Examination Team Plus awarded for Service Excellence

The Examination Team Plus has been awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Service Excellence for moving from centrally scheduling on-campus, paper-based exams to scheduling all online and take-home examinations for Semester 1, 2020 due to COVID-19.

This hastily formed team includes Associate Director Student Administrative Services, Helen Murnane, Coordinator Katie Cooper, Patricia Yamasaki and Catherine Thompson from the Examinations and Results (ER) Team, Student Administration’s Amanda Wang from Course Information Management, Ashleigh Brown and Annette Rigby from Graduations, and Kym Fizzell from Student Systems.

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading across the world, the ER team was in the process of scheduling the print run for examination papers and recruiting examination supervisors as usual. After ACU decided to suspend in-person exams in response to the pandemic, the ER team acted swiftly to transition scheduling online and take-home examinations for all students.

The mammoth task ahead

To achieve the rapid response required, the team called on additional support from Student Administration colleagues whose own roles had been disrupted by the pandemic.

“We had to leave behind all of the skills we had in exam planning and learn new ones,” says Helen. “We just had to step in.”

On top of scheduling all online and take-home examinations, the team assessed every student’s assessment schedule for conflicting due dates or clashes to prevent any undue stress, ensured no academic staff were overburdened by changing platforms and processes, and adhered to ACU Examination Policy and Procedure in the process.

Katie says, “We had to learn how to schedule the longer four-day take-home exams without crossover, look at the timetabling for each and every student, reach out to any lecturers and let them know which specific students may come to them and request assistance due to tight timetabling, and advise the lecturer of what assistance they should offer that student.”

The team was committed to ensuring a stress-free process for students and knew that it was important to provide a personalised timetable for each student as they normally would.

“Examinations are the hardest part of their year at the best of times,” says Helen. “As such, timetabling was the only skill which we carried over to make it as consistent and normal as possible for the students to not add to their stress.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

The ER team undertook an intense training session from ACU’s e-learning advisors to enable them to schedule and set up all 131 LEO online exams for the Semester 1 main round.

This intense learning curve gave academic staff the freedom to concentrate on the task of adapting content and format from their established exams.

Helen says that lecturers generously allowed the team to access their units and create tiles to house assessments [on LEO], adding, “I can’t thank the faculties enough for their collaboration.”

She particularly acknowledges the work of Anthony Whitty, Director Learning and Teaching Centre, and Professor Meg Stuart, Deputy Provost, who helped with uploading all of the examination papers.

“Anthony and Meg gave us the power to do whatever we needed to do. They gave us their time, their expertise, their training and their help.”

Learning from change

The team anticipated all the potential challenges that may come from academics, students and technology – none of which eventuated. In fact, scheduling ACU’s assessment in a single timetable for school and centrally managed assessment has seen the lowest rate of exam-related queries and complaints in the past seven years.

“It was about us keeping our students informed so they knew what was going to happen,” says Helen.

“The most important thing about the change was the lack of feedback we got compared to a regular exam period, where we usually get a lot of complaints or feedback or requests for deferred exams. Our students were comfortable and happy and didn’t feel the need to reach out.

“We even had one student who went out of her way to thank us and express that she appreciated the lengths we went to, because she knew from her friends that other universities hadn’t gone to these lengths.”

The team say they have learnt a lot about how they can use technology to help reduce students’ anxiety around exams, including how to assist students with different needs so they don’t feel different to their peers.

For example, the creation of an online reader-scribe service decreased anxiety around assessments for some of ACU’s most vulnerable students. This innovation reimagines how we utilise the services of our existing exam supervisor.

Students whose Educational Inclusion Plan requires either assistance with reading or responding to exam questions were supported to sit their exams in a one-on-one Zoom session with a dedicated reader-scribe who logged into the exams with them. This allowed the student to complete each exam in a comfortable space at a designated time.

“For the most part, the stress, stigma and anxiety was removed for students,” says Katie. “Students could control their own environments to suit their own individual requirements.”

Examinations Plus from left to right  Patricia Yamasaki Catherine Thompson Katie Cooper Aman

Examinations Plus Team, from left to right: Patricia Yamasaki, Catherine Thompson, Katie Cooper, Amanda Wang and Helen Murnane.

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