With exam season upon us, David Hathaway, Product Manager for Scientia’s exams solutions, looks back on the exams-themed sessions at our recent User Conference.
This was the second year that we have run a dedicated Exams Stream at the Scientia User Conference. A significant number of people attend the Conference primarily for the exams sessions (and some come just for that day), and it was heartening to see that our ~70-seater room was decently full – often almost to capacity – for most of the presentations.
To the untrained eye, planning exams may not seem different to scheduling a course, but it is – significantly. Although inexorably linked, there are two distinct parts to staging exams: scheduling them and then managing them.
The scheduling part of exams is very much like scheduling lectures, albeit that you may well have different student sets in the same room – a group of history students and a group of maths students, for example – or the same group spread over many rooms. This presents challenges unique to exam timetablers. The management of exams relates more to the preparation and delivery of the event itself: getting papers securely produced and delivered to the venue; invigilator recruitment, training and rostering; taking into consideration students who need extra provision; and management of the exam sessions.
Our Exams Stream was an opportunity for our customers to share how they manage their own exams – and a chance for us to update them on how our solutions are developing to meet the changing needs of the sector.
The day kicked off with a Scientia product development update. While focussing on Exam Scheduler (ES) and Exams Management System (EMS), the session also touched on integration capabilities – particularly the new ability to make exam timetables available to staff and students via Publish.
The big news was that we will be moving ES to the Cloud (starting next year) as part of Syllabus+ Anywhere. Like all elements of Syllabus+ Anywhere, exams users will get a new interface, components and functionality – and it will be underpinned by next-level reporting and auditing tools. This makes it much more than just a change of platform.
- Jackie Lupton, University of Southampton, looked at the challenges of managing the invigilation process – or more accurately, managing invigilators. Following the process through recruitment, training and then timetabling invigilators, Jackie reinforced her key messages with references to how ES has helped Southampton drive changes to the invigilation process and delivered material benefits.
- Copenhagen Business School runs a dedicated, off-site exam building with some 600+ workstations. Lene Tobiassen’s presentation described the drivers and business benefits for using this kind of building, the main one being that it minimises disruption to normal scheduled activities and, mainly because of the flexible partitioning, creates a much better environment for running exams. All exams at CBS are taken online and Lene’s presentation looked at the benefits (improved workflow, monitoring and transparency) and challenges (hardware issues, etc.) of running exams this way.
- Torben Grobaard, from Copenhagen University, stood in for his colleague Dorte Jensen (who was unfortunately ill) and covered their new, all-digital exams processes. He described the new software they commissioned and implemented to plan, deliver and mark all written exams at the university – and how it links to ES to produce optimised timetables for students. Particularly interesting was how he unpicked their process of putting the right people and equipment in the right room at the right time – no mean feat. The second half of his presentation gave an overview of the dedicated exams building run by Copenhagen University – particularly interesting was the revelation they cover a proportion of the building costs by renting it to outside organisations for running exams.
Making exams work for everyone
At the core of our solutions is the idea that using them can make academic life better for everyone. This ethos is at the forefront of our forthcoming EMS solution, where we have dedicated an entire module to supporting students who need alternative arrangements or additional support in exam situations. The Conference workshop I chaired on this subject was lively and informative with lots of idea-sharing and discussion – so much so that I had to stop it!
The workshop format suits some subjects more than others. Based on discussions I heard throughout the day, a similar workshop session around invigilator management would be a good idea. We will look at running this at the conference next year.
New for 2017: Exams-specific SRUG
The growing popularity of the Conference Exams Stream encouraged us to think about how we could further meet this interest throughout the year. The news that we will have an exams-specific SRUG (Scientia Regional User Group) for the first time this year was very well received. I can now say that it will be held on 31 October at the East Midlands Conference Centre. Booking will open in June, full details TBC.
With ES 3.5.4 and a full EMS release just around the corner, this is an exciting time for our exams solution customers. Find out more about both solutions by listening to the podcasts below.
See more pictures from the Conference here, including the world’s most tense game of Jenga.