Rose (left) and Sophie work together to ensure exams go well
Aga Khan University's nursing and midwifery students in Kenya took supervised virtual tests in what could be termed the country's first successful online examinations for nurses and midwives in a work-study programme during the pandemic period. 166 students sat for Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery end of semester exams between July 27 – 31, 2020, however, the preparations started earlier.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted learning all over the world, sending school calendars into disarray. The Aga Khan School of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa (AKU-SONAM EA) was affected but not hit as hard as other learning institutions. This is because, before the pandemic, SONAM's work-study programme enabled nurses and midwives to attend physical classes twice a week while the rest of the curriculum was delivered online so that they could meet their work obligations. When the pandemic settled into East Africa, learning shifted online fully and continued via a virtual learning platform, MOODLE.
There was still one problem, however; how to conduct exams with more than 150 students in various remote locations without physical supervision. For many, this would be a daunting challenge, yet, for SONAM faculty alongside Rose Mutwiwa (Programmes Assistant), Sophie Onyango (Exams Officer) and Daniel Musyoka (IT Administrator) this was an opportunity to test what the world under a “new normal" would be like.
“The Academic Head asked us to lead the pilot for this system in SONAM. We needed training and so did the students! We also needed to upload 1000 multiple choice questions onto the system to run 38 exams, and we had four weeks to do everything!" shared Sophie as she wondered how they were going to pull it off. They got to work training students on how to use the system via Zoom, set up Speedwell's eSystem platform to administer the exams, developed unique credentials for student logins as the SONAM Kenya faculty devised examination questions.
On July 27, the first examination was scheduled for 9 a.m and everyone was nervous despite the extensive groundwork. The students had been trained, mock exams had been carried out, the system had been set up, students had been provided with enough data bundles and all necessary preparations had been done. The exams started on time, and just when they thought they could breathe, their phones started ringing at the same time. “Students were panicking because many of them had unstable internet connections, and the exam was set for an hour" Sophie recalls, giggling nervously. Rose and Daniel handled the incoming requests as Sophie monitored the progress of those who seemed to have no problems. As the pandemonium continued and the room became a mini-war zone, Rose noted: “I had to calm students down and reassure them that all was well, we had a very able team and that they were the best students to do this exam."
This happened continuously over four days, with students calling in as late as midnight with various concerns. “During my second exam, I had an issue with my internet connection," expressed midwifery student, Mary Muchiri. She added: “I panicked and called the exam officer so many times but it finally settled and I was able to complete the exam successfully." The software used froze all other browsers, therefore students were unable to explore other sites. The timer did not allow students to do much else, except focus on the exam. Mary shared, “I did not see a big difference between the online exam and a sit-in one because once you focus on the exam, it does not matter where you are what matters is your integrity."
After the final exam, Samuel, one of the nursing students, wrote a heartfelt email to the team: “I take this opportunity to pass warm regards for the assistance accorded during the online examination throughout the week. May God bless you abundantly and open doors for you, may the showers of blessing be upon your souls and families. Having such a team simply makes education enjoyable and fun."
The entire team was able to relax thereafter and had a few takeaways from the experience. IT Administrator, Daniel reflected: “At first it seemed impossible since it was the first time doing online exam administration. However, thanks to technology and the team, everything went smoothly within the stipulated time." He added: “When things got tough, I remembered a quote by Sam Levenson - don't watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going."