During the final examinations at the end of the spring semester, the Academic Affairs Department of the Open University of China (OUC) got a phone call from a student from Fujian branch. He lamented that the results of one of his courses had failed to meet the lowest requirements because of his illness. He felt extremely frustrated because he thought he could not get a degree.

After answering the call, Ms. Pan Jiaoping communicated with the academic affairs staff at Fujian Branch and found out that the student was eligible for flexible examinations to take several examinations a semester and she immediately contacted the student for reexamination. The result was 20 points higher more than the first one! As a beneficiary of the individualised examination services flexible examination system, the student graduated and earned his degree certificate.

Examinations have always been closely related to major design, course construction, admission, quality standards, and university running system as an essential part of teaching. In order to achieve the goal of “learning for everyone, everywhere,” the OUC is committed to advancing the reform of learner formation and teaching models, and learning assessment has become one of the keys. Over the years, phased progress has been made in the reform of learning assessments. More satisfactory results have been achieved in learner support by making use of computer and internet technology.

More caring design: My exams, my decision

Though the winter of that year was severely cold, the academic affairs was already busy preparing for examination season. One day, Ms. Pan Jiaoping suddenly got a call from one student who said anxiously, “I am a student at Beijing Experimental University. I have just been employed by a company in Beijing and the job is very important to me. According to the company’s regulations, I can’t ask for leave to take the exams. Can you help me change the time of the exam to the New Year’s Day public holiday.” Though Ms. Pan couldn’t see the student at the other end of the line, she had a clear picture in her mind: a girl shivering on the street in the freezing cold wind. It was then that Ms. Pan became suddenly aware of the importance of her job. The student’s eagerness learn moved her and she promised that she would do what she could to follow the school’s mission of openness with the aim of serving the students. After answering the phone call, Ms. Pan immediately gave a report to the leader, who said, “Go ahead and set it up. Let’s help the students to the best of our ability.” Under the leader’s instruction, all of the teachers in charge of the operation of the academic affairs worked overtime for several days. With concerted effort, she was finally able to help this and other students with the same needs out of trouble, and she was praised by all the teachers and students at Beijing Experimental University (formerly the Experimental School). This triggered Ms. Pan’s respect for and confidence in online examinations, and all the teachers in the academic affairs office became aware that only when they responded to the needs of the vast number of students to the maximum extent could the real reform goals of the online examinations be achieved.

After this, the teachers of the academic affairs office paid more attention to the demands and wishes of each learner. The Xinjiang branch said that they hoped to offer evening examinations because of the time difference between Xinjiang and other parts of the country; the Zhejiang and Guangdong branches said they hoped to hold examinations in the evening because of the high temperatures; and the Shanghai and Shenzhen branches said that they hoped to arrange for examinations outside of work hours because of peoples’ busy schedules. In order to meet the different needs of different groups, the individualised examination support offered by the academic affairs office is being consistently revised and improved.

Over recent years, the teaching affairs office has found that the conflict between twerk and examinations for distance education students is becoming increasingly severe. In order to avoid dropouts caused by this conflict, improving the format of examination organisation, upgrading the examination platform, and meeting the need for off-site examinations, provisional examinations, and other individualised needs is a top priority. In 2012, the academic affairs department quickly developed an appointment-based examination system and launched appointment-based examinations, whose popularity with the students was beyond expectation. After the data analysis of several appointment-based examination results, the academic affairs department found that some students preferred taking examinations immediately after a short period of concentrated learning and some students’ work obviously featured periods of highs and lows. Based on the data analysis, the academic affairs office initiated a flexible examination system in the 2016 spring semester and made the final examinations available throughout the semester. This has met the needs of different kinds of students and good results have been achieved.

More scientific examinations: Test the real level of the students

In order to ensure the fairness of the examinations and ensure each student’s performance in the examinations accurately reflects their level, the OUC will continuously incorporate the reform thoughts and ideas into the paperless online examination system. It will automatically create examination papers in line with a fair, scientific strategy; and make automatic assessment of the answers to objective questions and make online assessment of the answers to subjective questions in line with unified standard. So far, the examination questions for most courses have become completely objective and automatic computer revision has ensured the accuracy of the assessments and the fairness of the examinations. Meanwhile, the examination results can also be fed back to the students and teaching staff more rapidly and work efficiency has improved.

In July 2016, a student surnamed Wan, who was majoring in mechatronics in the junior college programme at Guangdong’s Zhongshan School, was beside himself with joy after he completed the examinations and walked out of the examination venue. He couldn’t wait to share his experience of the examination he had just taken with director Duan, who was on duty at the entrance. He said that all his worries about the online examinations had been unwarranted and that he would try his best to recommend the online examination to his schoolmates. Having experienced the online examination, Wan was full of praise for it. According to his experience, you can choose to have the examination system generate new examination questions at the beginning of the examination if you come across questions you are not good at; you can choose to write down the answers to subjective questions if you are slow at typing; you can find out the examination results earlier than usual by accessing them online; you can get more opportunities to demonstrate your actual level by taking several examinations; the review process for the examination papers is extremely fair and you can apply to the headquarters to check the results if you think that the computer-assessed ones are different from what you estimated; when process assessment is emphasised in online examination courses, the proportion of their final term examination result is reduced. This meets the needs of on-the-job students and allows them to demonstrate their full potential.

In fact, there is no end to examples like these. Luo Xia from the Anhui branch said that, thanks to the OUC’s online examination system, her examinations were not affected at all during the six months she was sent to work in Shanghai. A student surnamed Zheng from the Quzhou School of the Zhejiang Branch told Ms. Pan that she was very satisfied with flexible final examinations.

More Flexible organisation: Recognition and favour from millions of students

During the examination period for the last two years, messages such as the ones below are received almost every day: “Our provincial examinations will not be affected by the typhoon due to the online examinations. Stay safe!” “Our examinations will not be affected by the flood thanks to the online examinations!” “None of our students’ examinations were affected by the earthquake disaster thanks to the online examinations!” “The water and power supply is completely cut off at one of our provincial examination sites. We have allowed the students to take an online examination on another day, so there is no cause for concern.” Having worked in her job for ten years, Ms. Pan Jiaoping said that, in the past, they were powerless in the face of natural disasters like the ones above but that today, the branches can solve the problems on their own without asking the headquarters for ways out thanks to the extremely helpful online examinations.

Today, people sitting for for the compulsory course examinations alone add up to over 1.1 million each semester for the OUC’s final term examination. Furthermore, many branches have had the examinations for all their independently offered courses changed into online ones under the leadership of the OUC headquarters.

After more than a decade of hard work, paperless examinations have become popular and are well received by more and more students, teachers, and examination affairs staff. On the first day of the new semester, associate professor Liu Hongxing of the Faculty of Economics and Management shared the recent examination results and successful experience of the courses she presided over. She mentioned how much more enthusiastic the students were about learning, the obvious improvement in their achievements, and the positive role played by online examinations in the establishment and operation of course teams. Director Duan from the Zhongshan School, of the Guangdong branch said: “In order to make full use of the humanistic and flexible characteristics of the OUC’s examination policies, we have integrated paper and online examinations for some courses. Now, none of the students hesitate to choose online examinations. As one of the first pilot online examination units in the country, all of our students and administration staff members have experienced the convenience of online examinations, which have come to dominate our examination system. The scale of the examinations has increased 46 times since the beginning of the pilot.

Although these results are fascinating, a lot of hard work still awaits in the future. In recent years, the OUC has been committed to establishing more scientific and personalised examination designs. The organisation and implementation of the examinations are more flexible and networked to benefit every student with better and more open online examination support for the cloud university and to bring into full play the role of talent evaluation.

Written by Pan Jiaoping,, Wu Yaqi Edited byYan Jingzhen, www.china.org.cn