Testing Across Time Zones


What happens to remote instruction when many of your students are international and go home to various time zones? You get creative! Dr. Stover teaches a Financial Modeling class in the Harbert College of Business. The class explores using financial tools in Excel. With well over 100 students across 3 sections, delivering lectures and administering exams in real time became challenging.

“As an alternative to using Honorlock and having everyone take the exam at the same time, I created an Excel file, using the VBA scripting language, that generates a randomized set of questions and grades the exam,” explained Dr. Stover. Students start by accessing the Excel file on their desktop and entering their name. Once the name is entered and the questions are generated, the cell locks so the name can’t be changed, and students can’t share the same exam. “Because the questions are randomized, students can’t just share answers. They are supposed to work alone, but I won’t be able to monitor that. Still, I figure if they are talking with each other, at least they have to talk about how to do the problems and then actually apply that to their own version of the exam instead of just copying an answer.”

Once the exam is graded, all answers are locked. If students are unhappy with their grade, they can generate a new set of questions, but everything gets erased and they have to start from scratch. Students can get a good grade either by knowing the material and doing well initially, or by working harder over multiple attempts. “The students get to decide when the marginal benefit of potentially raising their grade is equal to the marginal cost of starting over. It takes their testing experience from being an assessment to a learning opportunity.”

When it comes to lecture delivery, Dr. Stover chose to use Panopto to record his lectures asynchronously. This allows students to go back and re-watch Dr. Stover explain a problem as many times as they need, which is especially helpful for students in a different time zone that can’t make real time Zoom sessions or students whose first language is not English.

When reflecting on how he will modify his classes once we return to campus, Dr. Stover noted that he will shift his Excel exams to homework assignments instead, so students have to learn to do their work in a timed environment. “Also, I’ve signed up for the Biggio Center’s Course (Re)Design program this summer. I’m looking forward to learning how to flip my classroom and use my Panopto recordings as lecture delivery out of class in Canvas and using in-class time for students to work problems with my help.”

Last modified: May 1, 2020