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iPad Exam App Takes Testing Offline

ExamSoft app not only makes the Web off limits, it creates new possibilities, such as med school tests in the morgue.

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Inside Eight Game-changing MOOCs
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The Ohio State University College of Medicine has been doing computerized testing since 2002, but this year an iPad app is allowing the technology to go where it's never gone before: into a room full of dead people.

Eric Ermie, program manager for assessment and evaluation at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, said the SofTest-M app from ExamSoft worked well enough in testing this year that next year it will be employed much more extensively. "Next year, we will be giving an iPad to every single student when they walk in door," he said, partly so they can be tested this way. The devices will be purchased for first-year students and second-year students who don't already have one. The plan is that as students move into the third and fourth years of the program, they will swap their full-size iPads out for iPad Minis, which have been deemed more appropriate for their use once they move out of the classroom into hospital-based training.

The SofTest-M iPad app is designed to provide the security and reliability required for high-stakes exams, operating offline so that it is not dependent on a network connection, while blocking access to the Web and to reference materials or notes on the device for the duration of a test. The recently released iPad app joins ExamSoft clients for Windows and Macs, all of which work with a common Web-based administration system for test setup and analytics. Medical schools are a strong market for the company, along with law schools and some professional testing programs.

[ Take a tour of education technology from its humble beginnings to electronic tablets: Tablets Rock On: Education Tech Through The Ages. ]

Ohio State University College of Medicine switched to using ExamSoft on laptops about four years ago, replacing another computerized testing program that proved unreliable, sometimes failing just as the testing was completed, Ermie said. Although he can't endorse products, he said having the software available on the iPad made a significant difference. Over the course of this year, the medical school has experimented with using the iPads for testing, originally using a pre-release version of the software and only for relatively low-stakes quizzes. By the end of the year, the iPad app was judged trustworthy enough to be used for 150-question final exams.

Then the program started branching out, exploring scenarios that only make sense with the greater mobility of an iPad, such as practical anatomy exams carried out in a room full of cadavers. In this mode of testing, students walk from station to station around the room examining bodies, where the challenge is to identify the particular organ marked with a pin or answer questions about it. Medical students traditionally have provided paper-and-pencil answers to these questions, which sometimes turned grading into a handwriting analysis exercise -- perhaps proving what they say about doctor's handwriting.

With an iPad in hand, students were able to provide more precise answers to each prompt, Ermie said. The iPad also could be used to present information such as X-ray images to go along with the in-person examination of a cadaver.

SofTest-M iPad app
SofTest-M exams can include videos to illustrate a question or concept.

What the iPad adds is "flexibility and versatility," Ermie said. "The anatomy example is a huge one, but it's kind of the tip of the iceberg. This opens up possibilities for doing vetted, solid high-stakes assessment in a multitude of arenas where we weren't able to before."

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