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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

E-pad and stylus are overtaking pen and paper at universities

Cloud-based digital exams are eliminating paper and helping cut down on leaks and cheats.

education Updated: Jun 21, 2019 18:12 IST
Vanessa Viegas
Vanessa Viegas
Hindustan Times
(iStock)
         

Forget your foolscaps! The time-honoured paper booklet is steadily making way for a sleeker electronic exam-pad. The trusty ball pen is being replaced by a stylus and all the answers are now stored in the cloud. Even assessments are done digitally, so examiners don’t have to stay back for corrections.

Welcome to the next generation of examinations, where everything revolves around an invisible connected platform, speeding up examination processes, minimising human error and bringing down exam-costs for colleges.

Since 2016-17, students from a wide range of institutions have been writing their examinations on a device called the DigiTaal. These include those at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (Nimhans), International Institute of Information Technology and REVA University in Bengaluru, VIT- AP and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

Most of them rely on Paperless Examinations Advantage (PEXA), a customised cloud-based software that aims to overhaul the examination process and make it more streamlined, sustainable and environmentally friendly. The software was developed in 2015 by LittleMore Innovation Labs, a Singapore based EdTech Company, with a development center in Chennai.

“Now storage is no more an issue for us and it has put an end to a lot of malpractices during the examination process, such as copying and paper leaks,” says Vinay NA, assistant professor at REVA University, which switched to paperless examinations in 2018.

HOW IT WORKS

“This device was designed to feel as close to writing with the traditional pen and paper, and comes with a special coating on the screen to ensure minimum strain to the eyes,” says Biju Zachariah, president of the LittleMore Innovation Labs. He adds that every DigiTaal device has a battery life of over 14 hours and runs with no internet connectivity.

The devices are provided to the institutes by the Lab, and are returned once the exams are finished, so there is no additional burden on colleges for maintenance and repair.

The change came in phases at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, where the device was introduced to a few colleges there as a pilot project in 2016. Today around three lakh examinations are conducted electronically. “Multiply that with a 20-page answer booklet handed out to each student and we’re saving close to 60 lakh sheets of paper in a year” says Dr Vinod V Thomas, registrar evaluation, MAHE. “This is excluding the additional paper used to print question papers. That’s an unbelievable amount of paper.”

Typically, colleges conduct orientation programmes, training and mock examinations to familiarise students with the device. “Initially it felt a bit unusual, but now it’s quite normal for me and I find it much better than writing with pen and paper,” says 21-year-old Sonali Suresh, a third year Bachelors of physiotherapy student at Manipal. “The menu interfaces are designed to keep the navigation intuitive. Think working on Microsoft Word or Paint,” she says.

The e-pad also comes with pre-loaded features like shapes and calculators, so students don’t have to carry exam paraphernalia along, not even their hall tickets. Identities are authenticated using biometrics – fingerprint and retina scans, a few minutes before the exam starts. The question paper is presented at the start of the exam and is automatically withdrawn at the end of it.

“Everything functions like clockwork and is far more systematic than before. We now also have much neater answer scripts, says Ansh Goyal, 24, who’s pursuing MTech at IIIT- Bangalore. In the event of a technical snag, LMI technicians are at hand at every exam, ensuring the stylus doesn’t hang and there is no loss of data.

ASSESSING THE PAPERS

Initially, in a bid to centralise the examination process and minimise movement of faculty, universities scanned answer sheets and emailed them to examiners. But with a device like this, all the answers are digitally stored and the evaluation is far more controlled and distributed.

“Different evaluators are assigned different sets to bring in uniformity in evaluations, enabling more reliable and bias-free corrections,” says Thomas. “Problems of totaling errors or missing questions during evaluation are eliminated, adds Muralidhara V N, who teaches data structures and algorithms at IIIT Bangalore.

On the other hand, multiple-choice questions are evaluated by the device itself, thereby saving time and effort.

Other issues such as paper leaks and the persistent problem of proxy candidates illegally appearing on behalf of students are also eliminated. The faculty can also upload question papers or allow the exam engine to deliver a question paper based on the template defined. “Question papers can be allocated to a bunch of students or a specific student as required by the faculty,” says Zachariah.

Moreover, the digitisation of the process now allows teachers to analyse behavioural patterns of students writing the exam. This helps them understand which areas and topics a student might need help with. “Question-based performance, including the amount of time they spend on each question, can help faculty assess and improve their teaching methods.” says Thomas.

First Published: Jun 19, 2019 20:06 IST

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