Chemistry Students Advocate for Online Tests

Our Current Affairs Editor reviews the universities delayed decision to place chemistry exams online.

Elizabeth Meade
10th February 2022
Image Credit: Pixabay
Throughout first semester, Newcastle University Chemistry students advocated for tests to go online. Course Representatives, including myself, discussed the idea at Student-Staff Committee and Student-Staff Strategy Board meetings. Each time, Chemistry staff and others said that it was not possible to put exams online.

On 17 December, the University changed its mind. Chemistry students were sent an email with the following text:

"The in-person, written exams which had previously been scheduled for the CHY3109 and CHY3206 modules have been cancelled. You will now receive an exam paper and submit your work online for each of these modules."[CHY3109 and CHY3206 are the module codes for Advanced Medicinal Chemistry and Advanced Physical Chemistry.]

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Some believe the University made this decision after a comment by Boris Johnson. There are no direct quotes from Boris Johnson explicitly calling for online exams. On 15 December, he held a COVID-19 press conference in which he told people to get booster vaccines and discussed the Omicron variant.

It is difficult to believe that the University was only cognizant of the dangers of Omicron upon hearing this announcement. Students had been concerned about a return to in-person exams before Omicron was a major concern. When the variant was discovered, we were even more concerned and continued to advocate. Given that students in multiple departments advocated for this, the University should have required online exams sooner.

the University should have required online exams sooner

- Elizabeth meade

This late decision showed that the University cared more about public opinion than about student concerns and wellbeing. Exams were clearly only put online to avoid later criticism from the government and the general public, as they did not act on student concerns on the matter. It is also telling that the Chemistry department did not support online exams until University made them mandatory.

Chemistry staff told students that exams could not be online because the website's module description claimed the tests would be administered in-person and they were not allowed to do things differently than prescribed in this description. However, this online module description was soon forgotten when the spectre of public criticism rose up in the background.

The University cared more about public opinion than student concerns.

Staff also told students that they did not understand what it meant to go to university because, in making this request, we were showing that we did not understand that we had to take exams. This was clearly a deliberate misinterpretation of the request, as all students knew and accepted we would be required to take some sort of exam. We had already experienced online exams, understood what they entailed and understood that they were still a form of examination. Since online assessment methods had already been utilized three times, it would not be unprecedented for the University to consider utilizing them again, and hence not unreasonable for students to view them as a valid possibility.

The online tests received a mixed reception from students. Each module allowed students a 24-hour window in which to take the respective exam. The test for CHY3109 was set from Friday, 21 January to Saturday, 22 January which many students found inconvenient. CHY3206 was originally set then as well, but Physical Chemistry students asked for it to be moved to be from Thursday, 20 January to Friday, 21 January. Students found that the 24-hour time was unfair to students who had to work night shifts. When this issue was brought up, it was once again dismissed, just as with most requests (other than moving the CHY3206 exam). Any future changes to Chemistry examination practices are as yet unannounced.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
(she/her) 4th year Chem student. Former Head of Current Affairs and Former Science Sub-Editor. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking. Wrote the first article for Puzzles. Probably the first Courier writer to have work featured in one of Justin Whang's videos.

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