New software roll-outs are never an easy thing to adopt across an organisation, especially a sizeable one such as the University of Malta, where you’ll find members pertaining to every spot along the spectrum of tech-savviness.
The element of newness that is always present in an ever-evolving world of technology makes it harder for some people to familiarise themselves. But the key to overcoming this and ensure continuity in the operations of that organisation with minimal loss of productivity is to train everyone carefully and cater for their varying aptitudes.
When in 2020, the University made the decision to shift some of its lectures and examinations online, a key person in ensuring the smoothness of the process of WISEflow was our very own Prof. Victor Buttigieg.
Prof. Buttigieg, an Associate Professor within the Department of Communications & Computer Engineering within the Faculty of ICT was entrusted with the mammoth task of training the UM academic staff on this new system.
Based on the reviews that HRMD, IT Services and the Office of the Registrar have been getting, he has been doing a tremendous job of it. Newspoint had a chat with him to find out more about his journey with WISEflow.
How were you approached to start offering training on the use of WISEflow?
Mr Robert Sultana, Chief Information Officer & Director of IT Services, approached me to deliver training sessions on the use of WISEflow to academic staff. It was felt that my IT background and my academic experience would facilitate these training sessions. I had also used WISEflow in the June 2020 examination session and attended a number of training sessions given by UNIwise, the company behind WISEflow, last year.
How did you approach the task of training academics with different levels of tech-savviness?
It proved to be less daunting that it looks. Academics are quick to pick things up. We made sure to show all the steps required to set up an exam in an easy-to-follow manner, without making any assumptions. Colleagues from the Registrar’s office and IT Services also helped during these sessions by answering questions in real-time in the chat box. This was done to clarify any aspects that might not have been clear to all attendees. Since some faculties have their own particular procedures how to conduct exams, issues particular to specific exam procedures were also dealt with during the training sessions through the questions raised.
Academics have so far told us that they found your method useful because it was a conversationalist one. Why do you think giving and receiving feedback is important in such training on a new piece of software?
Not everyone has the same background and the same outlook. Therefore, I think that it is important that any training takes on board the point of view of the attendees. The fact that I, as an academic, face similar problems as the other examiners, facilitated my role. I also tried to relate the use of WISEflow to what we normally follow when setting up exams under normal circumstances.
What are the best features of WISEflow, in your opinion?
Compared to Exam VLE used last June, WISEflow offers several advantages. First, it is a tried and tested system used by several other universities and specifically designed to conduct online exams.
Secondly, the various responsibilities are very well defined and delineated in WISEflow through the various roles that can be assigned to different persons handling the exam process itself.
WISEflow allows the possibility to examine our students in different ways, that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve. For example, one can include some audio or, indeed, a video as part of the examination question.
But maybe one of the best features in WISEflow is the ability to automate the assessment process for certain question types, such as for multiple choice questions. Not only that, but it also offers a multitude of statistics on how the students performed, enabling the examiner to determine, for instance, if there were any problematic questions in the exam.
What are its limitations, and how are we overcoming them?
WISEflow was not designed to conduct exams remotely, as we are applying it during this pandemic. This aspect presents its own very real challenges.
There also was not enough time for us academics to get familiar with it properly so that we can make use of its full potential. Having said that, WISEflow itself is a work-in-progress and some of its features are not yet fully developed. For instance, no plagiarism detection tool is available when conducting a FLOWmulti type of exam where multiple choice questions are mixed with essay type ones.
Also, some aspects of the user interface and behaviour is not consistent throughout the various options available within WISEflow. This makes learning the software that little bit more difficult.
Being a generic software application, it is not customised to the way we do things at the University of Malta. In most cases, workarounds have been found and offered to the various examiners with specific requirements, thanks to the staff at the Registrar’s office and IT Services that have been tasked with handling these procedural and technical problems. The staff at the Office for Human Resources Management & Development responsible for training and development have also been great in organising a spectrum of training sessions.
I think the University as a whole, both us academics and the support staff, have done miracles in these past few months during this pandemic to ensure that lectures go ahead without too many hiccups and to ensure that we can examine our students in a fair and timely manner. I think that the University should be proud of its achievements and should publicise this more.
How confident are you that online assessment and examinations will go smoothly?
Very confident! We have already proved ourselves during the June 2020 session, so I see no reason why we won’t do so again this time round, given the additional experience gained. I am sure there will be some minor hiccups along the way, but nothing that cannot be handled by our very capable academic and support staff.