Unisa confident it will overcome online exam glitches

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Thousands of University of South Africa (Unisa) students failed to write their online examinations last week after the system crashed. A number of papers were postponed after lecturers failed to upload examinations.

Other exams went ahead with students answering questions. They were, however, not able to upload the answers.

Chairperson of Unisa’s Johannesburg Student Representative Councils Vutivi Ngwenya says it was a nightmare.

“You access the exam after a long time and when you do access it now you must submit the portal is closed. One thing we are encouraging students to do is that they must submit their exams to the lecturers and also take screenshots to prove they could not submit on the portal. There was also a case of students who could not get the exam, the students logged to the exam portal but there was no exam and the time was ticking there. We tried to communicate with the lecturer but the lecturer did not respond.”

Unisa believes it has overcome the glitches. It says it experienced high online traffic volumes which had put a strain on its system.  Over 270 000 students will write their exams online in line with the current COVID-19 regulations that prohibit in-person or sit-down assessments.

Unisa’s Professor Veronica McKay says those students who experienced challenges with their online exams last week will be given a second opportunity.

“What we did do is expand the system, put in much more bandwidth. There’ll be one exam next week where there’ll be 32 000 students writing that exam.  So in case, students have a problem uploading the answer paper,  we have given them a special portal for each exam that they can upload on and it is basically on a cloud.”

The university, which was the only institution to forge ahead with online examinations, hopes this week will be better.

Wits ready for online assessments

Wits University believes its online system is ready to handle the online traffic when its students do their assessments starting from next week Wednesday until July 1.

“The exact time of assessment will be determined by the faculties.  The University is confident in the capacity of its ICT systems.  Wits switched to remote learning on 20 April and our systems have been able to handle the number of students logging in each day to participate in online learning,” says Wits University spokesperson, Buhle Zuma.

The South African Students Congress (Sasco ) says some universities are still battling with online registration and won’t cope with assessing students using online methods.

“They (students)  have been struggling with online registration, can you imagine. We are saying introduce a system, you test it gradually up until it performs better. It cannot be that you going to implement something because of the frustrations of COVID-19 and so on,” says Sasco Deputy Secretary-General, Vezinhlanhla Simelane.

Students without online access will not be disadvantaged

Universities South Africa Chief Executive Officer Ahmed Bawa agrees that there are other institutions where online learning has not taken off. However, he says, there is hope.

“If a student has not been able to access learning because of network problems, or data or devices, and so on.  Those students will not be disadvantaged.  They will still have an opportunity to complete the academic year.  One-third of the students will be returning now and we hope that quite soon, two to three weeks or so another third of the students will return and so most of the students will be back on campus and they’ll be kind of using the facilities that are on campus.”

In May, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced that a third of tertiary education students will return to class from Monday under Level 3 lockdown.