The Business Case for Online Exams

Are you part of an organisation that could benefit from online exams? I’ve done the hard work for you. A solid business case is just what a change agent like yourself needs to get the ball rolling.

The only template you need

In the interest of sharing, here is a simple, proven business case model I’ve used successfully with C-level management. Use it, love it.

Rationale — why are you looking this?

Value proposition — what’s the value for the business, the benefits?

Cost — what it is going to cost in terms of money, resources, people?

Delivery — how it is going to be delivered and is it doable, what is the approach and risks?

Accountability — who is accountable for the project such as sponsors, term committee, project manager, etc?

Controls — what controls are in place to ensure the project will deliver and achieve value such as reporting, health checks, etc?

The key one here is value. Sometimes you can build a business case around cost savings; sometimes you can’t. Ultimately, it is the weight of the value proposition that determines a business case’s success.

The Case for Online Assessments

Rationale

There is a wave of momentum behind moving traditionally paper-based assessments online. It is not a question of if, but when. This is a once-in-a-generation change, where future generations won’t know a world without digital testing. Many organisations are already moving their assessments online, realising a host of benefits in the process. Your competitors and peers are most certainly looking into this. Below is the case for your organisation to do the same.

Value proposition

The benefits to the business can be broken down into five main categories:

1. Benefits to Item/Test Authors

  • A digital ‘bank’ of questions that can be built over time. These can easily be reviewed, edited, cloned, and drawn upon to create tests. Items are your intellectual property — digital platforms can maximise that investment.
  • Technology can assist in putting together tests based on specified criteria. Perhaps you want an auto-generated test with a mix of questions that span multiple subjects/years/difficulty ratings. This becomes more powerful the larger item bank you have.
  • Smart ‘branching’ tests, which can adapt during the exam based on the students ability. This helps to ensure even the top and bottom spectrums of students can be effectively ranked.

2. Benefits to Students

  • Being able to construct long responses with keyboard/mouse reflects the real world, and can lead to better quality responses.
  • Many students can type faster than write, avoiding common complaints such as hand cramping.
  • Easy to flag questions to return to later and to check time remaining. No more squinting at the white board at the front of the room.
  • Technology is evolving to support taking tests from remote locations. This means better support for students unable to travel (due to disability, medical conditions, etc).
  • Many subjects lend themselves to the digital format. 
    -Computing: where programming languages are used digital delivery makes sense, as we can leverage auto-formatting/highlighting and other common tools that developers use.
    -Arts/Law/Marketing: where long responses may be required that require restructuring and formatting.
    -Languages: Listening to audio via headphones and demonstrating comprehension, and even recording voice samples via microphone are all possible.

3. Benefits to Invigilators

  • Control of exact start/stop times. This includes no more ‘writing after the bell’ — when the time runs out, students are locked out and must submit what they have.
  • Full audit trail of everything that happens during an event for better reporting and transparency. Invigilators can enter comments against particular incidents for later review.
  • Enhanced catering to Students with special needs, with automatic time / text display adjustments supported by the system.

4. Benefits to Markers

  • Suite of technologies to reduce human intervention, from automatic marking to semi-automatic marking (grouping of non-unique responses so they can be marked in bulk).
  • Digital delivery of marking papers to markers is more efficient. Previously remote marking involved sending and collecting papers via courier. Now marking can be done seamlessly from remote locations, with quality and monitoring happening in real time.
  • A host of quality monitoring procedures, metrics, scheduling and progress data can be analysed. Marking teams will know how they are tracking in terms of timeframes, quality, and can flag to senior marking personnel anyone that needs extra supervision.

5. Benefits to the Organisation

  • Enhanced analytics
    -When every click, keystroke and message by students is being recorded, it generates millions of rows of data. With today’s technology, machine learning and intelligent data tools like Power BI, we can highlight trends and do analysis that wasn’t possible before. Psychometric data can be analyzed to assist in ‘fine tuning’ questions based on responses. The more data you have, the more informed you’ll be to make the right decisions.
  • Increased delivery footprint
    -Imagine two competing training organisations. One of them allows students/customers to book and take a test online, anytime, from their device, with a quick turn around on results. The other requires bookings to be made (in advance) to testing centres setup in capital cities, in line with a specific schedule. Take a bet on which of these companies is going to outlast the other.

Cost

There are both cost savings and expenditure involved in online exams. The exact numbers below will depend on your current organisation and preferred solution provider. I have highlighted common items below as a starter.

Cost savings can include:

  • Zero printing costs
  • Zero courier costs
  • Lowered cost of marking exercise due to efficiencies gained (estimates indicate ~40%).

Cost expenditure can include:

  • Possible migration effort (depending on your current item bank format)
  • Devices for delivery (if centralised and not Bring Your Own Device)
  • Software licensing
  • Training and support

Delivery

Many organisations that embark on the Online Exams journey decide to ‘go to tender’ with a laundry list of requirements, that either they, or a consulting company they paid for, has put together, before rolling out the solution in a big-bang approach. This is one way to do it, however it isn’t optimal. The reason is that you have imperfect information at this stage. This is the equivalent of going to a Doctor with a self-diagnosis, asking her to perform an operation on you, and insisting she withhold her professional opinion and diagnosis.

The best way to ensure success is to make progress, inspect, and adapt. Look for a software specialist that has the following:

  • Demonstrate a proven track record in multi-year online exams projects at a national level.
  • Have locally based product and support staff.
  • Employ established experts that can zero in on pain points and come up with customised solutions where required.
  • Communicate a willingness to take you step-by-step through the process, ideally starting with a pilot or small-scale engagement, before ramping up and adapting to your users needs.

The reason the above approach works best is that you’re not entirely self-diagnosing; you’re letting the experts prescribe what’s going to work best. You get to validate that too, by taking an incremental approach, and quantifying success along the way.

Here you can list the risks to your business of not taking action. Some of these may be common; others will be unique to your business. I’ve listed some example risks of not moving online here:

  • Competitors will have a value-added offering that you don’t (better customer/student experience, more flexible in delivery location). This will lead to greater market share.
  • Competitors will be seen as being innovative, while you will be seen as lagging behind the times.
  • Competitors will be more efficient, in terms of the work activities they do, therefore will gain an edge.
  • Competitors will have access to more data. Knowledge = power. They will be able to make decisions based on analytics you don’t have access to.
  • Your own processes may be insecure and breached. Emailing around word documents? Keeping documents safe all the way from the printer, to the student, to the marker, and back again, physically? Relying on passwords to a shared network drive? These are time-bombs. Depending on your security requirements, multiple layers of security can be baked into the solution such that even a breach of one layer (password), won’t compromise the whole system (due to multi-factor authentication, separation of subsystems, scoped access rights, and more).
Remember: no-one got ahead by rejecting innovation.

Accountability

This is for you to fill in. Ensure any contracts you enter into with a solution provider are win-win. This means that both parties have a vested interest in succeeding, and start off the journey working together with the right frame of mind. This isn’t the time to skimp on budget either. The benefits of online exams are massive — and so are the challenges. Your organisation’s reputation and marketability is at stake here. If you think hiring professionals is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.

Controls

By structuring the project to have realistic milestones and associated payments, it helps everyone focus on hitting the goals one at at time. Any professional solutions firm should have rock solid processes for these kinds of projects and a tested way of working with Clients that gets proven results.

A solution vendor that operates using Agile methodologies is also a must. Rather than the traditional Waterfall project methodology, which stacks all risk towards the end of the project (when testing/documentation phases are typically cut short!), an Agile team will be open to working with you along the way, prioritising your requirements, and demonstrating constant progress as they work in focused Sprint cycles.

Go forth and change

Armed with a solid business case, your inner mojo and the grit to make change happen — nothing can stop you.

Janison Solutions is a proven expert in helping organisations move their exams online. Contact us for an initial discussion to see if we’re a fit for you.

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