Our school has always been a little ahead of the game when it comes to technology. I’ve been there 17 years and on my first day, we already had a campus-wide WiFi network. We are a private Catholic high school of 1,100 students with a 1:1 iPad program that started with all 4 classes of students. We have a classroom set of Chromebooks in case our teachers need/want them instead of iPads for a day or two. Our current bandwidth is 600 Mbps, of which we use at least 200-250 Mbps on a daily basis. We use Schoology as our LMS and in an average month, we will have over 1 Million page views in Schoology from students, teachers & parents. Honestly, we have the perfect environment to do online testing with our students.
I encouraged teachers to try more online testing this year and at the end of 1st semester, 31% of our teachers gave their final exams online. We gave each teacher 2 Chromebooks to use as backup devices in case a student had an issue with their iPad and we utilized Respondus Lockdown Browser to keep students locked into their tests. We had a couple minor issues with students tests not submitting right away, but a couple minor adjustments and we felt great about the results and the ease of accessing data from the exams.
This semester, after teachers saw how effective and easy online testing was, we were up to 43% of teachers giving final exams on the iPads. We even had an English class and two different Biology classes use AMP (Schoology’s Assessment Management Platform) to give their exams. AMP will be able to give us data that’s easier to access and more importantly allows us to create questions that could never be asked on a ScanTron type test.
‘Doomsday’ – Days 1 & 2 of 2nd Semester Exams
Our phone system is internet based, and when we started the first day of exams the phones were down along with the networked computers. However, the WiFi was up and running and we only had a few glitches with the testing. After exams, we rebooted the system and the entire network crashed. It was one of those things we could never see coming. Our core switch went belly-up and took our entire network with it. Since this switch costs about the same as 1/2 a teacher’s salary, it’s not something we keep extras of – nor is it something you can run over to Best Buy and grab on your lunch break. HP could get us the piece by the next day, but we have exams to give before then – Online!
Our teachers were at home scrambling to put together a printable copy of their exams (something Schoology needs to greatly improve on), our tech team helped print them out and make copies – it only made sense since we literally couldn’t do anything else besides clean our desks. Our office staff helped by pulling out stacks of pencils and ScanTron sheets. By the time our online testing teachers walked in the next morning, they all had exams in their mailboxes and were ready to go.
Although our network had been down for no more than 20 minutes over the past 3 years, we ran into the worst case scenario – almost. As one of my friends said, “Well, it could have crashed at 8:00am today”. So the question becomes, “How do you encourage and support teachers moving to online testing, without creating more work for them?”
Backup Plan Suggestions
- As you create an online exam, use Google Docs to type your questions. Then copy and paste them into the online testing program. It doesn’t have to be G Docs, but it does have to be cloud-based.
- If you use test bank software like ExamView, make sure you save and print a copy of the test before converting it to an online format.
- Have at least 2 spare devices per room, and let teachers know who else near them is giving an online test. They can always send a student to that room first to see if those devices are being used.
- Every teacher giving an online test has my cell number so they can text me in an emergency. We have 2 other tech team members and they know during exams, these teachers and students are our #1 priority.
- One classroom set of printed exams is the only way to avoid that 8:00am crash without wasting any exam time. I hate this idea because it defeats one advantage of online testing – trees don’t have to die. But if a system crashes at 8:00am and you have 20+ teachers giving exams with only 3 copy machines… well, you do the math.
- Don’t make any network changes within a week of the exams – if possible. Stick with the old adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This wasn’t our issue, but I’ve seen it before.
Please feel free to share your ideas for a backup plan. I’d love to hear them and share them.