Glitches mar Unisa exams
Students worried about postponements blame university for not having a backup plan regarding online exam problems caused by system failure
Unisa has been forced to postpone some exams after technical glitches marred online exams this week. Affected modules include those studied by criminology students, and development studies.
Sipho Xukwe*, a third-year student studying towards a criminology degree, told City Press on Friday that he could not submit his answers during exams this week because the system was clogged due to the high volume of exam scripts and question papers.
“A message popped up saying [the system] cannot hold the number of students trying to submit at one time and others trying to download the exam question paper. Our problem as students is that the university did not have a plan B for students who were not able to submit due to system failure,” Xukwe said.
He said students received emails stating that they would have another opportunity to write in October/November 2020.
“Our concern is how students are going to be able to write five modules from this semester and five modules of the coming semester? The university is fully aware that students won’t be able to write all 10 modules in one semester. We already have students who have to choose which modules to write this semester because of dates. You find that students have two registered modules sharing exam dates and time,” he said.
Other students who spoke to City Press this week also indicated that they had received SMSes from the institution announcing that their exams had been postponed.
Responding to City Press, Unisa said in a statement on Friday afternoon that the rescheduling of modules to later dates, which would still fall within the current examination period, was essential to improve the system’s performance.
“SMSes were sent to inform students of changes made to the timetable and not the cancellation of the examinations. Only two examination days (May 26 and 27) were affected, where a few modules had to be rescheduled to the consecutive Saturdays (May 30, June 6 and June 13). This information has already been communicated to the students and they are aware of their new examination dates,” Unisa said.
The university said a number of the students had been assisted to access their exam papers and upload their written scripts.
“Both academics, and the information and communication technology (ICT) team were on standby to support the students so that they could download, write and upload their answers. It should be noted that in a number of modules, some students managed well without experiencing glitches, while others struggled. Examination question papers were also posted on the module sites just before the examination started for those who were either struggling to locate the paper or experiencing some technical challenges. Academic staff members also assisted the students by extending the submission time. Students who have failed to submit their papers via the various available channels will be provided with another opportunity, such as a special assessment, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged. This will be communicated to the students at a later date,” Unisa said.
The university said the system or platforms used for online assessment were continually being improved to accommodate the large number of modules and students they were servicing during the online examination period.
“The technical team has worked on the capacity of the system in order to ensure it can accommodate high student volumes. It should be appreciated that during the first semester more than 2.9 million assessments were processed on one of our platforms and an additional 11 million on another. The university is used to processing such huge numbers without any challenges because they are spread over a period of time. For summative online assessment the period in which to complete the assessments is much shorter and, therefore, the system is expected to experience increased strain as a result of the high traffic volumes. We believe that the improvements that have been made over the past few days would support the continuation of the online examinations as planned,” Unisa said.
Unisa National Students’ Representative Council secretarygeneral Amukelani Ngwenya said the student council condemned the chaotic state of examination systems that students had suffered.
“We have engaged with management, indicating that it has become clear that the university’s ICT department was lying to us when it said it was ready for the May/June examinations. This has been demonstrated practically by the incessant glitches experienced by students, at great emotional and psychological toll.
“The student council has demanded that all students who fail or do not participate in the exams be given another opportunity to write without any financial implications. The student council has also called for extended psychosocial support for all students. The visibility of counselling services must be increased online. We have also raised concerns about data. We are disappointed by men and women who are not doing their work at the university.”