The Necessity of Change

How a winter storm at Georgia State University prompted instructors to try new technology.

Nature can be unpredictable, a fact proven this past year as universities were battered by hurricanes, earthquakes, and winter storms. But with challenge comes opportunity.

In early December, a snowstorm hit Georgia State University in Atlanta, a campus that seldom sees snow. To make matters worse, it was finals week, which made postponement of testing very difficult. Lecture halls are scheduled weeks in advance for testing, students’ holiday travel plans are already set, and the deadline for submitting final grades cannot be changed. So, while the physical campus was officially closed because of the storm, final examinations had to go on.

“It was a challenging situation,” said Tracy Adkins Burge, Director of Learning Technology at Georgia State. “Even the testing centers were closed because the streets were impassable.”

A couple of years earlier, Georgia State had implemented Respondus Monitor, which uses a student’s webcam and video technology to deter cheating during non-proctored, online exams. “Instructors were aware of LockDown Browser and Respondus Monitor, but they were accustomed to giving exams on campus or at a testing center,” explained Tracy. When the storm hit and on-campus testing was no longer an option, “It suddenly clicked,” she said. “A number of instructors realized, hey, we have the technology to solve this problem.”  They made their final exams available online, and required students to use LockDown Browser and Respondus Monitor. “The exams went smoothly, and word of mouth did the rest,” Tracy said.

“Instructors who were using Respondus Monitor for the first time didn’t report problems. And I think students were happy they didn’t have to come all the way to campus to take their final exams,” she said.

Tracy notes that many instructors who used LockDown Browser and Respondus Monitor out of necessity a couple of months earlier are continuing to use it in the new term. In addition, some science departments at Georgia State are requiring that all high-stake exams delivered online use Respondus Monitor.  “It addresses the top concern faculty have about online testing – that students may try to cheat,” she explained.

In many ways, the wintry blast helped propel an important technology initiative at Georgia State: to bring more flexibility to courses.  “The storm was more effective than trying to promote training sessions,” laughs Tracy.  “In that sense it was a good thing. It forced instructors to try something they might have otherwise put off.”

“But don’t try to get me to say it was a perfect storm,” she says with another laugh. “I won’t fall for that.”