Online Exams and Accessibility: Information for Faculty

Highlights

  1. Please provide students with information about the format of any online exams well in advance (i.e. multiple choice, short answer, essay, slide identification, video, etc.) as this is needed in order to work out many accommodation issues.
  2. Please also tell students the date, time and duration of the exam.
  3. Keep in mind that all final exams will be scheduled by the Registrar to avoid conflicts.
  4. Online exams improve accessibility for many students and introduce new issues for others. Overall, we expect some increase in the number of students who will need to defer one or more exams in order to access accommodations when the SAS Exam Centre re-opens. We know some faculty are designing an alternate version of the exam as they create the original so that it is ready to go from the outset.
  5. Students who require test and exam accommodations will be advised to make informed choices.  If they require an accommodation that is not available, they should not complete the assessment and instead seek a deferred exam/condition.

No Problem

If SAS students require these accommodations, we anticipate that accessibility can be easily addressed.

Extra Time

Most online exams can be adjusted to allow for extra time (a standard accommodation).  If you will be conducting a test or midterm before the last day of classes (April 9), please email sasexams@uoguelph.ca with the course code and we can provide you with a list of students with extra time.

SAS will use the new final exam schedule produced by the Registrar (April 3) to generate a list of students who need extra time in each course.  This information will be provided to Open Learning & Educational Support, who have agreed to update online final exams as needed.  While they do not normally have the resources to do this, these are extraordinary times.

Spelling

Some students with learning disabilities require consideration around spelling.  Under normal circumstances, this is provided through the use of a word processor.  When using Respondus LockDown Browser, the spell check feature is available by default.  We recommend that this not be turned off.

If spelling is a part of the grading criteria and must be deactivated, please ensure you announce this to the class in well in advance.  SAS will provide support to affected students.

Typed Answers

Under normal circumstances, there are a number of students who cannot write paper and pencil/pen exams. Online exams make this a non-issue.

Possible Problems

Accommodations in this category might be a problem.  The student is expected to review the information about the exam provided by the instructor and their home environment to determine if there are concerns.  Their next step would be to reach out to their SAS Advisor.

Furniture & Equipment

This includes ergonomic desks, chairs, computers and specific forms of lighting.  For students who have a new disability (e.g. been in a recent accident), they may not have an appropriate setup at home.

A distraction-reduced environment

We hope students are able to find a quiet place to study and complete exams at home.  However, we know some students have children, roommates or other sources of distraction in the home that are difficult to manage.  For students who are susceptible to distraction by the nature of their disability, this could be a problem.

Adaptive Software

Respondus has made allowances for a number of adaptive software programs such as screen readers.  However, the text-to-voice software most commonly used by students in the SAS Exam Centre is called Kurzweil and it is automatically disabled by Respondus.

SAS is planning on sending information to students who use these technologies so that they know about the workaround solutions.  Even still, there is a risk of technical difficulties.

Risk of Medical Emergency

There are a handful of students who have medical conditions that are exacerbated by stressful situations such as writing exams.  Normally they are seated close to a staff member who can call for medical assistance if needed.

Reader / Scribe

For the most part, students now use technology instead of a reader/scribe.  However, on occasion the technology is insufficient and one-on-one support is required.  Depending on the need, we may be able to arrange for a reader/scribe who assists via WebEx.

Calculator

In the SAS Exam Centre, calculators are scrutinized and (if applicable) students are asked to reset the memory.  It may be more difficult to assess whether students are using an appropriate calculator as an accommodation when writing an online exam.  Whether this will be a permitted accommodation is the discretion of the instructor, who will likely have to review “flags” on Respondus that are associate with using the calculator.

Scheduling Issues

Some students are unable to write exams at specific times of day because of a medication they take, or other limitations on their functioning.  In addition, there are some students who can only write one exam per day – frequently this is related to chronic pain, fatigue, or other symptoms that reduce overall functioning.

You may receive requests from students for consideration about alternate scheduling.  It is appropriate to ask for confirmation from the student’s SAS Advisor that this is an approved accommodation.  If you are able to accommodate a shift in the timing for specific students, it would be appreciated.  Otherwise, they will have to be referred to the process for deferred exams.

Almost Certainly a Problem

If a student requests any of the following accommodations, SAS recommends that they not be approved in an online testing situation because of the risk to academic integrity.

Breaks and Washroom

There is a wide range of legitimate reasons for students to need either breaks, or access to a washroom for an urgent need.  However, when using virtual proctoring it will be difficult or impossible to know what students are doing if they step away from the computer.

Headphones

Some students use noise cancelling headphones to help reduce distractions, but in an online setting it would be impossible to know whether they are listening to a recording that contains information relevant to the exam.  SAS recommends earplugs instead, which are readily available at most pharmacies.

Question Clarification

Respondus LockDown Browser prevents students from emailing questions to the instructor.  In addition, using a cell phone during an exam would be a threat to academic integrity and faculty are not expected to make their personal phone numbers available to students.

Our normal process for this in the SAS Exam Centre is for the staff to email or call the instructor (or their designate) based on prior arrangements. This accommodation is commonly for students with a learning disability, acquired brain injury, or medication that affects information processing. 

Memory Aids

It will be difficult or impossible to adequately scrutinize a memory aid used by the student in an online setting.

Grammar

The need for consideration around grammar (for a learning disability) is usually accommodated through the use of a word processor.  Whereas Respondus LockDown Browswer permits spell checking, there is no built-in grammar check.  In addition, Respondus prevents students from using a word processor and then copying their answers over into the browser.

Music

Some students use music to help with calming or staying grounded during high anxiety times.  In the SAS Exam Centre, all music is carefully screened to ensure it does not contain content relevant to the exam.  When using Respondus, students are instructed to turn off music and background noises that might interfere with the virtual proctoring system.

Scrap Paper

If students are using scrap paper to work out an answer, Respondus may flag such activity as a problem that needs to be reviewed.  Many SAS students use scrap paper to help with strategies, including prevention of “blanking out” due to anxiety.  If students are permitted scrap paper, there is an increased risk that this can be used to conceal notes that would give the student an advantage.

Under normal circumstances all students are permitted scrap paper that is provided by the proctor.  As a result, SAS does not track students who need this as an accommodation, though we know it is widely used.