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Quarantine Online Teaching
With quarantine keeping most educators away from their classes for the whole semester, end of semester online exams are inevitable. Actually, so many higher education institutes have decided to remain online for Fall 2020. Some, like Cambridge, have even gone as far as to remain online for the entire 2020/21 academic year!
Even if you’re teaching middle or high school, you’ll likely have to make some online assessments or even online exams. Read on to learn what I’ve learned this past semester, and how I think we can create online exams going forward.

How To Create Online Exams Efficiently

So, I’ve put together a few rules on what to do, and what not to do in an online exam. I can’t say I’m an expert on this, but I can say that wow, this is a game-changer. We’d used online assessments in the past for in-person classes, but we could always be there to monitor students taking them in a lab.  It’s also tough going the first time around when you haven’t seen your students in two months.
The benefit though, is that online exams with big enough question banks can be used year after year. Who doesn’t want easy course prep for next year, right? For all the Zooming capabilities and software, time limits, question types and guidelines out there, it can be a jungle. In this blog post, we’ll run through ideas I’ve collected so far.

The “Do”s Of Online Exams

5 Teach Online Tips

First of all, the most important tip is to be prepared way in advance.  For a regular exam, in person, it’s easy to only have the exam prepared and printed out. However, with an online exam we need to be much more prepared than that. Invigilators, for example, need to be well-informed of their role. Students need to feel comfortable and informed, too. With the added stress of an online exam, and the possibility of losing their wifi connection, our students might be frazzled.  Anything we can do to calm them down helps.

A chaotic execution to a well-thought-out plan?


Here are a few setup items to make sure you’ve covered:
  • First, do you know what software you are using for the exam, for monitoring, and for communication between teachers and invigilators? We used Zoom (premium) to invigilate and “watch” students as they wrote their exams. Microsoft Teams was also used to communicate between professors
  • What are the rules for camera setup?  Cameras should be on, but asking students to log in to Zoom on their phones and face the camera at an angle allows us to see where their hands and keyboards are, and their screens. Do students need to share their screens?
  • Next, how many invigilators do you have per exam? What is their role, exactly? For example, they could simply watch st
    udents, or answer their questions, or field questions to a professor in a “breakout” room.
  • Are breakout rooms necessary, and if so, are they set up?
  • How are students allowed to communicate with teachers online?  If they are, it should be clear whether they can use chat only (recommended), microphones, or enter a breakout room with a professor to ask a question. In my view, students should be banned from using the microphone unless in a breakout room, as a student talking over 50 others who are trying to concentrate is so frustrating!
  • Then, make sure students, invigilators and teachers know what to do if a student loses connection.  For our exams, we had students use their phone to email or message a teacher, who would then give them extra time once they reconnected.  (Jump below to Moodle tips to see how to do that).
  • Also, what are the consequences for cheating on the online exams?
  • Finally, be sure all of the rules you decide on are communicated in advance so students feel prepared to take the exam.

The “Don’t”s Of Online Exams

Just this week, I invigilated a chaotic exam, so I was part of a great learning experience. It was so painful to watch students befuddled and stressed out and professors and invigilators scrambling. 

Here are a few mistakes that you likely want to avoid:
  • Have the exam uploaded to your Moodle (or other) system well before the exam time. Double-check that it’s clearly visible, any downloadable files work well, and deadlines for uploads. Don’t leave it for the last minute!
  • Be sure that you know about students who need extra time (e.g. because of a learning disability) and have a way to allocate this to them. Allocate extra time ahead of time.
  • Of course, don’t make questions too straightforward. Critical thinking questions, or multiple matching can help.
  • Don’t leave students hanging about how the exam will be. They should have clear instructions on how the process will be carried out. This makes for less stress for both teachers and students!


How To Prevent Cheating In Online Exams

I know I’ve mentioned a few tips above, but I think a “cheating prevention” checklist might be in order.  As much as we love to think our students won’t cheat, the odds are that the online exam environment makes it even more tempting than usual. Well, it was definitely a top-of-the-list concern when we made our exams.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Make open book exams wherever possible – Ask yourself – is there any way I can make my online exam open book? Letting students use their notes, the internet, and class materials means they have no excuse to not answer the questions well.
  • Are my questions critical-thinking focused?  To make the online exam difficult enough to be open book and a fair exam, ask students to think critically, or evaluate cases for written questions.
  • Use a plagiarism software plugin for written exams –  Here, we use URKUND which plugs into Moodle and checks for plaigarism. There is even a beta version that checks for plagiarism across languages. Be sure to enable this setting before students hand in the “assignment” or exam; it cannot be set afterward!
  • Randomize question order – This works well for multiple-choice, matching, or other easily copied items. You can even scramble the answer choices within the multiple-choice questions.


3 Quick Moodle Tips For Online Exams

Now, I’m sure not all of you are using Moodle, but for those of you who are, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned.  (Don’t use Moodle? Skip down to the next section on online exam resources).

The “Quiz” function in Moodle allows you to create an online exam. At first, it seems straightforward. That is –  until you realize all the settings that apply! I may create a separate post on Moodle. If you need video tutorials in the meantime, I’d check out University of Massachusetts Amherst, my fav online Moodle help bank.

1.  Use The Assignment Function for Written Exams

For one class I teach, we used the “Essay” question type in a Moodle Quiz for the midterm, and decided to change it for the final online exam. Why? Well, it’s simple – we wanted to enable the plagiarism checker.  Not only can you check that they haven’t cheated off the internet, but you can also double-check that students in all sections of the course haven’t copied from one another.  Students who require extra time can submit late by keeping the “cut off time” for the assignment set accordingly.

2.  Create Quiz Categories and Assign Random Questions

Creating quiz categories in the Question Bank allows you to separate questions from different areas of the course. If you do this with enough questions, you can create a database that you draw from for multiple quizzes and exams. Making the questions show up randomly for each student (a selected number from each category) means students won’t receive the same questions as their peers do.  You can also weight certain categories more than others (put more emphasis on some chapters, and not others).

3.  Use the Override Function for Students With Connectivity Issues

One cool feature I actually figured out existed in the middle of an exam is the “Override” function. Originally, we had set up two separate exam links – one for students who required extra time (due to a learning disability for example), and one for everyone else.  Actually, if you go to Quiz Settings and User Overrides, you can choose to allocate extra time for specific students. I had to use this in the middle of the midterm to give a student who experienced connectivity issues for 10 minutes, the extra 10 minutes back. Worked like a charm!

I hope those tips for setting up Moodle were helpful! Don’t forget to check out my other posts on 5 Engaging Ideas for Quarantine TeachingOnline Teaching Tips and Online ESL Teaching Tips for more online teaching ideas. Of course, you can always reach out to me in the comments below, or on social media to discuss more.

Helpful Online Exam Review Resources

Speed-Studying-Year-End-Review-GameNow, I know this post is focused on online exams but before the exam, we need to help our students be prepared, right?  Usually, I’d be taking my university-level classes through a Speed Studying game I invented last year (check out the Speed Studying game here – it was a hit!). I haven’t yet adapted that one online. If you have ideas on how to do that, let me know.

Is quarantine teaching still a struggle? Online exam review or study sessions difficult?  Finding it tricky to be creative and stay strong online for the last few weeks of semester?
I hear you!
If you missed my post on 5 Engaging Quarantine Lesson Plan Ideas – remember you can grab them all for free!  I’ll be adding more specifically online tools to the Free Printables Library soon, but for now many of the resources could be used simply by sharing your screen on Zoom or using Google Docs to help your students complete them online.
Free Printables Library


Sometimes, collaborating with others is the best way to do your best work.

Quarantine Online Teaching

There’s a lot of research that’s been done to show that collaborating with others is the best way to do your best.  Most of this is in the field of entrepreneurship like this awesome TED Talk by Amy Wilkinson explains. However, I think this applies to teachers and educators, too! Adding someone “different” to your team, who introduces a totally new perspective helps all of you do better work.

So, sharing ideas with others is the best way we’ll all get through this pandemic, this online exam period, and the hybrid, hyflex, virtual, and blended models headed our way for Fall 2020, and probably quite a bit longer. In fact, just today a colleague introduced me to the work of this wonderful vlogger and teacher, Justin Wilcox from Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Here is an amazing video he’s done on 10 Top Online Teaching Tools:

(Pro tip: Don’t have time for 28 minutes of video? Setting the speed (bottom right corner settings) to 1.5x or 2x for slow speakers lets you watch in two-thirds of the time and barely affects your understanding of the video). I do this for audiobooks, too!


I’ve used about half of these tools to help students prep for online exams, like Kahoot and MindMeister, but I’m definitely excited to check out the others.  Of course, I’ll be sharing my experience with all of you!

What are your online exam tips?  Any online teaching tips you’d like to share? We would LOVE to hear from you, so please comment below!  We read and respond to every comment 🙂
Happy (Online) Teaching!
P.S. Photo lovers, today’s main image is a photo I took in Vienna, Austria in the summer of 2019.

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