To assist Concordia shift from traditional paper based exams to an online assessment platform, Catalyst delivered an exam delivery platform called, COLE – Concordia OnLine Exams whilst maintaining a high level of educational delivery standards.

Challenge

As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in Canada and lockdown began in March, Concordia University made the decision to move to online delivery of high stakes exams. This project went from initial discussions to being ready for exam delivery in eight weeks.

Concordia needed a solution to ensure the continuation of high stakes assessment delivery and to finish the academic year on time. A digital assessment solution was a considerable challenge to overcome during the pandemic. Concordia, like other top tier institutions, was still delivering a lot of in-person paper-based exams.

Concordia needed a reliable and secure online assessment solution, along with a Tier 1 hotline support system during exams.

Concordia also required assistance with the process of transforming and ingesting the upcoming exams into a digital format to fit the platform.

Background

Concordia University (CU) is a comprehensive university located in Montreal, the largest city in Québec, Canada. Concordia University is committed to innovation and excellence in education, research, creative activity and community partnerships.

CU offers 300 undergraduate programmes, 195 graduate programmes, diplomas and certificates, and 40 postgraduate programmes. Its Faculty of Fine Arts is one of the largest in Canada.

CU supports its 45,000 students and over 2,000 full and part time staff through online learning via its Moodle LMS. As well as maintaining a high level of educational delivery standards, the shift from traditional in-person paper based exams to an online assessment platform was a massive organisational change to manage on an aggressive timeline.

Solution

The Concordia exam delivery platform was launched as COLE – Concordia OnLine Exams. Catalyst provide managed services, hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure.

COLE prioritises student success with ease of navigation, a user-friendly dashboard and a high level of student exam support services. COLE is the latest addition to the university’s suite online education tools.

Faculty Benefits

Using automated grading workflows has many advantages – examinations can be generated faster and more frequently if required. Tutors are able to give much more immediate feedback on examinations and are not required to decipher individual handwriting styles. As not all of the COLE grading is automated, the academic staff are spending their marking time more efficiently.

Grades are automatically recorded, easier for faculty members working as a team to interact, analyse the student data, and add insights and assessment.

Institutions are now able to deliver high stakes exams to global candidates as they are not restricted to running an exam in a dedicated physical test location.

Already being familiar with online learning makes the transition of online assessment a natural progression for students.

It is also very easy to adapt online assessments to cater for students of all needs. Extra time is can be allocated for students with special considerations/requirements.

“We’re impressed with its user-friendly design that addresses the needs of students and faculty.”

Sandra Gabriele, vice-provost of innovation in teaching and learning.

“In our commitment to providing a secure exam site, COLE has undergone extensive security testing. Any issues that were identified during the testing phase have been resolved. We are ensuring the software stays up to date in order to maintain ongoing security.”

Students and faculty can easily access the exam site using the same username and password they use to log in to other University systems. Practice tests are available so students and staff can familiarise themselves with the exam process prior to live high-stakes exams.

COLE features an intuitive user experience. This includes a split-screen function to keep questions in view while answering, an “Unsure” flag for easy review of questions before submission, and autosave of text answers every 15 seconds. There is also a live timer, an equation editor, and a summary page that allows students to review the exam.

For faculty, COLE eases the role of the teaching corps with options to save time and ease pressure. These feature the division and distribution of grading of work across teaching assistants and professors and an auto-grade function for multiple-choice questions. The majority of final, summative and midterm exams for the summer and winter 2020 terms have and will be administered through COLE. By Oct 2020, 25,000 high stakes exam sittings have been delivered through the COLE, with 30-40 exams taking place each week during busy periods.

“Faculty have risen to the challenge in quickly transitioning courses and assessments online. We are deeply grateful for their dedication to our students. Their determination and commitment are what make Concordia a special place to work and learn.”

Sandra Gabriele, vice-provost of innovation in teaching and learning.

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