your IT support; for example, setting aside time for classes to check their devices together, with an IT support person available if they run into any issues.
  • Self-management for BYOD
    If you are a BYOD school, you may want students to more actively manage their device set up.
    Long term, consider recommending similar or the same device for all students to make set up easier. Talk to students and whānau about device requirements too.
    You can use the digital exams device check to quickly check the browser, screen resolution and operating system of a device against the requirements for a digital exam.
  • Between exams
    As you begin to increase the number of digital exam sessions, you will have more days where two or more digital sessions occur. Make sure power sources are available to charge devices between morning and afternoon sessions.
    Find someone to manage the charging of devices (if required) and check all devices between sessions; for example, ensuring browsers from the previous exam have been closed.
  • Back up devices
    Sometimes, devices will fail in an exam; they run out of battery or freeze, so it’s preferable to, have back up devices for students, so they can easily recommence their work on the digital exam platform. If that’s not possible, moving to paper remains an option.

Entries process

With an increase in digital entries and the mix of paper and digital exams, consider how the entries process should be managed. As you transition the process may need changing or you might need more support to ensure entries are accurate, especially in larger schools with a greater number of digital entries.

Room/space allocations

Consider which available spaces are appropriate for digital exams from a technical and supervisory viewpoint. Do they have the appropriate set up and infrastructure for digital exams and how many students they can support?

Schools experienced in digital exams say they prefer smaller rooms for digital to reduce the likelihood of dead spots, with halls still being reserved for paper exams.

If you are using computer labs, consider whether the spacing of computers needs to increase during the exam period to reduce screen peeking.

Network/infrastructure

Scaling up digital exams requires a good understanding of how your wireless network supports a variety of assessment spaces.  

NZQA recommends segregating exam traffic using a VLAN (virtual local area network) to segregate your network for digital exams.

If you are offering digital language exams in 2020, you will need to use whitelisting to limit access to only the NZQA website and digital exam platform. 

N4L or your service provider can advise how to improve the performance and security of your network.

IT support

You will need IT support available and on-call during digital exams to look after the wireless network, support computer use SAC students and troubleshoot other device issues.

If you are using school provided devices, they may also assist with setting up and checking these devices.

Preparing students

Preparing students doesn’t look much different as you scale up. However, consider how you prepare them, whether this is managed by class teachers or, for example, an assembly with the Principal’s Nominee.

Students sitting a digital exam will need a briefing so they’re aware of the differences between paper and digital exams. This can show them ways to get familiar with the digital exam platform, through practice activities or past digital exams found on the student exam hub.

They will also need to set up or check they know their details for their Student Login (https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/login) access their digital practice exams.

If students are providing devices, you will need to brief them on setting up their devices correctly. This is covered in device management above.

Managing the rest of the school

With an increase in digital entries, especially on days where many students are sitting a digital exam at once, managing the impact on the rest of the school is important.

Planning for Year 9 and 10 classes will need to take account of the impact of digital exams on network capacity, devices and space required.

Some schools, for their largest exams, have junior school students off-site or plan teacher only days so the resources needed are available.

Special assessment conditions

For students sitting a digital exam with a Special Assessment Condition, consider factors such as separate accommodation with the appropriate set up and infrastructure to support a digital exam.

For students with a computer use condition, consider what to do if something goes wrong. For example, if there is a loss of connection and they need to switch to ‘ordinary’ SAC computer use, there will need to be a printer available.

Guidelines for SAC and digital exams can be found here

 
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