New software to support students through online exams

Categories: School of Health and Society

A partnership of universities led by the University of Salford has recently launched a new online exam invigilation software to help students complete their assessments while having to study and work from home.

Liz Garth

For many accredited university programmes like non-medical prescribing, exams can only take place online if universities are able to prove robust invigilation systems are in place, ensuring the process is as secure as it would usually be with students and examiners sat in the room together.

Liz Garth (pictured), Non-Medical Prescribing Programme Lead, Lecturer and Admissions Tutor at the University of Salford, explains that their teams tried several different solutions to this when lockdown began in March, but none seemed to work in the way they wanted. 

“A lot of video calling services aren’t really designed for this process and so were very difficult for exam invigilators to use,” she said. “They ended up with too many screens open, would need to be on multiple calls at once, and often their wifi just couldn’t cope.”

Working alongside the University of Bolton, University of Central Lancashire, University of Chester and University of Cumbria as part of the Health and Education Co-operative, the University of Salford developed the SN@P Invigilation Centre.

The SN@P invigilation system provides a robust means of assessing students, including a screen share so that invigilators can monitor students’ activity on their computers, and a separate video share using the student’s own mobile phone to provide a view of the student sat at their desk.

The software is straightforward and intuitive to use, with students working through a series of onscreen prompts to set up the technical side of things. They are also able to test out the setup of equipment in a mock-up invigilation centre before the exam starts. 

Exam invigilators can greet students and perform room checks following technical set-up, before releasing the assessment and allowing the student to start. They can see a profile of each student, their keyboard and desk area, as well as what they are doing on the screen. This enables monitoring of multiple students at any one time, with an ability to zoom in if needed, or to communicate with an individual student if there are any problems.

Invigilators also get a screen tracking prompt if the student moves off the assessment window, and a prompt when a student has submitted the assessment.

Liz says feedback so far has been positive. “Essentially, this system has enabled us to be confident in evidencing that we have achieved a robust invigilation system for our exams, equivalent to being on campus. Each exam has a timer on system on the system which can be extended individually, so where we have had instances where for example, a student’s wifi goes down, we are able to treat this in the same way as if a fire alarm or similar disruption happened in any exam.”

Assessments are pre-loaded before the exam begins and made available via a secure link to a specific set of students at a specific time.

Multiple choice and numeric questions are automatically marked, and results released to students in a controlled way. Open ended questions can be assigned to tutors and marked online and then results released. This means that any subject can be assessed using Sn@p and the invigilation software.

At the University of Salford, the system is already being used by current non-medical prescribing students as well as potential students who are being assessed as part of an application to study mental health nursing. Liz explains that this has enabled applicants to get places when they might have had to wait until next year due to other exams being postponed.

Joanna Tate, Manager at the Health and Education Co-operative, said: “Pooling knowledge and resources from a number of universities enabled us to create an innovative workable solution to the issue of online assessments. We rolled out the first invigilated sessions with the University of Salford in May and have worked extensively with students and invigilators to evolve the system over the last six months. 

“We understand that installing software on a PC or laptop can often be restricted on university or trust owned devices. The only software installation required to use Sn@p is on the learner's smartphone. This means the system is really easy to set up and use for both invigilators and learners.

“Being able to carry out assessments online has made a real difference as trainee nurses and qualified nurses on the front line were able to finish off their numeracy exams and prescribing qualifications.” 

For all press office enquiries please email communications@salford.ac.uk.