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Russian Universities to Use Webinars and Remote Proctoring for Online Exams and Defenses

April 10, 2020

Worrying about this year's exams? That is, worrying that there may be no such thing as this year's exams at all? Take heart, exams, like love, laugh at distance. Russia's leading universities, including Project 5-100 participants, have the technology and staff expertise to conduct examinations and dissertation defenses remotely.

 What with LMSs, online learning platforms and other education management software, there is certainly no lack of technology for administering distance exams, including midterms and finals, or undergraduate and graduate dissertation defenses. The choice of tool depends on whether the examination in question is oral or written.

 For oral ones, universities appear to find webinars a convenient format. It is in webinar mode that Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) will conduct its oral examinations and coursework defenses. Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Mikhail Solovyev stresses that all appropriate rosters and record sheets will be kept, with misconduct and rule violations duly reported, just like in face-to-face exams.

 Video conferences and webinars can be set up on Cifru-Meet, Skype, Zoom, etc. Olga Eliseeva, who heads the Department for Educational Quality Assurance at ITMO University, recommends breaking a class into small groups, scheduling their exam times and giving them enough time to prepare. She also advises that an assistant act as invigilator, or proctor, to prevent cheating. It is best to deal with each examinee in a separate session, she adds.

 For online written tests, universities have a choice of using external learning platforms and software, such as Google Forms, Kahoot!, Mentimeter and Moodle, or proprietary ones. ITMO University, for instance, favors its in-house distance-learning system called AcademicNT with an online practicum option that, according to Olga Eliseeva, randomly selects exam question papers from a bank to be answered by students online.

 TPU, too, will administer computer-based tests to its students via its own platform, the system checking their answers automatically.

 RUDN University, on the other hand, intends to harness MS Teams in addition to its proprietary Telecommunication Training and Information System (TTIS) software, both of which are now being used to deliver distance instruction.

 Projects can also be defended remotely by students' recording their oral presentations and uploading them to a cloud storage service. NUST MISIS Rector Alevtina Chernikova points out that virtual simulations make it possible to complete some laboratory exercises from a remote location, too.

 Even graduate dissertation defenses can be moved online, with all the paraphernalia of secure student authentication and state examination committees 'in stately conclave met'. According to Alevtina Chernikova, NUST MiSIS will conduct such defenses in real time on the MS Teams platform, using digital signatures to confirm students' identity.

 ITMO University aims to ensure test-takers' integrity by means of ITMOproctor, an automated remote proctoring tool that records all that passes between student and invigilator as well as their respective behaviors, and monitors the student's desktop. The system, which has already administered more than 10,000 exams, runs two apps, the proctor's and the test-taker's, Olga Eliseeva explains. It verifies the test-taker's identity using biometric measurements, both biological and behavioral, while monitoring their conduct and analyzing their psychological and physiological state during the exam.

 At NUST MISIS, faculty are collaborating with the university's Center for Teaching Excellence to devise and implement synchronous proctoring methods for establishing students' identity. Other universities, including TPU, rely on external solutions. Olga Petrova, Vice Rector for Academic Affairs at Lobachevsky University, does not see online student authentication as a major challenge.

 RUDN University's Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Aleksandr Efremov is convinced that a transition to distance learning will help universities take the next step towards transforming student assessments, as they will increasingly switch from testing test-takers' memories to evaluating their reasoning skills and subject comprehension. This calls for changing the very nature of exam room assignments rather than their format. Assignments should be devised so as to require students to perform several mental tasks and demonstrate a range of competencies instead of merely recalling and applying a suitable formula.