Hand Written Exam Options

Possible protocols for designing and delivery exams that include hand-written calculations.

Your first goal should be to try to minimize the number of handwritten questions on your examination. It is more difficult to maintain good academic integrity with these questions. The Academic Integrity pledge will help, but will not prevent some students from cheating and colluding.

If you decide you must include traditional handwritten calculation questions, you can collect hand-written submissions by having students take pictures of their final work with their phones or iPads and submitting these files in Canvas. 

The best approach will depend on the length of calculations – if student work will be less than 1 page – then use “file upload” question inside a Canvas quiz – but – if calculations span many pages it will be best to use assignment dropboxes since they allow multiple file uploads whereas “file upload” question only allow a single file to be uploaded. 

Handwritten Calculations – use Assignment Dropboxes

If you decide you must include longer handwritten calculation questions, you can collect hand-written submissions by having students take pictures of their final work with their phones or iPads and submitting these files in Canvas. We do this by creating separate assignment drop-box for each question submission (so a few long questions would be better than many short questions). This might sound complicated but there is an advantage when you are marking. You can then use SpeedGrader and it will give you sequential access to each student image submission for a particular question. For instance, this would let you mark all question 2 at the same time, this will be better for grading consistency. If we were to collect images as file upload question, the quiz results download as nested folders, and it is cumbersome to mark and move back and forth between student submissions. We are currently testing this approach to ensure it is both reasonable for students and does not overwhelm the Canvas server.

Shorter Calculations – it is possible to use “File Upload” type questions – but no SpeedGrader

Instructor Tips:

  • File Upload” Question type would allow students to start a quiz, keep the quiz open and upload the answer files.
  • Quiz with “File Upload” questions – needs one question for each calculation question – make sure they are clearly numbered.
  • In quiz description, you can insert a link to files you want students to work with. Students can download these files.

Overview of Student Process:

  • Once students start the quiz – timer starts running.
  • Students must not close the quiz – if in case this happens they come back and keep the quiz open – especially if the quiz is proctored.
  • Students calculate and answer each question on a separate sheet of paper – clearly marked/numbered – separate papers for each question.
  • Once completed students take a photo of each answer paper.
  • Students get the photo from their phone to the canvas quiz (can send to their email or cloud storage and download.
  • Back to the quiz on their computer, students can then upload the answer photos to each question separately; upload the corresponding photos to the corresponding questions.
  • Students must “Submit” the quiz, for the timer to stop and quiz to end.

All answers are saved and by “Due” time the quiz will force submit.

Using Quiz tool in Canvas and “Essay” type questions

 Warning about using essay questions and having students enter equations: This is possible, but it is slow and cumbersome. If you are having students do this, make sure to give them some practice. Have a no marks review test with a few questions similar to the final exam – this will get them familiar with the equation editor. Also, make sure you shorten the exam to give them time to enter equations since it is much slower than writing.

Clever Idea to make Calculation questions into MCQ’s

Another clever solution is to modify questions involving calculations, sketches, or non-text answers to preserve high-level thinking while allowing simple text responses (thanks to Pete Ostafichuk for this idea and example):

      1. Take what you would normally include as a hand-written question.
      2. Create a sample solution to that question, but to insert common errors students might make.  (Not calculator button-pressing errors, but conceptual errors.)  
      3. Include the sample solution as an image or screenshot on Canvas and ask students to identify the errors that were made. Ideally, students should also suggest what should have been done instead.

A traditional calculation problem might look like this:

A reformatted question that maintains—or possibly enhances—the level of student thinking assessed, but simplifies answers to short text phrases, could look as shown below.

Tips for using this format

If using this format, some ideas to consider:

      • make sure it is clear students should not propagate corrections from earlier steps (i.e., students should focus on each line of the solution independently, and assume all prior work is correct when considering that line),
      • be explicit whether or not you want students to recheck any calculations, look up values, etc.,
      • consider indicating how many errors are in the mock solution or how many errors students should identify,
      • consider basing the errors in the mock solution on common errors you see students make,
      • consider awarding marks based on how significant the error is (i.e., trivial errors carry less mark weight than major conceptual errors), and
      • consider that very few (if any) students will spot all errors; I usually give 100% for students who correctly identify a subset of all errors.

An alternative to this format to further emphasize high-level judgment and evaluation, and to further streamline marking, is to ask a student to identify only the 2 or 3 most significant errors. You would need to clarify what you mean by “most significant” but this could include the errors that most significantly impact the final conclusions, or that most significantly demonstrate a lack of understanding of the concepts, etc. In this way, students first need to identify all errors they can and then they need to rank them by significance. In marking, part of the mark is based on how significant the error they identify is.

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