Originally written in Dutch for Veto by Tijs Keukeleire
Translated to English & adapted for The Voice by Gwynne van Kaauwen (International Section Editor)
Originally published as two separate articles on March 27th and 28th, 2020
The exam period will be extended until the 4th of July, according to an e-mail by rector Luc Sels. Exams can also take place during the block period. From the fifth week after the Easter break there shouldn’t be any new study material.
In order to have less students per auditorium during the exams, the KU Leuven extends its exam period. Backwards but also forwards; from the middle of the second block week onwards exams can be scheduled. The university will avoid this for courses from the first and second year bachelor.
The new schedules will be published on April 30th at the latest.
A longer academic year for some
Last week, the Flemish universities sat down together with the Minister of Education Ben Weyts about an ‘emergency decree’. This would allow students who cannot finish their degree in July or September to finish after October. It concerns students who missed certain necessary internships or practical classes, especially in healthcare and other regulated jobs.
The advantage of this measure is that students no longer have to re-enroll (and pay enrollment fees) or lose learning credits. The proposal is currently under consideration by the minister. The Cabinet will first wait on further developments related to the current pandemic and the corresponding response measures.
On Thursday the Flemish rectors met to coordinate their approaches. They agreed to proceed with the June exams as planned, provided additional social distancing measures are implemented. That same afternoon, Ghent University was the first to communicate its new schedule, followed by Hasselt University and the VUB. The University of Antwerp had already informed its students last Wednesday afternoon. The faculties will have a lot of freedom to arrange the exam period.
Options for online evaluations
In addition to the extension of the exam period, the university is looking at a mix of ways to evaluate students. ‘"We must ensure that not every subject switches to a form of continuous assessment at the same time," according to the rector. “Because then you create a bottleneck for students, who will face a lot more assignments in the remaining weeks of the semester. The program directors must now strictly monitor the feasibility.”
Take home exams via Skype
Online assessment methods are one of the choices in the new mix for small groups of students. “For example, a colleague of mine adjusts the questions. Because of this, it can be a take home exam with an oral part through Skype,” says Sels.
“If we wait until we are absolutely sure, we cannot communicate at all”
In this way, some of the physical exams will disappear from the schedule in June. Together with the extended exam period, this leads to a larger spread over the auditoriums. Moreover, the university is reviewing different locations in the neighbourhood to hold exams.
Lockdown in June
The university hopes for exams on campus in June. Insights of virologists and epidemiologists help the board in making these choices. “But we don’t have a crystal ball,” stated the rector. “It wouldn’t be wise to wait to take decisions until we are absolutely sure about the further developments of this pandemic. Then, we cannot communicate at all and we would keep all our students in the dark. That isn’t an option.”
“We will conduct the maximum amount of exams in June”
Faculties will now work on identifying the courses that they will physically conduct during the exam period in June. “Therefore on a central level we have room to calmly examine solutions for more extreme scenarios or a situation in which exams cannot be organised on campus,” according to the rector. “Anyway, a shift of the exam period to July, August or September is not on the table right now,” clarified Sels on ROBtv.
The solutions provided for students obliged to take exams remotely are almost certainly going to be online: if the student cannot take their exam on campus, it has to be taken at home. However, the question is whether all the exams in the planning of the program directors can really be shifted online is still unsure.
“In the case that we cannot even work with a limited presence in June, we will still conduct the maximum amount of exams in June, but online instead,” states Sels.
Some institutions have more experience with digital exams. At the Vives West-Flemish college, a fifth of the students attend as distance learners. They can take exams on campus or at home. “In the latter case we work with a system of proctored exams,” according to coordinator of education technology Kurt Galle.
“With a greater variety of questions and time pressure, you don’t need anti-fraud technology”
A program puts restrictions on the usage of your computer. You put your phone or tablet behind you and this monitors together with your webcam the whole environment. The images will be analysed by an external company, with use of AI - looking upwards, downwards or to the sides too much is suspicious for example.
And KU Leuven?
Proctored exams are not easy for groups of more than twenty students. “Furthermore fraud is still possible,” states Wim Machiels, responsible for education facilities ICTS. He recorded a video to prove this. The software Vives has is also not owned by KU Leuven.
In the emergency scenario in which no physical exams can be conducted, Machiels sees other solutions: “A larger variety of questions or time pressure can accomplish a lot. Then you don’t need advanced anti-fraud technology.”
“No one enjoys this kind of scenario”
An oral exam can be done through Skype if you prevent teamwork by a bigger pool of questions and more time pressure. Even multiple choice exams can be taken from home, within the exam environment of xToledo. “When it comes to understanding or open-book questions, you don’t need proctering,” says Machiels. Fraud is still possible, “but that’s also the case in a normal exam. The question is; who will dare to? And will you spend your time on that when you have a limited amount of time?” asks Machiels.
More time pressure or understanding-based questions will perhaps not be very popular amongst students. Machiels: “No one enjoys this kind of scenario. But when it really comes to this point and we cannot conduct exams on campus, as a student I would prefer to take an exam then to redo the course later on.”