Best practices for online exams

Community Contributor

Hi Everyone,

Now that we are all diving deep into the online waters, I wanted to find out more about best practices when it comes to setting up online exams.  I teach and coordinate a statistical literacy course at Ohio State, and most students take this course to fulfill a general education requirement.  We have up to 1000 students in the course each semester.  I have one section of the course that is mostly online, but, up until just a couple of weeks ago, we required all students across all sections of the course to take a written midterm exam and a written final exam in a proctored setting.  Most of our students are local and are able to come to campus to take these exams at common times.  We work with students who are not local in order to figure out other options, and most of those students end up making appointments at approved testing centers or having exams proctored at public libraries.

Naturally, we have no choice now but to move everything online for all of our students.  For this semester, I have been given permission not to have a final exam at all in my course and to change the weights of other assignments.  This gives me some breathing room in order to figure out how to restructure the course moving forward.  I am scheduled to teach the online section again this summer, and my assumption is that my midterm and final exams will both need to be online during that time.  Perhaps that won't be the case, but I feel I need to be planning for this contingency.

Given the large number of students we have, in addition to our desire to be able to quickly grade their work and provide them with feedback, we generally tend to create exams that are composed mostly of multiple-choice questions.  We then have a small number of short-answer questions that usually involve computations of some sort, or that require students to explain their reasoning.  I try hard to write multiple-choice questions that go beyond recall and recognition; I want to see that students can analyze, apply, evaluate, and synthesize.  

If my midterm and final exams have to be fully online, I know this will open up the possibility of academic dishonesty, and I know there is only so much I can do to prevent that.  I was hoping I might be able to randomly order exam questions and answer options.  I'm not sure if I can easily set things up so there are multiple versions of the same exam, with different students receiving different versions, but if I can do this, I would definitely want to go that route.   I would probably lower the weights of the midterm and final exams in order to create less of a "high stakes" atmosphere.  To make things easier for us to grade--especially given our large number of students--I might have to resort to an all multiple-choice exam, but I feel comfortable writing questions that will hopefully challenge students (e.g., questions where they cannot simply hunt for answers in their textbook).  I am also thinking of including some kind of "commitment to academic integrity" as a possible test question.

Are there other things I should be thinking about?  I'd love to hear more from those of you who might already be incorporating these kinds of exams in your online courses.  I know we could also go the route of using some kind of proctoring service, but I was hoping to avoid that, if possible.  

Thank you all for your time and support.