COVID19 has resulted in the enforcement of national lockdown for India and poses a threat to the economy, with all sectors devising ‘business continuity plans’ in response to one of the largest world-wide disasters to occur in recent history. With the sudden onset of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown to withhold its spread in the period of March-April 2020, the education sector has been hit at a critical phase when planned processes of admissions of new candidates, examinations and evaluations of students were either partially or completely halted across the country. This has major repercussions for nation building efforts as education is crucial today more than ever to foster critical thinking, scientific temper and strong managerial and leadership skills to deal with a hugely dynamic world.
During this pandemic, the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE), faced major challenge to complete their academic process in time. It was to conduct year-end examinations that were due to be held in the end of March 2020 but had to be postponed as all students were required to vacate hostels and return home. Particularly, while the final-year students have completed all academic requirements and have also been placed in coveted roles across reputed companies in domains such as supply chain management, consulting and finance, the completion of examinations is a critical step to complete their academic journey. Naturally, these challenges are anxiety-inducing for NITIE’s primary stakeholders – current and potential students.
Digitalization of NITIE’s Academic Processes
Armed with a legacy of 57 years in the field of Industrial Engineering and Supply Chain Management, NITIE rose to the challenge to innovate and implement digital processes to ensure continuity in its academic programmes. Under the able leadership and guidance of NITIE’s Director Prof. Manoj K. Tiwari, the institute successfully completed online examinations for students in the final year, after a rigorous process of solution testing and process-redesign. The exams have been completed in the first week of May 2020, enabling students to join companies on a provisional graduation status.
Online Examinations at NITIE
To carry out online examinations, various digital solutions were evaluated and finally a lot of re-engineering was carried out to develop a unique hybrid model of online examination that could support the examination with digital as well as pen and paper model on the digital platform. Firstly, the solution had to ensure that the geographically-dispersed students were able to remotely access and attempt a 3-hour long examination securely from the comfort of their homes. Secondly, with the lockdown enforced even on NITIE’s employees, the solution had to provide faculty the ease of providing question papers across a range of subjects and to remotely view, evaluate and grade students’ submissions. Finally, the entire examination had to adhere to strict regulations that prevented undue plagiarism and copying between students.
After rigorous testing and evaluation of solutions, the institute decided upon a single pattern of paper that caters to the needs of the institute’s processes. Each faculty designed question papers that consisted of a set of objective questions (multiple choice, fill in the blanks, etc.) that are randomly administered to the student at the time of the exam and a set of questions that require descriptive answers (numerical problems, case studies, etc.) with sufficient reasoning. The students were also provided the scope for in-text answering and uploading scans of their written answers where needed. The mandated pattern of the examination provided the faculty the flexibility to design questions irrespective of the nature of their courses that ranged from highly quantitative subjects such as ‘Analytical Finance’, ‘Econometric Applications’ and ‘Advances Operational Research’ to subjects that required more discussion and interpretation such as ‘Managing Negotiations’ and ‘Competency Assessment’. The question papers were then uploaded onto a digital platform and scheduled to be administered to the students, with the help of a technology provider.
Collaboration and People Management
To adapt smoothly to the digital platform for online live-examinations within a span of a few weeks, the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) of Mumbai, also laid emphasis on onboarding all the primary stakeholders such as faculty, students and the academic section of the institute onto the platform with as less disruption as possible. Stakeholder consensus was developed at each stage of the process by conducting virtual meetings, capturing online feedback and familiarizing the students with the platform. This allowed everyone to voice their concerns and provide inputs, while a virtual helpdesk was instituted to address any student concerns and contingencies during the examinations. Consequently, the overall experience of candidates, students and faculty to NITIE’s initiatives has been generally positive. Based on this, the institute plans to roll out online examinations even for its first-year students.
The way forward for Education in India
NITIE’s experience supports that digital penetration and adoption across the country are at levels that can be used to kickstart a technological revolution for education in India. In its endeavour to ensure continuity in higher education, NITIE has undertaken a leap into this new technological revolution with promising results in the field of academics. This model will help several other institutes to conduct time-bound examinations that will ensure no disruptions in providing education to the youth of the country.