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Sri Lanka tech campus drives online exams in Covid-19 lockdown

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology, a fee levying tech campus said nearly 10,000 students sat for exams online during a Coronavirus lockdown.

Over 95 percent of students from the faculties of Computing, Engineering, Business, Humanities & Sciences, Graduate Studies & Research, School of Architecture, School of Law, School of Hospitality and Culinary had sat for the online exams.

“It is unprecedented in Sri Lanka’s higher education system, for such a large number to complete the full stretch of exam papers,” The Deputy Vice-Chancellor Nimal Rajapakse said.

“The papers were divided into multiple-choice, short answer questions, and the longer 3 to 4-hour papers which had to be answered on paper, then scanned and uploaded to our servers.

We had lockdown browsers and other tools and methods to ensure the integrity of examinations.”

He said Eduscope, a tech start up led by Malitha Wijesundera, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Sciences had played a key role in online delivery of lecturs and exams.

The exams, which were conducted over a period of thee weeks, had each student sat for between four to six subjects.

The institute had to invest heavily in its IT infrastructure to handle the online delivery of lectures and examinations. “We see the value of this investment and plan to do more to give the best learning experience to our students,” says the Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

“Like any other institution, we had some concerns because it’s the first time something like this was being done on this scale locally,” Rajapaksa said.

“Even international universities with sophisticated online tools had faced challenges, so in that sense, we had some worries – that there could be technological problems, low rates of participation which are issues that cannot be disregarded in a virtual environment.

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“In a physical examination, students would raise a hand to clarify something which was not a possibility with online although we had hotlines managed by staff taking queries on the phone.

“Many of the exams had vivas and both academic staff and students had to put in a lot of work to do these online.”
The process had to be designed to treat everyone equally and their performance during the entire academic year could be judged fairly.

In some courses there was 100 percent participation, but in others there had been power outages and connection problems.

Those students would be given another opportunity to complete the exams. For pass/fail grades the choice of writing a regular in-class exam during the next semester would be given.

“We looked at student concerns and international best practices and designed the system around them, taking care not to create any disadvantages to students,” Rajapaksa said.

“They were sitting for exams from all over the island, so we had to consider that. We created a hotline where a student facing an issue such as a technical glitch, power outage, or any other, could call us and register the problem.’

SLIIT Vice Chancellor, Lalith Gamage, the institute had gained knowledge and experience. SLIIT is looking use know-how to enhance online learning and expand portfolio of courses to reach a wider section of society.