Above, a photo of the construction site where the "New Classroom Building" and the accompanying eTesting Center will be built. (Photo Credit: Yan Chen)

Starting fall 2013, Stony Brook University students may begin taking some of their exams in a computerized testing center in the proposed “New Classroom Building,” which is currently being built where the Old Chemistry Building once stood.

Although the university still has yet to finalize all of the details, the testing center will seat 90 students and will feature just as many computers. In the words of Graham Glynn, the assistant provost and the director of Teaching, Learning and Technology, the center will allow faculty to “test in more interesting ways.”

“Computers provide interesting ways to teach,” Glynn said. He noted the example of computerized adaptive testing, also called tailored testing, which is a form of testing that changes to adapt to the abilities of the test taker. Students that perform well are presented more difficult questions, while the opposite is true for students that perform poorly. “A good student could take just 10 minutes, while a mediocre student could take 30,” he said.

Because many of the details regarding the center are still tentative, Glynn could not divulge many specifics. However, he did say that the university is basing its idea for this high-tech testing facility on one that has existed in Penn State University since 2007.

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Christopher Sacksteder, the manager of systems development at Penn State, said, “the primary goal of the eTesting Center is to provide ‘smarter’ and more efficient assessments.” Since Penn State’s center, known as the Pollock Lab, opened in 2007, it has operated five days a week as a venue in which 60,000 tests are administered to 15,000 students in as many as 130 courses each semester.

“This is a small minority of exams and courses at the University Park campus,” Sacksteder said. “We expect we could triple the size of the facility and not meet demands.” For reference, Penn State’s testing center, at a little more than 160 seats, is almost twice the size of the one to be constructed in Stony Brook.

However, aside from the size difference, both Stony Brook’s and Penn State’s facilities are similar in that they operate — or in Stony Brook’s case, may operate — on a reservation system. At Penn State’s testing center, instructors can schedule test times outside of class periods, and students are able to choose time slots that coincide with their schedules.

They also operate similarly regarding security. According to Glynn, students will swipe their identification cards at a turnstile near the entrance to the testing center. A printout bearing the student’s name, photo, and other pertinent information would then be printed out.

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Though Sacksteder said “security is a secondary concern” for the Pollock Lab, he also noted that testing center staff needed to make a significant effort to identify people coming to the center for exams because proctors and instructors were usually not present. Extensive security measures like the ones that will be employed at Stony Brook are used, along with bag checks at the door and bar scans of all papers provided during the exam.

At Penn State, computers are also set up so that only the student assigned to that seat during a specific exam can log in, and these computers are configured so that students may only use them to take the exam.

Security cameras inspired by Penn State’s facility will further supplement security at Stony Brook’s lab, allowing instructors and proctors to record and review video feeds of the exam for instances of cheating.

Sacksteder said that his university’s facility rarely experiences any cheating incidents.

“Most are one student notifying the staff of something they saw another student do,” Sacksteder said. “We’ll usually find the video segment showing the infraction and forward that to the instructor.”

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Stony Brook and Penn State are not alone in their decisions to adopt online testing — other schools such as Ball State University in Indiana and the University of Akron in Ohio feature computerized testing facilities, and more universities are joining their ranks each year. In a 2002 study of 105 freshman business students by Roy Clariana, professor of education at Penn State, and Patricia Wallace, professor of business at the College of New Jersey, it was found that students who were tested via computer-based assessment far outperformed those who were tested traditionally. The proliferation of electronic testing is also helped by notions that it is quicker and more convenient than paper testing.

“ETesting is more than a high-stakes secure testing center,” Sacksteder said. “ETesting in a secure manner can be done in the classroom and at home or in the dorm room. As eTests become easier for instructors to create, we expect assessment will evolve to include more frequent and lower-stakes eTests, perhaps augmented by a high-stakes exam in a secure setting.”

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