Schools and faculties hailed for finding practical solutions to smooth the transition from writing tests on campus.

A good flow of communication between students and lecturers, the use of practice tests and the adaption of the testing processes is being credited for smoothing over the challenges that came with the first week of remote assessments at Wits University, which started on Monday May 4.

The remote assessment circumstances are not the same as ordinary test conditions, where students write their assessments at an on-campus facility. This past week, work has had to be submitted in an online format which had implications for the way the tests had to be set. 

Alyssa Vratsanos who teaches Introduction to the Structure of Language to second-year linguistics students said she had to adapt the test she set due to the online setting. “Parts were converted to multiple-choice, and questions that may have required lengthier answers were simplified and shortened.” 

Kirsten Miller, a second-year BA student studying linguistics, wrote the test this week. She said, “The only real change to normal conditions generally was the time limit. We had more than a week to submit it and you could go in and out to save progress.”

However, Jonothan van Vuuren, a second-year BSc biological sciences and physiology student, found the environment very different. “It is different because you are in your own home as opposed to a hall with 200 – 400 people. It feels more relaxed but the time limit makes it similar to a real test. There is also no form of monitoring so teachers rely on your honour pledge.” 

In order for this new process to run smoothly, communication is important. This is evident in the assistance students have had from their lecturers in helping them familiarise themselves with this new process. 

Van Vuuren said, “The lecturers were very helpful and still are. They have been very informative and helped us understand the process.” 

Miller also had a similar experience. “We also were made sure to update our lecturer, Alyssa Vrastanos, if there seemed to be any issues with submissions and such,” she said.

One of the challenges is that all the courses at Wits have different requirements. 

Sirini Pather, a third-year BCom student who is majoring in economics and management, wrote a practice test last week, that was set to identify the problems in the shift to online testing. 

“Economics needs working out. This would require typing out of long sums. Not everyone has adequate time and [some had] connection issues,” Pather said.

Based on the practice test, she said changes were made to the course’s test process. Tests were adapted with 10 minutes additional time to ensure that screen transition time is given. This was done so that if any student has a problem with loading during the test, they do not lose the time needed to answer the questions. 

Janine Donaldson, a physiology lecturer for second years said that, “Since this is new territory for us all, the procedures for carrying out online assessments are currently being worked on and developed to the best of our abilities.”

Donaldson also used a practice test to gauge the new test situation. “Over 98% of our students were able to complete the assessment and we are investigating the issues that the students who could not complete the assessments may have faced.

“We are currently engaging in all approaches to ensure that they benefit the students whilst at the same time ensuring the integrity of our course and the degree,” Donaldson said.

Wits senior communications officer Buhle Zuma told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The university has for many years used various forms of assessments such as take-home examinations and/or an open book and/or a project and/or online assessments, among others.  

She said that the criteria that each module will follow has been left up to the relevant school and faculty. 

“The university was good at sending out information on the various online options available to us,” said Vrastanos and she found this helpful in assisting her decisions and, ultimately, allowing for the assessment process to continue during the lockdown and remote learning. 

FEATURE IMAGE: Wits started remote tests on May 4 with the use of online platforms. Photo: Anna Moross