ICFES, A Global Example of Innovation in Online Exam Management

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It’s estimated that one of the trends that will gain momentum in the digital transformation of education is online evaluation. In addition, there are various services, such as admission processes, final exams, and even massive national tests that are gaining significant traction. 

ICFES is the Colombian Institute for the Promotion of Higher Education and operates as an autonomous entity attached to Colombia’s Ministry of National Education, supporting it with the execution of state exams. In Colombia, all high school seniors must take the Pruebas Saber 11 exam as a requirement for graduation and admission into higher education. 

In addition, students in technical and technological careers must take the Saber TyT exam, while undergraduate students must write the Saber Pro exam. All tests are intended to measure the quality of education in the country at all academic levels. 

The exams, which last approximately five hours, measure knowledge in critical areas for social and intellectual development including mathematics, citizenship competencies, specialized areas according to field of study, logic, and language, among others. 

The COVID-19 Challenge

At the time this article was written, Colombia was in the top 10 countries with the most COVID-19 cases. In addition, the South American country was in a long six-month quarantine, during which time home care was promoted. Therefore, teleworking and tele-education rates skyrocketed, with virtual education being the only alternative for both universities and schools to continue operating. 

As a result, ICFES had to quickly undertake a digital transformation project, where its different types of exams, that historically had been carried out in person, had to go virtual, making use of group sections. CognosOnline, Open LMS and Sumadi worked together to deliver a successful online evaluation experience to thousands of Colombian students. 

History in the Making

With 326,000 Saber TyT and Saber Pro written exams, ICFES closed off 2020 with a strong and successful step towards digital transformation. In addition, Colombia achieved a historical milestone in Education by becoming the first country in the world to carry out electronic and home state exams on a large scale and in a simultaneous way. 

This milestone shows how technological resources and human capital can be optimized, since several components working together were required. On the one hand, it involved a learning management platform that allowed for the creation of exams in an intuitive and accessible way that could be easily adopted by individuals responsible for uploading exam questionnaires.

And on the other hand, it meant a technology that would promote academic integrity and ensure exam security. Since these were massive state exams that measured the quality of education in the country, an online exam monitoring component was mandatory—and would prove vital to the project’s success.

This event has set a historical precedent, since it represents a great leap for the competitiveness of the country’s educational model and shows that it’s possible to optimize the State’s resources through digital innovation.

Technologies Working Together

In order to facilitate a solution that would allow the virtual execution of state exams, it was necessary to think of a platform with high scalability, which in this case was Open LMS. The eLearning platform was responsible for enabling high engagement levels in the execution of multiple exams securely and reliably. 

We are proud to be a part of this historic event that is allowing so many students to take their exam from the safety of their homes. We will continue to work with different stakeholders in the education sector to increase the number of people benefiting from our developments every day,” stated Phill Miller, Open LMS Managing Director.

Another component of the initiative was having a tool in place that would enable online exam monitoring—in this case, Sumadi. This technology uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition, alerting of any type of suspicious behavior, such as an attempt at plagiarism or cheating. With this technology in place, the exams are  95% reliable.

Thanks to Sumadi, exam veracity is guaranteed as it is able to identify suspicious activity, such as when a student checks his/her mobile phone, tries to open a restricted page, or speaks to a third party. 

“The technological challenge was divided into three parts. First, never before in the world has a virtual exam been carried out for so many individuals, taking more than 181 million photographic records simultaneously for evaluations that last approximately five hours. Second, we had the need to guarantee the detection of suspicious behavior or prohibited conduct, such as blocking navigation on other pages, avoiding the help of third parties, and the use of cell phones, headphones or earbuds.

Finally, we had to deliver the exam results quickly and supervise the exam during its execution by creating electronic academic files for those students who, by not complying with the test rules, were suspended during the test,” said Fernelly Morales, CEO of Cognos Online in Latin America.

Main Benefits of Virtual Exams

  • Deliver real-time statistics for decision making
  • Deliver results in a record time of only five days 
  • Contain the spread of COVID-19 by promoting self-care and staying at home 
  • Explore ArI technologies that are gaining momentum at a global scale 
  • Promote professional development of exam designers by enabling new digital skills

Lastly, 815 individuals living abroad had the opportunity to take the exams online. To that end, it was necessary to provide technical support to each student within their time zone, providing assistance and monitoring 24/7, and proving that thanks to technology applied to education, time and location are no longer barriers to teaching and learning.

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