One of the most strange cases of mixing paper-based technology and digital technology has come from the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) – one of the UK’s exam boards.
They are reported to be the first major exam board in the UK to allow the use of the tablets in exams… but they are doing so in a rather curious manner.
It has been reported in the Times Educational Supplement (the teachers’ weekly paper) that a group of Year 11 students at Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire has sat a mock IGCSE exam in biology using computers to read the exam paper.
That sounds encouraging in that it reduces the amount of paper that has to be used for these exams which are taken by almost all 16 year olds in England, Wales and N Ireland.
But then it turns out that the answers had to be written by hand in the normal way with pen and ink.
The exam regulator is Ofqual, and their former chief executive Isabel Nisbet has already said that retaining traditional writing materials in exams “cannot go on” as it would lead to GCSEs and A levels becoming “invalid” for digitally native pupils whose “natural medium” is IT. However not much has changed of late.
Thus lots of exams are printed on paper, and then they are all written in pen and ink, and the exam paper and the answer papers thus produced are stored in storage establishments such as Admiral.
In the CIE pilot, the students were given portable computers on which to view the exam paper. Students were impressed at the ease with which they could turn the pages of the question paper and zoom in to look at diagrams.
But while some found the devices distracting, others complained about the small size of the screens and the iPads’ tendency to auto-lock when not used for several minutes.
19 out of the 31 students said that they would like to use computers in exams again. But the prospect of students’ exams becoming fully digitised remains remote – although this would save exam boards a fortune in printed paper and be a significant move towards a more green education.
So, pen and paper in exams is still with us, and education in the UK is still one of the main sources of paper that needs to be stored.
Of course paper does have to be stored – we all know how materials on computer hard drives can corrupt and be destroyed. But not allowing the students the chance to enter their answers on a computer and then have them printed out seems a bit daft.
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