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Mitigating exam stress a high priority for the university

January 29, 2021 — 

Exams are a stressful time for students, and the move to online exams adds another unknown to the equation. Ensuring a very smooth online exam experience was of paramount importance for the university. IST and the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning did a lot of planning and preparation to make this happen.

“We created a working group that analyzed past online exam issues, and we developed messaging and instructions for instructors, and a student best practice guide for writing exams,” explains Steve Logozar, supervisor with the IST Service Desk.

Based on this, the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning also created tools to help prepare instructors and students for online exams. Approximately 60,000 exam sittings occurred during the 12-day exam period in December, with a number of Colleges continuing to have exams in January.

“We scheduled additional assessment-related workshops for instructors in the months leading up to the exam period, and additional one-on-one consultation sessions for instructors so that we could review exam settings and Student Accessibility settings,” says Sol Chu, team lead, learning technologies and solutions, and manager, learning management systems. The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning also created resource web pages for instructors and students, in collaboration with the Vice-Provost (Students) team.

“We know that exam time is a stressful time for everyone and strive to provide everyone with a positive experience,” says Chu.

The larger collaboration also included the Registrar’s Office, says Logozar. “Karen Borbridge provided the Service Desk with class-by-class details with start times, the number of students in each exam, and course details. This assisted us in efficiently scheduling our staff and quickly resolving issues reported by students or instructors.”

Quick responses to student and instructor phone calls greatly reduces anxiety so this was a high priority for the team, particularly on evening and weekends. A high priority queue was used to expedite exam-related calls. Real-time use of Microsoft Teams allowed Service Desk Analysts to do an initial triage of issues, recording the details, attempting resolution, and if an escalation was required, working collaboratively with the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning to resolve the issue with the student or instructor.

During the exam period, the support team fielded approximately 500 student telephone calls (less than a one per cent issue rate). Call were answered, on average, in 25 seconds, and the time-to-resolution of any concern was only eight minutes.

Considering the 60,000 exam sitting, the support network was well-equipped to respond to the issues. “These teams worked very hard to support students through their very stressful times,” says Tamara Chelle, operations manager at the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.

“Providing a positive exam experience and resolving cases at the first point of contact is a rewarding experience in itself,” says Chu. “I am pleased to see how well our teams have worked together towards this goal.”

“The leadership teams from both IST and CATL gave clear direction that this was our highest priority and provided us with additional resourcing to make sure that we could cover extra hours,” says Logozar. “The guiding principle was that we needed to minimize the amount of stress being felt by the students, which meant answering the calls quickly, staying calm, and dealing with issues through to conclusion.”

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