Campus - 09.03.2023 - 13:39 

Digital examinations at the HSG foster innovation and sustainability

The HSG is gradually digitalising its examinations. In this way, it saves paper but also paves the way towards the use of innovative examination forms. Such digital formats simplify the assessment of the competencies demanded by the labour market.
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In the last few months, discussions about the educational system have primarily pivoted on the influence of ChatGPT. What is ignored in this debate, however, is the fact that at Swiss universities, written examinations with pen and paper are still largely the norm. In a pilot project, the HSG is now exploring how universities can run digital examinations in a safe and user-friendly manner. On conclusion of the project in late 2024, the HSG will share the insights gained from it with other Swiss universities.

In the last great examination block in January this year, a total of 1,784 students in 19 courses took digital examinations at the HSG. A further trial run with approx. 3,500 students has been scheduled for the summer. Subsequently, the University will interview the students and faculty members involved about their experiences. “From Autumn Semester 2023 onwards, we are planning that basically, all HSG faculty members who want to will be able to examine their students digitally,” says Reto Gubelmann, who is in charge of the HSG’s digital examinations project.

The HSG has been working on this digitalisation venture since 2021. The project is one of a total of 16 in the “Enhancing digital skills in teaching” programme. This is co-funded by swissuniversities, the umbrella organisation of the Swiss universities. Under the aegis of this programme, various Swiss universities are trying to improve digital literacy, for example, or to develop methods of digital teaching.

In the spirit of freedom of teaching and research, the HSG is leaving it up to its faculty members to decide whether they want to examine their students digitally. The HSG’s Student Union (SHSG) is also represented on the project’s steering committee and is thus able to put forward its suggestions.

Less paper, more innovative examinations

Digital examinations are more sustainable: in winter and summer, the HSG always conducts some 17,000 individual written examinations in various subjects. Subsequently grading the examinations written on paper requires complex logistics. “With digital examinations, this logistical effort becomes largely unnecessary, and we save paper,” says Gubelmann.

In addition, the HSG’s project relies on the “bring your own device” approach. This means that students write the examination on their own laptops on site on the HSG campus. For this purpose, they install a LockDown browser, on which they answer the examination questions. This browser prevents access to the internet and locally stored data. This also means that the HSG need not purchase any additional computers.

“Examinations written on paper are obsolescent”

Besides being sustainable, digital examinations give rise to further opportunities: thus video and audio formats may extend the range of what can be examined. “It’s conceivable, for example, that students will be able to analyse and comment on individual video recordings of conversations. Because they do this on their laptops, everyone can answer the question at their own rate,” says Gubelmann. Also, there are various degree courses at the HSG whose proximity to the labour market entails that they can really only be examined digitally. “They include computer science and medicine. But students work a lot with computer programs in business administration courses as well.”

Currently, researchers at the HSG’s Institute of Business Education and Educational Management are working on digital and didactically innovative examination forms together with the St.Gallen University of Teacher Education. A more widespread application of these concepts at the HSG has been scheduled as from 2024. “I assume that written examinations with pen and paper will disappear in the medium term. They don’t reflect the reality experienced by students, faculty members and the labour market any longer,” says Gubelmann.

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