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Source: The Economic Times

After almost two years of carrying out exams online, IIT Bombay decided to hold the end semester examinations offline for the students on campus, while continuing the online process for those away from campus. Certain departments have already started taking quizzes and other exams in the respective department classrooms, and have approved offline endsems, should a professor choose to conduct them in a hybrid setting. In this article, we express our views about this bold move and talk about what it could mean to the students who are about to give the end semester exams.

 

The exams are to be held in only those classrooms whose ventilation issues have been resolved. With the standard protocol of social distancing, minimizing contact, regular use of sanitizer, and compulsory usage of masks by students giving the exams as well as the proctors involved, sufficient measures have been taken with regards to COVID. Given the fact that the institute has given a lot of freedom to the students and has relaxed norms sufficiently, conducting exams is in no way endangering the students to the threat of COVID any more than usual, if the norms mentioned above are followed to the letter.

 

Contrary to intuition, this move is good news for all away from campus, as it displays the confidence and capability of the institute to hold large-scale offline events. The fact that there is necessary infrastructure to carry out the exam for a few hundred students at a time means that the gradual shift to a completely offline semester is within sight. Although this may be a far-fetched dream, there is a possibility of having some form of a hybrid semester starting from the next semester itself.

 

However, this is not great news to students giving the exams on campus. The relative grading system pits student against student, and mere margins of a few decimal points can cause a grade to drop. In spite of the professors’ best efforts, no system has been found that is completely cheat-proof, and it is an accepted fact that varying degrees of cheating always take place in online exams. This fact is also not unknown to the professors. In this situation, it would be unfair to not have a level playing field for all the students. With high weightages resting on the end sems, the outcome of this exam often determines the grade. In this context, the necessity of a level playing field is amplified further. Since most students still at home (given that most resource constraint students have gotten the opportunity to return to campus) do not have space or internet constraints, the online proctoring rules should be made strict, ensuring that students show a complete side view of their table, papers, phone, and laps.

 

The advantage to students giving exams online is no secret. However, students giving exams in college have certain advantages as well. Since they are giving exams in person, they don’t have to worry about losing internet connectivity, and in turn, not worry about recordings, changing cameras while their net is out, and can give their exams without the moments of panic, and loss of time. Although this may seem trivial, it has a significant psychological effect on the student, when they see that their camera has stopped working, or the call has been disconnected, adversely affecting the mental state needed to give long exams. All this translates to the fact that making sets of students write the exams in different conditions, with the conditions having a direct impact on the outcome of the exams always would lead to an imbalance of advantage. In such situations, when you have the option of maintaining fairness, that should be preferred over the prevention of cheating of an unfortunate few.

 

But the fact remains that all of this has to exist in transition. One cannot expect a sudden switch to offline exams for all.  For all the criticism the administration has received over the past year, they have done a better job than most IITs at calling us back in a safe and timely manner, and the decision to conduct exams offline looks like a step in the right direction. We might be able to see a full-strength campus next semester with completely offline exams and maybe even partially offline classes.