Improving the hybrid and blended testing experience

Evidence from the 2020 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report
Max de Winter, solutions engineer at ProctorExam provided a webinar on the do’s and don’ts of remote monitoring of tests at EdTech Austria. He talked about the usage of online proctoring and legislation when implementing in different European countries, both in the education sector, as well as in the private sector and the corporate world. He also talked about three key elements to improve the hybrid testing experience. Apart from the best practices at ProctorExam, the source of inspiration was a wonderful article published by EdTech Magazine and the 2020 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report. Let’s recap.

Simplicity in terms of tech and tools were beneficial

With a sudden shift of moving away from the exam location in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning in higher education and the business world will continue to persist post-pandemic and how such a change would impact the way exams are conducted worldwide.
Higher education leaders, instructors and business leaders for instance, had to review their technology practices. They identified which ones were the most essential for the future and which ones were included in their best practices. In many cases, simplicity in terms of tech and tools were beneficial to the end goal of successfully supporting learning and testing practices. Blended and hybrid course models and forms of exam taking became leading, as institutions sought ways to maintain their operations through the health crisis and rethink their sustainability goals.
Now, as the pandemic is coming to an end and we enter the phase of ‘the new normal’, many education leaders, instructors and business leaders are in favor of continuing the practices with the hybrid and blended learning and test models that were necessary due to COVID-19. At the same time, the different stakeholders involved look into how to strengthen on-site instructions, for example in order for exam takers not to be left behind at whatever level they are at – whether academically, socially or professionally.
COVID-19 wasn’t the only factor that placed a renewed focus on online learning and testing practices. For example, EDUCAUSE’s annual Horizon report examined the factors shaping the different sectors, including dropping enrolment and rapid movement towards higher education funding. Although not all challenges are easily met, there is a lot that can be done to improve the learning and testing experience for everyone involved already. Here are the key elements to do so.

Collaborating towards the same goal 

Exam takers have a wide range of different backgrounds, with varying strengths and weaknesses. Good communication which also entails cross-cultural communications, allows everyone involved to promote effective learning. It sounds so easy and like a lot of common sense, but reality shows that communication still needs a lot of attention and focus.

Plans, preferences and other data through the day-to-day can be communicated in informal and formal conversations. There are also other pathways to feedback, such as virtual town hall-style meetings. Surveys can also be useful, allowing exam takers to anonymously speak up about their classwork, instructors / business leaders or the overall experience of learning online.

Establishing varied routes for consistent feedback builds a larger sense of teamwork among all parties involved. Each group is aware of collaborating with the others toward the same goal. This can encourage people to solve problems together and reduce misunderstandings.

Freedom of choice for exam takers should be leading

For practicality and logistics, instructors and business leaders need consistency in how they post learning materials, how exam takers hand in work and when to hold digital class sessions or exams. Of course, sometimes things go wrong. We are all human. Greater flexibility allows everyone to more easily work around these issues. For example, instructors and business leaders can allow exam takers to hand in assignments through an established learning platform or via email.

In terms of the integrity of the assessment, with online exams now gaining ground in higher education and corporate training, institutions are free to provide more options to candidates wishing either to take a test from home (or wherever), or attend a test center, or both. Providing a convenient alternative to exam takers who cannot travel to a local test location might also work as a viable strategy for institutions that wish to expand their market reach on a global scale. In short, freedom of choice for exam takers should be leading.

One way to achieve more flexibility is to move away from classical lectures experiences in favor of more individualized, hands-on, exam taker-centric models. Lecture-oriented teaching is still painfully ingrained, with most facilities physically designed to support it. Such changes acknowledge that not all exam takers learn at the same pace and that they need different levels of support – whether in the educational world or in the business world; the analysis and principles are the same.

Many instructors and business leaders have been calling for this type of foundational mindset shift for exam takers of all ages for years. However, COVID-19 has presented a catalyst that may finally push people to embrace it on a wider scale, which is for example similar to the theme of remote working.

Be more creative about safely bringing people together

One of the biggest worries about online learning is that the people involved don’t have opportunities to socialize and network the way they would during a traditional learning day. They can’t chat with each other or their instructors and business leaders in between classes. Many traditional social activities aren’t possible. Consequently, some parties feel they miss valuable opportunities for mentorship, career guidance and self-discovery.

To give them the chance to engage and connect, it is important to formalize what otherwise would occur naturally and to be more creative about safely bringing people together. This could mean hosting a special video session where people play a game or discuss a common interest. Such sessions also allow people to ask questions, voice concerns, talk about their feelings on the pandemic and show empathy for one another. Everyone can decide democratically how these sessions should function and what to include in them. Sessions can be held for all stakeholders involved.

Shaping the history of learning and exam taking

Open educational resources and hybrid and blended learning is experienced as taking the extra mile in diversity and inclusion. Tools such as learning materials that exam takers can access without paying for a physical or digital copy are a top-priority practice in order to support the learning and testing experience. The growth of free and low-cost online resources during the pandemic reduced textbook prices even more, which benefited many people, as concluded in the Horizon report.

Hybrid and blended learning is also seen as improving diversity and inclusivity because it provides access to exam takers who cannot commute to campus on a daily basis, or who have demanding schedules. Hybrid and blended learning and exam taking has become more common as vaccinations are being rolled out, yet there is still a large group of exam takers who prefer to continue solely online, not only due to health risks, but also due to personal preferences.

Shaping the history of learning and exam taking is happening like never before. It’s time for conscious choices. Of course, ProctorExam is stand-by to consult, so feel free to reach out. After all, the choice is yours.
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