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For first time ever, due to COVID-19, all UOC exams held online: 17,000 students and 30,000 tests

  Photo: Wes Hicks / Unsplash

Photo: Wes Hicks / Unsplash

Anna Torres Garrote
The University mobilized its experts in record time so that students could complete their courses this semester

The tests were adapted to the online environment, with plagiarism prevention and checks on students' identities

Over six days in June, 17,000 students from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) sat their exams online. For the first time in the UOC's 25-year history, the institution had to put 30,000 tests for 1,400 courses online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it had to do so in record time. To date, this key process at the University was one of the last to be primarily on-site, with the exception of around 3,000 tests that were taken by students living abroad. Going from this to 30,000 was a huge challenge, even for the world's first ever fully online university.

According to Carles Sigals, Vice President for Teaching and Learning: "The number of final tests and exams multiplying by 10, and this happening in so little time, without being able to plan for it, was a major challenge as we didn't have the model fully tested and prepared." Despite everything, his verdict is that "it was a success".

Before the pandemic broke out, AQU Catalunya asked the UOC for the tests to be on-site, but in the midst of the emergency and extraordinary circumstances, the Secretariat for Universities and Research and the Ministry for Universities, with the support of the assessment agencies, and in this case AQU Catalunya, established a framework in response to the exceptional circumstances that authorized the organization of all the continuous and final assessment processes online. Sigals highlighted "the University's staff were forced to put in a huge effort to cover all the gaps where it was difficult to make the technology and the circumstances meet, displaying great dedication".


The culmination of the learning process

The final tests set by the UOC are the culmination of a long process of student mentoring based on continuous assessment, which, according to Sigals, "means that the balance between the student's hard work throughout the semester and the final effort of the tests and exams is much better".

The Office of the Vice President for Teaching and Learning gave a verdict of "magnificent" to how the assessment process had been managed, both by faculty and the administrative staff providing them with support. Such was their approval that they stated their interest in this online assessment system becoming standard once the pandemic is over.

Emili Rubi, the UOC deputy general manager of operations, explained that the 30,000 online tests were a "logistical and technological" challenge and highlighted some of the situations that they had to master, such as ensuring the "students were properly identified" and being able to answer any queries that arose during the test: "we had to activate a channel for interactions between students and faculty".


Checking students' identities and preventing plagiarism

After completion of the online final assessment tests, the University ran two checks: on identity and on plagiarism. The identity check was performed in just over 48 hours following the test's completion by a team of about 40 people.

To ensure there was no plagiarism, a system was used to detect similarities between the tests and external sources. The results were filtered and reviewed by two people from the Office of the Vice President and, as a final step, any cases of proven or suspected plagiarism were sent to the coordinating professor for the course for their approval.

Rubi also stressed the participation of the more than 300 people from the University who made putting the exams online possible and proved that students' time at the UOC can be 100% online, from the moment they start through to their final assessment. Rubi concluded: "We are proud that the UOC has been able to consolidate its online model with quality and assurances."


Mentoring students throughout the process

Esther Gonzalvo, Director of Academic Services at the UOC, explained how it was very clear right from the start that they had to mentor the students, both in terms of information and personalized help. She said: "The most important thing for us was that students could demonstrate what they'd learned and have support to help them do so." Gonzalvo highlighted students' commitment and desire to succeed under such adverse circumstances, where many of them had to follow the semester "with children at home or people under their care".

Vice President Sigals also stressed the key role played by the Student Council and its representatives, as well as the student body as a whole, "whose activity levels this semester have been slightly higher than the last" despite the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the pandemic.