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Unisa ready for first online exams

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Varsity has developed an app where students can write and upload their exams

WITH exams at Unisa due to begin at the end of the week, the institution says it is ready to administer them online for the first time. 

Unisa principal and vice-chancellor Professor Mandla Makhanya said after cancelling all venue-based exams, they had developed an app where students could write and upload their exams.

“We have developed an app that we’ve shared with students. They will be able to get the papers on the app,” Makhanya said. To access the question papers, students will be sent a unique user code. Students will then be able to download the exam papers 15 minutes before the start of the assessment. 

“Those who don’t have laptops can use the same system they use to submit assignments online. They will write on the paper we gave them after registration to use for their assignments. Once they have done that they will upload the stuff they have written on the app,” he said. 

Marking will also be done online. 

In the past couple of years, Unisa has had incidents of exam fraud where question papers were leaked. Makhanya acknowledged that this was an issue the university had been worried about.  

“We are spending sleepless nights over the leaking of exam papers and criminals are also working very hard. For the first time they won’t be able to get access to our systems because we will be communicating directly with students. The only thing we have to sort out this time around is to ensure that the IP addresses are absolutely correct.” 

He said as an added security measure, the app could monitor the movement of students during the exam. 

Makhanya said the university was ready for the exams starting on Friday and would be offering students, mostly those funded by NSFAS, data. The university is looking at spending a minimum of R42 million on data and other connectivity costs. 

Students have been given a choice to either write the exams this semester or to defer them to October. “We accept that exams by their very nature are threatening, now to discover that you are going to do exams in a manner you have not experienced before, the levels of anxiety might be high. Students are free to defer those exams and we will not punish them in any way. There will not be cost implications for that and they will also be allowed to register for the second semester. But we are encouraging them to write,” Makhanya said. 

He said a decision on second semester exams would be made once they had seen the number of students who write or defer this term’s assessments. Last week students received communication that if they had a clash on their exams,  they must defer one to next semester but Makhanya said that would not happen. 

“There is no way we can give that responsibility to students. Instances such as those students have to be accommodated. The question of deferring exams has to happen within the context of students who are not ready to write. Not because we have deliberately given them exams that clash. That we have to sort out,” he promised. 

On how Covid-19 had pushed Unisa to move to online exams, Makhanya said: “The main reason the post office is still there is simply because of our own circumstances as a country. As much as we are also online, there are students who still find themselves in remote areas who need to access study material on paper otherwise they will be excluded altogether.” 

He said the institution had been able to continue as normal despite the lockdown. In March, students submitted at least 1.1 million assignments.