Examination and Evaluation is another important challenge to be addressed in this migratory journey. There are a number of options available to conduct examinations online. Educational institutions need to decide whether to create their own IT Infrastructure or outsource the examination process. In the short run the second option may be more appropriate. It is not difficult to locate a service provider for conducting semester end examinations as many organizations are in the domain of conducting examinations and some institutes have already conducting online examinations and tab based examinations.
Faculty members need to be familiarized and trained adequately to set question papers, conduct and evaluate online. Online examination systems are totally different in all aspects. The descriptive questions may have to be replaced with multiple choice questions or into other forms which are machine friendly.
In conventional examination papers questions normally three types of questions are given: Short Answer Questions, Short Essay Questions and Essay Questions. In some question papers there may be problem based questions and Case Studies in some courses in management programs. Already some universities introduced one section of MCQs with 20-30 per cent weightage. There is no problem in case of Multiple Choice Questions to migrate on to online examination. In case of descriptive questions some changes in question pattern and preparation of machine friendly evaluation scheme which enables online evaluation.
The question pattern need to be adapted to suit online evaluation with a focus on extracting point based answers from students. These answers and key words/ key points to be fed into the answer scheme and marks will be awarded based on matching between the key words and student answers.
This is also possible in case of problem based questions. One can also set questions by giving a descriptive narration and ask questions based on the narrated concepts/situations.
Preparation of students for Online Examinations:
The students need to be prepared for new generation examination and evaluation processes with comprehensive guidelines to prepare for the examinations. The students need to be familiarized and informed clearly about examination enablers: the desktop or laptops requirements with necessary technical specifications like OS, Strength of Internet, Software, Hardware and mobile devise specifications and other system requirements like webcam, battery backup ( for the entire duration of examination).
These specifications must be sent to each student and the written confirmation shall be obtained before the examination process starts. In the event of students not possessing laptops/desktops at home they should be supported by the institutions to provide laptops/desktops on a rental basis from local cybercafé. It may be difficult but not impossible to arrange for laptops/desktops for a very small number of students.
The gadgets need to be registered when the students apply for examination. The application forms may be modified with gadget specifications and an undertaking that student will be responsible for the smooth conduct of the examinations and will be liable to disciplinary action for any malpractice.
The students need to be instructed that they shall be under webcam during the entire exam process and under continuous surveillance during the examination any movement from the system will automatically disqualify them from exam.
The students may also be instructed to ensure that they have a place at their homes which is secluded and not disturbed during the examination time.
They also need to ensure that necessary power back up is available so that the system will not stop during the examination.
The place where students take examination at home shall have natural light even if power goes off in the house there will not be any problem.
The students may be provided with soft copies of necessary tables like interest tables/ values etc.(along with question papers) which may be needed in some examinations like Chemistry/ statistics/financial management.
It is ideal to conduct mock examinations three weeks before the final examinations which may be considered for the last set of Internal Exams with adequate weightages to sustain interest and serious attempt.
It would be still better to schedule a Pre- Final Exam two weeks before Semester End Exams with 50% weightage to bring in necessary seriousness and University can have a beta run of the examination process and fine tune wherever changes are needed.
Institutionalization of Online Learning:
Measures need to be initiated to strengthen the online learning institutionalization process to accelerate the adaptation of higher education institutions to online and distance learning mode.
It also looks practical to bring in universities and colleges into the purview of Distance and Online Universities in each state wherein the Distance and Online Universities will be providing all necessary infrastructural support to the universities in design of courses, content development, delivery of lectures and also conduct training programs, Summer Schools/Winter Schools for the networked institutions.
For this extended support, the existing open and online universities need to be provided with necessary financial grants to strengthen their online infrastructure. It is also possible to encourage private universities to start online education programs. In fact Indian private universities are generally financially sound with latest technological infrastructure as most of these universities are five to ten years old.
Governments at Center and State levels need to scale up budget support to education infrastructure. Education is one of the most neglected sectors in budgetary allocations and even in these allocations a major part of amounts are allocated to meet expenses like fee reimbursement, scholarships etc. rather than building up educational infrastructure. It is high time that policy makers focus on addressing the investment needs on building education infrastructure particularly ICT infrastructure.
Libraries play a very significant role in supporting online learning and all online resources are to be aggregated, classified and provided to faculty members and students continuously. Libraries need to have a dedicated online division under the headship of a qualified person to provide online resources support services.
In fact the existing online resources are yet to be utilized to the fullest extent. A package of 500 books, 50 journals and 20 magazines and 10 news papers including 2 or 3 business papers shall be made available to all students who take admissions as welcome learning package along with 5-10 courses in each program.
Virtual Labs Enabling Practical Sessions Online
Creation of Virtual Labs is also a reality now. Students need not go to labs physically to do practicals. In all subjects of engineering and science virtual labs can be used to enable students to do practicals also before they come to campus. Virtual Labs Project is an initiative of Ministry of Human Resource Development( MHRD), Government of India under the aegis of National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology(NMEICT). This project is a consortium activity involving 12 participating institutes with IIT Delhi as the coordinating institute.
This is certainly a revolutionary step by MHRD and can bring a paradigm shift in ICT based education particularly in the domain of practicals. These Virtual Labs facilitate conduct of remote experiments. This resource comes handy to all engineering colleges to enable students complete some part of practicals virtually at home. At present, under this project over 100 Virtual Labs consisting of 700+ web enabled experiments are designed for remote operations and viewing. Virtual Labs do not require any additional infrastructural setup for conducting experiments at user premises.
COVID 19 has definitely created a huge disruption in education in general and higher education in particular. This disruption has paved way for many innovations and more effective teaching -learning opportunities for educators. A number of universities in India particularly private universities are very quick to adapt to these changes as these universities are young and equipped with excellent physical infrastructure. However, educational institutions cannot drive this huge change alone. There is a need for concerted and cooperative support from governments and regulating agencies in a proactive and positive manner. Such support will help in strengthening Indian higher education as a strong growth propeller. It is needless to say that when education sector is strong economy will become stronger.