Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Electronic Test in Tampere University

Tampere University has new facilities for taking tests electronically instead of writing them with pencil and paper, which is cool since dead wood is soooo 20th century.

The tests are done in one of two Test Aquariums. Test aquariums are special computer classes. The user who logs on to a computer can use only the dedicated test software. The software has a web-based component that is used for enrolling to a test well before the test date. The student can choose her test date and time from a calendar. In the Test Aquarium, the same web-based software fetches the questions.

The answering software is a normal "thick client" and enables the user to navigate between questions and write answers to them. The test I took contained only open writing questions, rather than multiple choices, but the system seemed to be capable of automatically rating multiple-choice questions. There is also an automatic time limit for the test.

The system has some traces of being experimental. There was an Opera logo in the upper right corner, and instead of a normal edit box control the answering was done with a more limited control. It enabled normal typing in monospace font, and you could copy-paste text with menus, but not with shortcut keys. For me it worked overall like a dream, but a girl that participated in this test aquarium experienced problems: The system threw him out without any specific reason in the middle of the test.

Anyway, it's a huge improvement to current practice. It enables one to take tests when one is ready, rather than when the Official Test Date is, enabling one to take courses that are not lectured every year, and making it easier to get credit units in the summer. And typing the answer instead of writing it with pencil is a bit like writing a blog post.

By the way, if the test participation can be recorded on video, why can't lectures be recorded? With recorded lectures and Test Aquarium tests, many courses could be removed from face teaching. Face teaching should concentrate on the few areas that are worth human contact, like groupwork, honing writing skills and keeping presentations.

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