The first term of school has come and gone, and with it numerous difficulties surrounding distance learning have arisen. Among these issues are the apparently unsolvable “Zoom bombing”, malfunctioning classroom applications, and poor internet connection. Many teachers have bravely decided to integrate online testing into their class schedule as well, and although their attempts are occasionally fruitful, they often create more problems than they solve. Dealing with distance learning requires taking one small step at a time, and trying to tackle the issue of online evaluations right now is simply asking too much of both students and teachers. Rather than giving online tests, which are often confusing and inequitable, teachers should do their best to move towards more engaging and interactive assessments.
Online testing is stressful, and I’ve experienced the downfalls of the system multiple times myself. I’ve been kicked out of Zoom by my computer and lost internet connection during a test. A couple of weeks ago, I spent hours studying for an exam and felt good about my chances of doing well — until I accidentally pressed the tiny “submit” button twenty minutes early, leaving me no chance to check my answers without erasing all of my work. I felt like an idiot, but I wasn’t alone — the same mistake had happened to at least eight other students in the class. What would’ve been an easy fix (or simply wouldn’t have happened at all) in person became a bigger issue: it felt like it wasn’t just a test of my knowledge of the material anymore, but a test of my ability to navigate the hurdles of the website.
Other common complications such as bandwidth and internet connection already cause problems in everyday lessons, so one can imagine the havoc they wreak in an online testing environment. Tests are often timed, and in my experience, having four different family computers running in the background and losing valuable time to slow connection is commonplace. This introduces a multitude of equity issues. Students with quicker internet connection would have better access to tests, and therefore more time to complete them. Students may already be facing anxiety due to the pandemic, and teachers have enough to juggle with their home lives and online curriculum. Neither should have to worry about navigating the frenzy of internet issues surrounding testing. Simplicity is key in helping students maneuver distance learning, and online testing invites too many complications.
The possibility of cheating is another dark cloud over teachers’ attempts to create fair testing. No matter how many cheat-proof programs they use, if a student really wants to cheat, they’ll find a way. With the internet at their fingertips and free answers just a click away, it’s not very difficult. During in-person learning, cheating is much easier to identify, if not prevent — but online, the best one can do is hope that all students stay honor-bound. However, from stories about group chats sharing solutions to website answer surfing, it’s clear that this probably isn’t the case.
An alternative for teachers to try is assessment through group projects or individual presentations, which can be just as effective in evaluating someone’s knowledge. Teachers who feel more comfortable following conventional assessment style can consider allowing students extra testing time if they’ve had internet issues, or offering retakes. Distance learning has proven that creative solutions are crucial to recreating traditional elements of schooling. Finding a way to incorporate testing is no exception.