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MIT’s Electronic Exams—Paperless and Proud?

Soon, MITians will no longer panic at the sight of their classmates asking for extra answer sheets during exams. With the introduction of e-pads for examinations, MIT has joined the other MAHE colleges in doing away with pen and paper-based tests. Earlier this semester, first-year students became the first in the college to write their Sessionals on e-pads. While many students harboured reservations about the initiative, the college made sure to ensure that they were given adequate practice and assistance.

The college conducted a comprehensive orientation session to acquaint students with the working of the e-pad. It included demonstrations and a practice paper. They arranged for some e-pads to be kept in the Central Library so that students could practice using them. An IELTS English test was conducted a week before the Sessionals on the e-pads and served as another practice session. The students, however, seemed nervous about experimenting with new technology during the stressful exam period. “My speed of writing answers slows down considerably here.  I wonder how I will do in exams. Also, solving math, especially differential equations in it is so difficult”, said student Vejetha S after attending the orientation. MIT also had to face a few other challenges while implementing this initiative. Most significant was the scale of the operation, which required having to set up the devices in over 70 classrooms. Over 30% more E-Tabs than needed were kept as a backup in case of technical difficulties.

Littlemore Innovation Labs’ Paperless Exam Advantage (PEXA) and DigiTaal tablets streamline the entire examination process (Infographic by Littlemore Innovation Labs)

The Singapore based EdTech company Littlemore Innovation Labs has developed the e-pads. They are involved with the distribution, logistic, and technical support to universities, through their Indian division—Ppyrus India Pvt Ltd. The e-pad, which has been given the name ‘DigiTaal’ by its manufacturers, includes features like fingerprint scanning and calibration for personal handwriting. It also allows a student to copy and paste sections of text, highlight, and underline. The pre-installed drawing tools make the task of drawing diagrams much easier. These perks do make answering descriptive questions more convenient. Nevertheless, students missed the familiar feel of writing on paper. They found the time limit of twenty minutes for the Multiple Choice Questions quite restrictive as well.

Aditya Nayak, a freshman, had mixed feelings about the e-pads—“When you’ve been writing on paper for eighteen years, and suddenly you’re given a tablet to write on, it just doesn’t feel right. Various features have been incorporated in the e-pad to make it comfortable for students. It’s a great venture and hats off to the idea, but there are two sides to each story.” The sharing of the same tablets among all students will also bring about a need to be more mindful about public responsibility. “Some idiots have already bitten off the back of the stylus,” noted Vibha Bhat, another fresher, on a lighter note.

We spoke to Nagaraj Kamath, a third-year KMC student, to learn more about how the e-pad experience changes with time. “It was introduced to us for the first time in December 2016. Before using the e-pad, we thought it would be difficult, but it was not. As we gave more exams, we became more comfortable with it, and found it to be better than the traditional method.” He also added that one can access their answer sheets online after they have been corrected.

A sample view of a student answer script on the Exam Cloud. (Image Credits: Nagaraj Kamath)

The introduction of e-pads has also brought a few changes to the evaluation process for teachers. They will now have to access answer sheets from the internet and correct them on a laptop. Gone are the days of lugging bundles of papers to classes and painstakingly totalling every mark. In addition to this, back-end work also presumably reduces as papers can directly be downloaded for documentation purposes. According to Archana P Kumar, a professor from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, to fulfil the National Board of Accreditation criteria, teachers had to manually map the marks for each question to the respective course outcomes, which used to be a tedious process. With the e-pads, this happens automatically once the marks are entered.

  From cartons of answer sheets to tubs of tablets

The central reason behind this shift to digital exams was MIT’s pledge to be more environmentally conscious. The e-pads significantly reduce the wastage of paper and are also economically beneficial in the long run. Whether the student populace will fully embrace this new change is yet to be seen. In any case, MIT is consistently moving forward with the times, and the e-pads are here to stay.

With inputs from Nitin Jotwani 

Featured Image Credits: Littlemore Innovation Labs