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Drexel will conduct all final exams remotely because of coronavirus

Other schools likely will be watching Drexel's execution of all final exams remotely next week because many wil be faced with doing the same later this semester.

Drexel University will offer all final exams online next week.
Drexel University will offer all final exams online next week.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Drexel University next week will do something it’s never done before: offer all final exams for its quarter courses online, over email, or via other remote communication.

More than 750 different exams will be given to thousands of students enrolled at the West Philadelphia campus, as the school responds to coronavirus concerns. All of Drexel’s colleges and programs are involved except for the law school and medical school.

Other universities likely will be watching Drexel’s execution closely, because many will be faced with doing the same later this semester. The University of Pennsylvania, which is offering remote instruction the rest of the semester, already announced it would be conducting final exams online.

Drexel had to quickly prepare faculty, some who have never offered exams that way before, and make sure all the infrastructure was in place.

“It’s definitely been a team effort,” said Michael Shelmet, Drexel’s director of instructional technology. “We’re conducting business like it’s every other day, and clearly it is not.”

Drexel’s dorms will remain open during finals week for those who need to stay, but the university has urged students to return home if possible. After exams, Drexel will go on an extended spring break for the following two weeks — and then resume classes with remote learning, using web, video, and teleconferencing tools, at least through May 4.

Exams from English to music to physics will be taken in alternate forms. Some faculty may choose essays or term papers. Others may offer a take-home exam in which students download a document, fill in their answers, and upload the completed exam. That could be especially helpful for science courses that require the drawing of diagrams.

“You can go from digital to analog and back,” Shelmet said.

Online multiple choice and short-answer exams also are an option.

The university acknowledged that online exams don’t offer the same level of academic integrity that in-person exams do.

“Instructors are encouraged to clearly specify what is permitted during the exam and possibly add an academic honesty pledge question at the start of the exam confirming that the student will abide by those limitations,” the university said in an email to faculty.

Instructors also can vary questions by exam so that it’s not as easy for students to compare answers, Shelmet said. Webcams are also used to monitor test takers, and browsers can be locked down so that students must remain on the exam page, Shelmet said.

Provost Paul E. Jensen said he realizes the change is a big one for faculty and students.

“I feel fortunate we have the tools necessary to make this a relatively easy transition,” he said.