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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.

Another important element of the ExamSoft platform is the analytics it provides to make it easier for instructors to see patterns in the topics individual students are struggling with, Ermie said. "That's kind of amped up our usage and changed our intentions for what the software was good for," leading to an increased emphasis on measuring student performance "in more different ways, more frequently" to help them develop into competent physicians, he said.

Although the cadaver exam is a colorful example, the more typical scenario for ExamSoft testing, whether on the iPad or a laptop, is for proctored testing in a classroom or at a test center. Students are often encouraged to download the exam in advance, so as to avoid overloading the network with everyone downloading it at once. The file is encrypted, preventing them from starting or viewing an exam until the proctor gives the code to unlock it. In the case of a timed test, unlocking the test also starts the timer. When the test is complete, the app packages up the student's answers and sends them back to the test server.

This mode of delivery means the computerized tests are not "online" in the sense of requiring continuous network access and won't be interrupted by a glitch in a school building's Internet access. ExamSoft VP of business development Jason Gad said that's often the hardest part of his sales pitch, given that people have become so used to thinking of all interactive applications being Web-based. Skeptics are often halfway through explaining that Web-based testing won't work for their purposes when he finally gets his point across. "You can almost hear the sigh," he said, when they realize network access won't be an obstacle after all.

In fact, it's possible to give these examinations in locations with no wireless network access as long as students remember to download the exam in advance and upload the results afterward from home or the nearest Starbucks.

Instructors create tests through the ExamSoft Web application, which lets them enter a "question bank" of questions they can assemble and reorder for each test they give. Questions can include images, such as diagnostic imagery for medical students to evaluate; video; or PDFs. Including a lot of multimedia will also include the size of the download file for an exam. The ExamSoft software also helps instructors balance out their tests using Bloom's Taxonomy to determine whether they have the right mix of different types of questions, such as those requiring straight recall of facts versus others requiring synthesis of information.

Simply by checking a box, an instructor can require that the test be delivered in secure mode, which locks down the iPad or laptop to display just the testing application, with network access and access to other applications disabled. It's also possible to use the software for an open-book test, which might still be timed but allow students to search the Web and other resources to their heart's content. About 96% of the time, instructors choose the locked-down mode, Gad said, although that's starting to change as more instructors begin to use the software for early, proactive assessments rather than only for exams.

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+, along with @IWKEducation.

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