Geert De Schutter and Walter Roosels, education technologists at the University of Antwerp took those who attended their presentation “Turning Blackboard Learn into a Digital Examination Platform” through a step-by-step journey – from planning to process – on developing a digital examination platform through Blackboard Learn.

The University of Antwerp is a leading institution with over 19,800 students, from more than 130 nationalities, nine faculties, nice centres of excellence and nine frontline research domains.

In 2009, in order to improve the quality of the exams and the efficiency of assessing them and to ensure that the staff-to-student ratio was optimised against the budget, the University of Antwerp decided to start the transition to digital exams. Also, the institution thought that new digital assessments would contribute to enhancing their image and attractiveness for students.

To validate the success of this initiative, the university set specific goals for this project, including increased focus on efficiency and educational benefits, use of various types of questions and multimedia in exams, and accurate, objective and quick grading.

To make the transition, the university team started with the physical infrastructure.  Since the university does not have the budget or space to create bespoke facilities, they proceeded by modifying the existing rooms, desks and hardware. To prevent cheating, they also implemented specific processes such as random seating, banning of smartphones, smart watches and Internet access, and invigilators escorting students during exams.

The second step was the choice of the platform for delivering the digital assessments. Blackboard met all of their needs, including the possibility of using different types of questions or enriched multimedia content, the flexibility of administering random questions or show answers in random order, and the ability for the students to draft essays using a comprehensive text editor without leaving the testing system.

The team also introduced some customisations using building blocks and developing/incorporating additional software to further enhance the overall student experience and support both learners and instructors.

Support activities have been key to the success of this initiative. For example, the team is actively engaging with students through consistent communication and provides learners with samples of the exams and the ability to practice tests.  Additionally, the first time the exam is run, it is done exclusively for the instructors so they can run the exams on their own and check the entire system beforehand to ensure accuracy and quality.

The project has proved successful and has generated an increased demand for digital assessments from both teachers and students. The university began digital examinations in 2009-10, with 2,500+ exams (21% of all exams offered), and by 2014-15, the number tripled to 7,700+ exams (43%).

The institution is very happy with the outcome, as their goals for both students and teachers were achieved. In particular the new exam system has helped improve readability and quality of the essays and has eased the grading, with a lot of time saved.

Click here to view Ms. De Schutter’s and Mr. Roosels’ presentation.

“Turning Blackboard Learn into a Digital Examination Platform” was one of the many success stories presented at the Teaching and Learning Conference EMEA 2016.

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