Online schools via video vs. exams/tests

Schools are trying various methods of conducting tests when there is no physical school. Like my kids’ school sent a Google Forms (inside Classroom) based test that they are supposed to complete by a specific amount of time, with their video on. Many kids had video off and there was some back-and-forth on why it was off, technical difficulties etc.

Another method attempted was to have the video on while they write down an essay/paragraph on a piece of paper, scan it (or phone-photo) and submit it within a specific amount of time.

All these seem to replicate the offline mode of how tests and exams are conducted in a physical classroom.

Now, there are two aspects worth observing here when we are replicating the offline to online (or, forced to replicate, owing to the pandemic):

1. Time
Exams/tests need to be completed within a specific period of time, and this was easy to manage in the physical world. Get everyone into a room, let them start at a specific time and ask them to stop at another specific time.

Online too, the same time-periods could be specified. Like instructions on when the test starts (once the questions are communicated) and when it ends (or, by what time kids need to submit it/upload it, beyond which the answers won’t be accepted).

I’d think the schools need to make some accommodations for poor internet connectivity or the internet/device causing trouble. The offline equivalent of this—of pens/pencils causing trouble—can be easily managed. Online, remotely, the problems are different.

2. Observation
Is the need for the video being on constantly while kids write the test starting with the assumption that kids need to be watched while they write a test because they may ‘copy’ (to put it crudely)?

That may be one concern. That’s also the legacy mindset around exams that begins with what could be wrong and goes on to work towards setting that wrong right. We’d probably need to relook at the idea of tests from the ground up that doesn’t start with that ‘copying’ assumption and instead help children write what they have understood than merely repeat sentences/things as is.

Is there merit in memorizing things and writing them as is in the name of an exam/test? In a world where information is available to anyone with a simple search? Perhaps not, and it is the ability to know what information should be applied to what situation/need that is more essential. Yet, since the availability of information is only near-ubiquitous and not completely-ubiquitous, knowing the basics (formulae, definitions etc.) is not a bad thing at all, to bring forth from memory and then figure what to be applied for a particular need.

So, some form of memorization may still be needed after all. And that would add the need for tests under a watch, both meanings applied – the duration and observation. But is video-on the only way to achieve that, what with the video being a tiny window at the disposal of the invigilator and on-off possibilities of the video for various reasons, including technical issues? I don’t know.

There is another aspect of why video-on may be a necessity: what if there’s no such requirement and someone else other than the concerned child writes the test? Now, this is morally and ethically wrong, but schools cannot assume this won’t happen, given a choice for children and their parents. And hence, at this point, video-on seems to be the only way to deal with this piquant situation.


This is an evolving thought and we do not have the right answers. We have been forced to encounter this situation because of the pandemic, and I’m sure we’d evolve ways to deal with this in interesting ways. Right now, we are simply replicating the offline method with video, but we need to evolve by considering the fact that this is a whole new world, not something that can do with simple replication.

Cover photo courtesy, Nikkei Asian Review

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