When Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) introduced digital exam pads for the first time in 2014 for the students to write their semester exams, instead of the conventional paper-pen mode, little did they know that it would bring about a drastic change.
At a time when institutions like Anna University are reeling under allegations of scams arising out of revaluation of answer sheets and question paper leaks, TNAU has successfully managed to avoid this situation and has brought down the number of revaluation requests by 50 per cent, claims Dr K Ilamurugu, Controller of Examinations, TNAU.
The university, established in the late 19th century, introduced the digital exam pads on a pilot basis in 2014 and since then there has been no turning back, says Dr K Ilamurugu. "The technology for this was developed in-house and we implemented a lot of changes each time, after the introduction. From the academic year 2018-19, all 42 affiliated colleges of the university are conducting exams using these digital pads," he says.
The digital devices offer a very similar interface to that of an MS-Word document. It has small buttons to write, erase, change colours, textures, and for freehand drawing, making shapes. Information is entered using a stylus provided along with the tab. "The surface is customised in a way to resemble the roughness of an actual paper in which the students used to write. This helps to give the students a feel of writing on paper and makes them more comfortable," he says.
Time-saving and transparent
This method of giving exams and evaluating answers has saved time and is more transparent, according to Dr Parameswari, an assistant professor in the university.
"It saves time because say a student wants to skip questions or writes a wrong answer, he can either flag the question to be answered later or can erase it in a jiffy. The system alerts the student about the flagged questions and the paper is also neat even after so many wrong answers," she adds.
The evaluation is also finished early since the teachers feel at ease and the totalling is done automatically by the computer, she says.
Vouching for her point, Dr Ilamurugu adds, "Earlier it used to take 60-75 days after the exams for us to complete valuation and send results. Now we are completing evaluation in a maximum of 20 days. If it is a mid-semester exam which has only multiple choice questions (MCQs), the students are sent their marks once they complete their exams. It is that easy," he says.
The digital pads also have a feature by which students can view the answers that have been corrected and see where they lost marks. Dr Ilamurugu says that this has made teachers more attentive and careful while correcting papers since their work will be visible to students. "No other university gives this option to students because they write exams on papers and we all know how that works. So this has improved transparency between the evaluators and students," he adds.
Question paper leaks not possible
The data is transmitted to and from the devices using cloud technology thereby not requiring the devices to be connected to the internet all the time.
"The data in the device and that which is transmitted is encrypted and can be decrypted only using the device. Hence there is no possibility of a question paper leak in this method," claims Dr Ilamurugu. He also adds that the devices need to be online twice a day for a few minutes to be updated.
"We thought about this early on since we understood the difficulties of having a server in a different location than ours. In those days, when we had initially attempted implementing this technology, I think in 2007-08, we struggled to get a broadband line in this area. Hence, when we decided to adopt digital methods for examinations, we decided upfront that we would rely on cloud technology which requires lesser time online for data updation and transmission," he says. The digital pads are synchronised with the cloud twice a day now during which questions and answer papers are updated in the memory. This has given more flexibility to the teachers to use a device of their choice to access and evaluate the answer sheets.
"The answer papers can be accessed with any machine. These tabs or teachers’ own laptops or desktops can be used to evaluate the papers. There is no need to be attached to a physical connection line or a server. This has given teachers the option and comfort of working from anywhere," he adds.
Drastic reduction in revaluation requests
Making semester exams digital has brought down the requests for revaluation of answer sheets by half. Explaining the possible reason behind this decrease in revaluation applications, Dr Ilamurugu says that it was the result of a transparent system of evaluation. According to an analysis done by TNAU for the term-exams whose results were out in July 2018, the revaluation requests received by the university stood at 6.2% when compared with the average of 12% they had, when exams were conducted in paper-pen mode.
“When the exam is written on digital pads, the students get a link to their evaluated answer sheets when their marks are released. The students can use that URL to view their corrected answer papers. In case of any discrepancy in marking, they can approach their teachers,” he says. He also adds that when the exams were conducted in paper-pen mode, the students were informed only about their marks whereas they could not access their papers.
“We also encourage the evaluators to add comments on the papers when they are correcting the answers. When the answers were written on paper, this was not encouraged because it would be an issue during revaluation. Now with the digital mode of examinations, we encourage comments from teachers,” he explains.
Dr Ilamurugu also says that digitising the process of testing students is the way forward since it reduces complexities in the process and makes it easy for everybody involved.