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Psy 1001 Takes Assessment Online

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Psychology 1001 had a history of course transformation long before receiving a Course Transformation Program award in 2009-10.

Historically, the course was a large lecture course, with three faculty-taught lectures and one small graduate students-led discussion section weekly. When demand exceeded capacity, new sections of the course were added to allow students the option to watch the lectures online. Today, the course is currently offered to between 1,100 and 1,200 students per semester, with about 700 taking the course as a traditional lecture in Willey Hall, and about 400 students viewing lectures online. All students attend weekly discussion sections on campus.

One challenge identified by the Psy 1001 Course Transformation Program (CTP) team centered around course assessments, specifically the midterms and final exam. The team wanted to use technology to standardize assessments; to make creating, administering and grading exams more efficient; to create a more user-friendly environment for students taking exams; and to increase exam security.

Online Exams

Last year, the Psy 1001 course team successfully implemented a new exam design that leveraged technology to deliver exams online in a secure and efficient manner for all students, whether they were enrolled in the traditional lecture or the online lecture course sections. Exams are now administered using the course management system assessment tool with Respondus Lockdown Browser in a proctored computer lab environment. The computer lab in 50 Hubert H. Humphrey Center provided 80 seats so it took two days for all 1,100 students to cycle through; based on student feedback, they scheduled exams at standard class start times of 10:10, 11:15, and so on. Students sign-up to complete the exam at a time that is convenient for them using a scheduling system.

The results are impressive. With only 80 students taking exams at one time instead of hundreds, exams begin promptly. Less than five minutes pass between the time the first student provided his/her ID to the time that all students are taking the exam. The test-taking environment is absolutely quiet. When students finish, they get immediate feedback on their scores and can leave without disturbing their peers. An unanticipated benefit is that with only 80 students, proctors can be more accessible to students who have questions during the exam. Based on a focus group of Psy 1001 students, the course team learned that students appreciated the flexibility to schedule when they took their exam and found the instant feedback provided at the end of the exam very satisfying. It is also worth noting that the instructors also appreciated the cost and time savings that online exams allow.

Best Practices

Could this method work for you and your students? Consider the following best practices that Psychology 1001 employed:

Use question sets to randomly generate exam questions for each student. In Psy 1001, because students complete the exams over several days, exams are designed so each topic tested is measured by multiple items of approximately equal difficulty. Students see one item at random on each topic. Thus all students complete unique but parallel exams. Students cannot copy from their neighbors during exams, and there is no point in copying questions because students won't see the same items as their friends. For each 50-item exam, Psy 1001 has an item pool of approximately 300-400 items. Using the course management system to build, store, and administer tests also provides statistics regarding item performance which is invaluable for developing better exams.

Use browser-lockdown software to reduce access to other applications and information to ensure exam security. The University provides software that can be used to lock-down an exam within the course management system. These programs prevent students from printing, copying, visiting other websites, or accessing applications during an exam and can limit access to an online exam to specific computers and specific times.

Make certain students understand how the exams will be delivered. By incorporating low-stake mastery quizzes through the semester, students become more familiar and comfortable with the online exam format for the higher-stake exams. As with paper exams, making expectations about academic integrity clear is important as is explaining what to expect on exam days.

Implementation Team

The Psy 1001 course team that designed and implemented this exam method included Professor Thomas Brothen, Kate Briggs, Carla Bates, and instructional technology consultants from CLA-OIT and central OIT. In addition to online exams, the course team made lecture recordings available with integrated mastery quizzes and increased the number of interactive activities to create a more student-centered learning environment for online students. They would be happy to discuss their challenges and successes with other CLA faculty who are interested in learning more about the methods deployed in Psy 1001.

Additionally, CLA-OIT's Technology-Enhanced Learning Team is your resource for exploring, designing, and implementing academic technology solutions that meet your pedagogical goals. Send inquiries to and a member of our team will be happy to meet with you.

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