Students to log on during exams within next ten years, conference hears

December 19, 2003

Students will use computers in exams within ten years because of the changes technology is bringing to assessment in universities, a leading educational technologist has predicted.

Tim O'Shea, vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University, said it was "stupid" to persist with paper-based exams because computers were so widely used in society.

Speaking on Thursday at the Society for Research into Higher Education's conference at Royal Holloway, University of London, he said that another reason to change assessment methods was that students did not need to remember so much information because it was always accessible on computer networks.

Professor O'Shea was due to tell The THES -sponsored conference that there was a need to rethink how universities operated so that technology could be fully exploited to improve the quality of learning for students.

Institutions that failed to do so would suffer in the face of rising student expectations.

"Students who are used to using a laptop on a wireless network and then find a university that doesn't have one, will get very ratty, especially if they are paying for the privilege of attending," he told The THES before his conference speech.

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, found that applications rose after it insisted that every student must have a laptop, but Professor O'Shea said that Edinburgh had no plans to follow suit at this stage because of the financial implications. Although technology had long promised to bring about change in higher education, it now really was starting to do so, Professor O'Shea said.

For example, medical students at Edinburgh can now engage in collaborative learning by initiating a medical scan, going off for dinner at various halls of residence and then logging on to a server to begin data analysis afterwards.

Technology was also putting students with special needs on a more level playing field, according to Professor O'Shea.

Some 60 papers were presented at the three-day conference, "Research, scholarship and teaching: changing relationships?"

Details: www.srhe.ac.uk

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