How meritorious ‘merit’ is in online exams?

‘Merit’. It seems to reflect a neutral benchmark to ensure that everyone gets what he/she deserves. However, we need to ask ourselves, is merit neutral in reality? This question becomes all the more important today when the entire teaching-learning-evaluation process has gone online in this pandemic. Are the results of online exams, which are said to be based on merit, rewarding only the deserving students?

Though exams have never been entirely a product of merit, the online situation is even more disconcerting because many more external factors influence the neutrality of merit. Online exams depend not just on the intellect of the student but also on factors such as having a good network, a high typing speed, a personal space, etc.

key challenges online classes
Source – The Business Standard

Moreover, various contingencies may arise and have arisen in the past with our online experiences, such as cyclones hitting the coastal areas, unfavourable weather conditions and unexpected electricity or network fluctuations. Some of these factors can be taken into account by giving some concession to the student by the exam conducting body. But for many other factors that cannot be or have not been taken into account, it might be gravely disadvantageous to the students who suffered. How accommodative are the universities and schools of all these difficulties that students face?

Merit is justified on the grounds that it leads to the distribution of rewards on the basis of what one deserves. However, when there are external factors, more so in an online setup, that determine your performance in an exam, how justified is it to think of merit as a neutral criterion? Maureen Ramsay wrote, and I quote, “People’s merit should not be based on contingencies for which no-one can deserve praise or blame”.

Along with all these factors which tend to deviate merit away from neutrality, the online mode has made cheating more rampant. It’s not that teachers have not tried to curb cheating. Remote proctoring and tab-locking are the few methods that have been deployed.

However, even these have got their pitfalls which are exploited. Hence, they have failed to effectively put a check on cheating. And since we have always focused on the results more than the learning process, have we unknowingly incentivized cheating in an online setup? Not cheating is sometimes even equated to not being smart enough, as finally, grades are what matters. Is there a need for a change in attitudes as well?

Cheating during online exams
Source – Erasmus Magazine

Just as there have been demands for improving and bringing about changes in pedagogy, we need a revamp of the examination process. This is not to say that makes it more technology-intensive such as by devising methods that require huge bandwidths, methods which anyways fail and have escapes. Instead, the argument here is to make exams fairer by making them holistic learning-oriented.

We as an academic community need to brainstorm ideas to come with a better examination process that befits the online mode which education has undertaken, or rather which the education has been bound to undertake.

All this does not mean that I am discarding the many benefits that online exams have. They have proved to be the oxygen support in these difficult times, which kept studies of millions going. So many students could have wasted their years due to the pandemic had we not switched to the online mode of learning and exams. Hence, I am not advocating for an overhaul of the online examination system, but a reconsideration of the way we proceed with it. How can we make it as neutral and fair as possible?

There is a need to consider a mix of evaluation methods. Instead of having just one end term exam, there can be multiple exams of smaller weightage and duration so that any contingency does not drastically affect the performance of a student. To prevent cheating, questions need to be made more analytical and open-ended, which push the students to think beyond the texts. Making multiple sets of question papers can also prevent collaboration to a certain extent.

A certain component of the evaluation may be based on oral exams or vivas that would help teachers gauge the student’s performance in real-time. Not that these methods are foolproof, but this is just an initiation of a dialogue that we as an academic community need to engage in to come up with better evaluation methods. All in all, the aim is to get better learning outcomes.

Online exams
Source – Mysuru Today

COVID-19 made us transition rapidly to the online mode of exams. With every wave of COVID getting more deadly, are we developing and preparing ourselves better? Are our online systems pacing at a speedy rate? The shift from offline to online mode was not easy, but equally challenging is the problem we have now- how are we going to ensure that the online setup works to our advantage by enhancing the overall quality of students? The integrity of online exams is in peril. Hence the question, how meritorious would ‘merit’ continue to remain?

Written by- Shivi Dangi

Edited by- Oishika Ghoshal

The post How meritorious ‘merit’ is in online exams? appeared first on The Economic Transcript.

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