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This innovative medical and dental school used Speedwell’s eSystem to quickly get up and running with time saving exam management software delivering digital exams.

Faculty and administrators at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD) have a mission: to deliver exceptional clinical learning through their undergraduate medical and dentistry programmes. With multiple campuses spread across the South West of England, and expanding numbers of courses and students, the School was facing numerous logistical challenges across the exam preparation, management and delivery lifecycle to support this.

Additionally, the School was increasingly concerned that paper based exams lacked authenticity when clinically applied knowledge was tested. Digital interfaces could realistically provide clinical information for interpretation, similar to the way in which clinical investigations are reviewed and reported in the workplace. PUPSMD is committed to ensuring that its graduates are prepared for practice and the assessment strategy within the faculty is designed to make the most of authentic clinically applied assessments in order to prepare students for practice.

The administrative challenges

The Examination Officer at the School, Kay Allen, faced three main challenges in realising the university’s vision: First, an expanding number of exams and courses within her responsibility meant an explosion in the physical management of thousands of exam papers annually – often collating exams from multiple sites and manually scanning the results could take a few days at best. At worst, up to a week. Second, it could take up to two days of additional work to edit exam questions for each exam using their old system due to the exam software being available on a few local PCs only. The third consideration, whilst not directly affecting Kay’s day-to-day role, was that she was keen to move away from running paper exams as they no longer met the strategic objectives of the School – the innovative use of technology to enhance learning outcomes.

A case for investing in another exam management system

A number of years ago, the School had invested in Speedwell’s QuestionBank and MultiQuest software. Whilst it had performed very well for them for a long period, more recently it’s reliance solely on the delivery of paper exams was holding the School back.

In 2015 the School completed a competitive evaluation of four different exam management software solutions, which identified two products that were to be piloted.  The team evaluating the software was made up of students, administrators and lecturers, reflecting Plymouth University’s emphasis on student input alongside their ambitions to incorporate technology into teaching and learning.

As part of the evaluation, 80 students were offered a formative exam to test the digital exam delivery component of both sets of software within their own large computer labs – with 40 using Speedwell’s eSystem and 40 using an alternative programme.  Student feedback and software performance were reviewed as part of a wider options appraisal involving senior central technical services staff.

The journey to online exams

Once the decision was made to adopt Speedwell’s eSystem, Kay worked with the Faculty Assessment Working Group to move the School towards running online exams.

The main consideration was the existing question bank.  Rather than lose the questions the School had built up over many years, Kay and the Module Leads at the School redesigned the bank and group structures to reflect their current learning outcomes – and then imported all their questions into the new software.  The support from Speedwell when importing the questions from their existing bank was invaluable. Kay comments: “Importing our questions from the old question bank was an absolute must have. The advice and support from Speedwell’s team members ensured that this process went really well – there is no doubt, it was a big job, but totally worthwhile!”

The gains Kay and her team have made as a result of adopting the eSystem are staggering. The user management and permission tools means that Kay’s contributors can manage their work within the eSystem easily – accessing the software from anywhere.  Kay estimates: “In the weeks leading up to an exam being finalised in our old system, I could easily spend a day or two inputting the edits that Module Leads requested into the software. Now the Module Leads make their own edits into the eSystem from wherever they are. And I can focus my time on rolling out digital exams more widely.”

The best of both worlds

The adoption of the software has been swift – within six months of the software being adopted, up to 95% of all multiple choice exams at the School are being sat in the university computer labs using the eSystem secure delivery mode.   With the lions share of exams being sat digitally, Kay is happy in the short term to continue to scan a small number of paper exam and import the results into the eSystem software question bank, as she knows that soon all medical and dental knowledge assessments will be delivered digitally.

Kay comments: “The enthusiastic adoption of the software by the Module Leads has been great to see – one assessor has blueprinted his entire assessment programme already and it is only the beginning of our academic year. This is a first for us!”