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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning


The Project

In 2016-17 the University ran a Computer-Based Examinations pilot project for Preliminary Examinations in the Faculty of History and the Faculty of Classics.  The purpose of the pilot was to test the use of a secure bring-your-own-device approach for students to type their examination scripts, as opposed to handwriting, and allow secure central submission of the script.  Questions were presented on paper and once scripts had been submitted they were printed and distributed for marking in the normal way.

The project is overseen by the Board of Examinations, the Digital Teaching & Learning Sub-committee (DTLS), which has representation from all six Schools, University Information Services, and the Centre for Teaching and Learning. 

The primary objectives of the pilot were to:

  • evaluate the suitability and desirability of computer-based examinations for use at the University;
  • identify benefits and challenges;  and
  • enable an informed choice regarding potential in widespread adoption. 

The pilot also aimed to develop case studies and guidance on the implementation of computer-based exams, to inform any future adoption whether or not this is University-wide.  The pilot aimed to test whether the experiences of both students and examiners are enhanced through this approach, and whether the logistical challenges (such as provision of adequate power, room allocation, keyboard noise, etc.) may be met on a larger scale. 

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The University chose for the pilot a commercial application which takes a ‘locked down’ approach, providing basic text editing but disabling use of the internet and other applications on the device, effectively providing a secure word-processing facility.  The software, along with three years of past papers, was made available for students on the pilot at the start of the Lent Term so that students and DoSes could test and use it for any mock examinations in College.  Students wishing to type but without access to a device were offered the opportunity to have a loan device for the day of the exam.

Students were asked to declare by 24 February whether they would type or handwrite their answers to papers included in the pilot. The result of this process was an approximate 60:40 split in favour of handwriting.  

Examinations took place in April 2017, with an interim report to the Digital Teaching & Learning Sub-committee in May, and a full report at the end of July. 

Evaluation of the success of the pilot was done primarily through surveys and focus groups, to enable both quantitative and qualitative data collection from students, exam hall supervisors, examiners and administrators.  Consideration of the logistical challenges and how these were successfully met formed part of the overall evaluation. As a result of the first year's experience, it is hoped that the pilot will be extended to include more subjects and Departments in 2017-18.

If you have any further queries on the project then please contact:  
Project Manager, Margaret Griggs
Tel: +44 (0)1223 765563