Online remote exams in higher education: distance learning students' views

Aristeidou, Maria; Cross, Simon; Rossade, Klaus-Dieter and Wood, Carlton (2023). Online remote exams in higher education: distance learning students' views. In: INTED 2023 Proceedings, 6-8 Mar 2023, Valencia, Spain, pp. 2556–2563.



As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, universities had to re-structure their assessment design, policies and processes. It is clear that the experiment of having exams delivered in an online format has allowed institutions to question what the most appropriate format for the future is (St-Onge et al., 2022). The assessment conversation around the design of the online exams and the technology used aimed at ensuring that student expectations were met while securing assessment standards.

This study aimed to explore student views at a major distance-learning university in the UK about participating in online remote exams. The institution replaced the common pre-covid practice of taking face-to-face exams at local centres appointed by the university with remote open book-style exams.

This work focuses on responses to:
(a) a closed-ended question on whether students had a positive, negative or mixed experience with online exams and
(b) an open-ended exploratory question inviting students to report their previous experiences with online exams, if any. Content analysis was used to make valid inferences from the survey respondents’ open-ended responses focusing on the meaning in context (Krippendorff, 2018).

The majority of respondents (83%) reported that they never completed an online remote exam at home (or work) as an alternative to their face-to-face exams. The rest (n = 107) completed online remote exams at home in one course (12%) or more than one course (5%). This may have occurred due to pandemic or to accommodate students with disabilities or other circumstances as part of standard processes. The students who completed an exam at home mainly described their experience as positive (76%, n = 81). However, some students had a mixed (19%, n = 20) or negative (5%, n = 5) experience.

Findings from 107 student responses to an online survey on assessment, pointed to positive and negative areas of experience with online exams. Exploring students’ comments on positive experiences (n = 76), the area with the largest proportion of positive mentions (36%) was ‘exam duration and time’, followed by ‘anxiety/pressure’ (26%), ‘exams at home’ (20%), ‘travel to exam centre’ (16%), ‘real-life equivalent’ (8%), and ‘invigilation’(4%). Exploring students’ comments on negative experiences (n = 15), the area with the largest proportion of negative mentions (52%) was ‘equipment and technical issues’, followed by ‘invigilation and rigorousness’ (26%), ‘exam duration and time’ (9%), ‘marks’ (8%), and ‘distractions at home’ (7%).

The evidence from this study suggests that while most survey respondents show a clear preference towards online remote exams, there is no clear ‘winner’ as different groups of students reveal barriers and challenges in assuming a different exam model. This study provides an agenda for universities with temporary and permanent distance learning programmes to develop or improve ways that students or particular groups of students are assessed by providing positive areas of perception.

[1] Krippendorff, K. (2018). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Sage publications.
[2] St‐Onge, C., Ouellet, K., Lakhal, S., Dubé, T., & Marceau, M. (2022). COVID‐19 as the tipping point for integrating e‐assessment in higher education practices. British Journal of Educational Technology, 53(2), 349-366.

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