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Exams, essays and tablet computers – trying to make the pill more palatable

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conference contribution
posted on 31.03.2009, 13:02 by Nora Mogey, Greg Sarab
Most students now complete most assignments using a computer. Word processing is standard. Yet when it comes to the end of the semester we still require most students to handwrite final examinations. Surely we can no longer claim this is an authentic assessment strategy? At The University of Edinburgh we have been conducting trials to explore the potential for using computers in traditional examination settings. In itself, the concept is not unusual, as nearly all US law schools have been leveraging student-owned laptops on academic examinations for many years. The additional feature we sought and have tested is the ability to sketch a diagram and include that with the text of the essay. We will briefly demonstrate the software and discuss evaluation results. Student reaction has, predictably, been positive, but with some concerns and reservations in using the hardware/software and on issues of equity and fairness. Some found the very concept of including a diagram in an essay startling, while others thought it natural and desirable. All found it physically awkward to manipulate the tablet PC between use of the keyboard and the touch screen. Some expressed concerns about whether those students who can touch type are unduly favoured, and whether in fact this widens unfairly the inevitable inequalities between individuals, and their comments suggest it is necessary to consider differences in examiners expectations and decisions when presented with typed rather than hand written scripts. Most importantly support from the student body to continue to develop this approach is strong and consistent. It will not be suitable for all examinations in all subjects, but clearly this will be a useful tool for a wide variety of contexts.



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MOGEY, N. and SARAB, G., 2006. Exams, essays and tablet computers – trying to make the pill more palatable. IN: Danson, M. (ed.). 10th CAA International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference : Proceedings of the Conference on 4th and 5th July 2006 at Loughborough University. Loughborough : Lougborough University, pp. 313-320


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