​Technophobia among undergraduate freshmen: a switch in assessment modality

​Author: Tayyaba Shah | Teaching Associate | School of Nursing and Midwifery, Pakistan | The Aga Khan University


The adoption of technology-based assessments aims for a more advanced, precise, and expedited approach to evaluating students, departing from traditional paper-based testing methods (Alruwais, Wills, & Wald, 2018), The Aga Khan University, School of Nursing and Midwifery (AKUSONAM) revamped assessment methods to elevate feedback quality, monitor student progress comprehensively across various assessments, and alleviate the faculty's workload in evaluating a large student number. At one aspect where they are employing unique security measures to verify students' identities, flexibility, and mitigate student cheating by implementing randomized question sequences, conversely, its increased usage in education has exerted an impact on students' psychological makeup, particularly their levels of technophobia "a severe nervousness related to doing anything technologically advanced"(O. Y. Khasawneh, 2018). Numerous research findings have reported technology-related anxiety and asserted that negative perceptions toward technology significantly influence online learning and have a significant impact on their ability to adopt new technology (Ajlouni & Rawadieh, 2022). Another study (O. Y. Khasawneh, 2023) evaluated the level of technophobia by using the O’Brien learning style questionnaire (O. Khasawneh, 2020) and the Davis technology acceptance model (Davis, 1985) and revealed moderate to high levels of technophobia among even Z-generation undergraduate students.

In addition to other online assessment modalities under practice at AKUSONAM, which includes the use of self-marking assessment tools, collaborative and feedback-oriented tools, the Umbrella Consortium for Assessment Networks (UCAN), Virtual learning Environment (VLE) and simulation-based assessment tools in Center for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME), used for training nursing students and the summative assessments are also conducted synchronously, using a customized web browser, the Safe Exam Browser (SEB) software that run on the university’s virtual learning environment platform.  This web browser momentarily transforms any computer into a safe workstation. The screen gets locked, preventing students from opening other tabs, thus reducing the likelihood of plagiarism. 

At AKUSONAM, the undergraduate BScN year-I freshmen encounter several adjustment issues including transition from college student to university student, anxiety, homesickness, peer pressure, and encountering a variety of technical innovative teaching and learning modalities. Apart from commonly occurring exam anxiety or "exam stress” introduction of technology-based assessment modality may add to their further stress. These apprehensions develop technophobia, affecting their overall performance as they fear failure in the use of technology, that they never had access to before, while writing the exam.

By taking technophobia in consideration,  to reduce exam anxiety among freshmen, to provide the students hands-on experience with technical skills required for SEB software operationalization and to address common technophobia issues accompanied with providing answers to questions reported by students in previous semesters, rather than core subject knowledge which they already practice during review classes, a mock exam session was designed and conducted as a strategy for the BScN year 1 students before their first graded assessment. Mock examinations closely replicate the main exams in both content and cognitive demands (Amadioha & Uko, 2019). Ultimately, they serve as comprehensive practice sessions mirroring the actual exam conditions. 

Implementation of Mock Exam Session 

To provide hands-on experience to the students, a mock exam quiz was designed on VLE before the exam by using different data containing both subjective and objective questions. All the settings were adjusted using the same guidelines as of the real exam and quiz was linked with the SEB software which they were supposed to use during exams. The seating arrangements were similar to the exam hall. The whole class of 150 students were divided into 3 small groups of 50 students per group. Each session lasted for 30 minutes for each group. 

Prior to the session, students were clearly shared with the basic instructions for the usage of SEB software as:

  • Download the latest SEB Setup file for mock test and install it on your laptop

  • Once logged into the VLE, click on the Assessments tab and download SEB configuration file entitled as “Test Mock march 9” it will redirect you to the VLE login page

  • Enter your User ID and passwords slowly (once)

  • After logging in, you will be directed to the exam page where instructions are listed

  • Read the instructions carefully and start exam with the given password in instructions

  • Once you logged in to SEB, your screen will be locked temporarily

  • Once you are done with exam, ask invigilators to unlock your screen then you can leave the exam hall

The facilitators reinforced the instructions about internet connectivity, SEB usage, and how a question should be attempted and troubleshooting in case of any freezing. Finally, the quiz was opened for students and all the facilitators were there for guidance. Out of 150 students, 101 students was successful in submitting the exam in allocated time while others had some technical issues in their gadgets, some required upgrading of software etc.

       ​Mock exam tab inserted in ​the actual assessment section to make students learn the navigation

​                                         ​​
                                            BScN year-I students attempting the Mock exam test

Student’s Feedback

The students’ feedback reflected that the mock exam session was helpful in lowering student’s anxiety. The entire set-up, similar to examination hall, provided each student the opportunity to practice exam individually on the same modality as in real exam. The mock exam session had a significant impact in reducing their anxiety encoded by students as: 

  • It helped me a lot because the browser was new to me, and I didn't know how to use that. This session has provided enough help.

  • It helped me understand the correct use of SEB, and the proper method of giving exams.

  • I had many queries about the exam and after the mock exam It was clear that what are we supposed to do, and it helped reduce the stress 

  • It helped a lot. The mock test help in reducing anxiety and nervousness and helps in managing Time.

  • Mock tests prevent us from being panicky during opening our exam paper so that we don't lose focus by thinking that how we will get to the questions.

  • The mock test is very helpful for us. It prepared us 100% for exam.


Implementation of technology-based assessment in higher education could face some challenges. Different studies have investigated about these challenges including, less experienced student and teachers with computer or with the online assessment process, for which they need a training at the beginning to be equipped with digital literacy, technical proficiency, adaptability, operationalization and troubleshooting of the software and tools used in assessment (Osuji, 2012). The focus of this strategy was to introduce students to the processing of SEB software during assessments at AKUSONAM. The underlying assumption was to improve their academic performance by lowering their level of anxiety related to technology-based assessment modality. The students experienced minimum difficulty in using the web-browser during the actual exam; this endorses the effectiveness of the strategy. 

Since technophobia might be associated with multiple technologies, providing supportive resources for one technology will not remove technophobia completely from users but it showed the positive impact and outcomes during execution of real exam as the students were feeling more confident in using SEB software which also enhanced their performance. 

On the basis of the feedback obtained, the following recommendations are hereby made:

  •  Mock examinations can be used as a diagnostic tool to reveal how well teachers' instructions have been mastered by students, prepare students for future examinations

  • Strategies should be developed to correct any misconceptions or difficulties of students causing anxiety, before the final examination.

  • Similar strategies can be adopted and used in almost every discipline where candidates are coming with diverse level of understandings and also whenever applying any new emerging modality for graded assessments to ensure students' comfort with processing, thereby improving their success rates.

Acknowledgment: Zohra Asif Jetha, Amber David, Wahab Sikandar, Sameen Rahat, Shagufta Iqbal, Dr Naghma Rizvi


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