Glitches mar Unisa ex­ams

Stu­dents wor­ried about post­pone­ments blame univer­sity for not hav­ing a backup plan re­gard­ing on­line exam prob­lems caused by sys­tem fail­ure

CityPress - - News - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za *Not his real name

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.”

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