We are approaching the end of the semester, and like many other aspects of the Fall 2020 semester, finals week will be slightly different. Students will be away from campus without the same support, learning environment, or access to technology they had earlier in the semester. Please keep in mind that now that they are returning home, their situation may be incredibly different than while on campus. Students may be using a different computer or competing for Internet bandwidth with family members while trying to take their exams; some will not have a printer available or other resources common on campus, or they may be many time zones separated from Miami.
With these variables in mind, please consider the following ways to increase our students’ chances for a successful end to the semester:
Let's work together to ensure that every student has a fair chance to demonstrate what they have learned. If you have any questions about the technologies you will be using during finals week, please contact email@example.com. Additional details about online exams and alternative assessment methods are available in the Faculty Guide to Major Course Assessments.
Simplify the evaluation: Consider whether there are alternatives to a final examination to assess the student’s comprehensive understanding of the material. A final set of responses to core concept prompts, a project, or a reflection piece may all provide simpler alternatives to traditional final examinations.
Simplify the settings you use in your exams. For example, one of the biggest causes for student technology issues is the “Force Completion” setting for exams in Blackboard. This setting prevents students from going back into an exam if they have an Internet or power outage. With thousands of students taking exams from widely distributed locations, some of them are certain to have legitimate Internet interruptions while taking an exam. The connectivity we take for granted on campus or in Miami, Florida, or the US may not be true for students at home.
Give your students the ability to test their settings: If you are using an online proctored exam, give students an opportunity to take a practice quiz using the same settings in your final exam. This will identify any technology issues. For example, Respondus Monitor does not work with ChromeBooks. Respondus Lockdown Browser disables some technologies used by people with disabilities. In the most restricted case, Respondus may flag the presence of other individuals in the exam space, but these may be legitimate family members or others in the home setting.
Provide extra time for your exam: If you have a timed 2.5 hour exam, give students an extra 15 minutes or more at the beginning of the exam period to get their technology ready and go through the startup process; let the students know about this accommodation in advance to help reduce anxiety. There may be a 1-2 minute delay in a “waiting queue” for Respondus exams that begin precisely on the hour (e.g., 8:00 PM), due to a nation-wide demand for use of the technology. This extra 15 minutes allows for the waiting queue to resolve without cutting into students’ time on their exam.
Have a backup plan: Many of our students will be traveling to homes in different time zones, which could impact their ability to take their final exam at a reasonable time. Some of our students will encounter unforeseen issues that are beyond their control such as an illness or Internet outage. Tell students how to contact you if they run into issues so they can document what happened. Have a plan for accommodating students who request an alternative time or who need to retake their exam while still maintaining the integrity of your course. This can be done by planning a makeup exam or an alternative form of assessment. Be understanding.
Thank you for all your extraordinary work to make this semester a success.