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South African University Overcomes Online Exam Hurdle

Providing an Alternative Exam Solution for South African Law Students with Synap LMS The Challenge The University of the Free…

  • Institute
    University of the Free State
  • Sector
    Higher Education
  • Website

Providing an Alternative Exam Solution for South African Law Students with Synap LMS

The Challenge

The University of the Free State (UFS) is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in South Africa. Situated in Bloemfontein, the University has over 30,000 students, spread across seven faculties and three campuses. Within the University, the Faculty of Law conducts an annual written exam for their post-graduate students. These exams typically consist of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and long-answer questions. However, disruptions due to COVID-19 meant that they could no longer conduct venue based exams.

This wasn’t the only challenge that UFS faced. South Africans frequently face internet outages due to load shedding; a controlled option to protect the electricity power system from a total blackout. Poor network connections and slow internet speeds meant that traditional online exam proctoring wasn’t a viable option. They needed a robust online solution and an LMS company that were willing to provide support to students experiencing poor connectivity while reducing the risk of students cheating.

The Solutions

Monitoring Student Activity

Synap has all the features needed to run live, high stake, proctored exams; having run exams for schools, universities and other institutes before. However, many students are unable to support a full proctored exam because of slow internet speeds. The main challenge we needed to overcome was the prevention of cheating via methods such as copying and pasting essay answers, messaging other students and having another student sit the exam for them.

One of our solutions to invigilating the exam was to use a proctoring solution with a low internet requirement. This not only allowed us to monitor students despite slow internet speeds, but it also allowed us to assist students when they needed help. The Synap team also came up with other inventive solutions to monitor activity. For example, splitting the exam into sections, randomising the order the questions appeared in, allocating different variants of the exam to different user groups and limiting how many questions could be skipped.

Users Split into Different Groups to be Allocated Different Exam Versions
Monitoring Internet Issues

Internet connectivity is an issue for a lot of students in South Africa. We wanted the exam-taking experience to be as stress-free as possible for those students who would lose connectivity. The Synap team worked closely with UFS to ensure that we were prepared to handle any cases of load shedding. We ran an initial mock test with basic questions. Allowing the students to familiarise themselves with the platform but also to allow us to identify which students were most at risk of internet failure. We also provided clear instructions to the students to give 24 hours notice to the university if they were likely to experience load shedding. The developers at Synap ensured that if connectivity were to disappear for a student during the exam, their answers would be saved and they could resume from where they had left off.

The Results

UFS exam report
A Comparison Across 7 Examinations in the Number of Students who Sat and Completed Them.

With Synap LMS, the University of the Free State were able to deliver 8 different exams, with multiple variations of each, to over 850 of their law students. Synap is thrilled that on average, 85% of students were able to complete their exams despite many experiencing connectivity issues. Going forward, Synap will continue to work with the UFS to ensure that the 15% of students who weren’t able to access their exams the first time round will have the opportunity to do so in the near future.

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