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Exam writer

By Murray Bourne, 05 Mar 2006

I was supervising an examination last week. The students were required to write 3 essays in 2 hours.

They were well-prepared and had a lot to write. (I was impressed how they prepared their essays beforehand and were genuinely into the process.)

But there is a problem with this scenario. If you were to ask me to write anything longer than a 2-line shopping list, I will do it on computer. The thought of writing 3 essays by hand is really scary to me. And I would pity the poor marker who would have to read my scrawl. We have all become used to the convenience of word processing. Writing vast amounts by hand seems retrogressive. Lettng the students use their own laptops in examinations is fraught with security concerns.

What would be cool would be a cheap networked device that would have just a keyboard, mouse and a monitor. The device would deliver the exam question precisely at the start time. The students would type their essays, using something like Google Docs. It would save at regular intervals. When finished, the students would just click "Submit". The examiner would have immediate access to the students' essays, so he/she could begin the joyful task of marking.

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) testing system in the US has such a concept. Students take the whole test in computer labs.

We've done a lot of computer testing here. But I think many of the problems (security, reliability) occurred because we were using a desktop-based system. If we use a client-based system (harking back to pre-desktop days) with a central server, this may be a solution.

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