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Chairing the Dean, Professor Aleksi Šedo, his guests are doc. Martin Vokurka, Vice Dean for theoretical and preclinical education at the First Faculty of medicine of the Charles University and Martin Vejražka, member of the Dean’s College
Q: When can one expect a definitive decision regarding distance examination?
A: (Vokurka) As noted before, in many areas of activity we are bound by directives and guidelines coming from above, mainly University. But back to the point: there is the question of exams which are not state examinations and those which are state examinations. The situation with not state examinations is in some respects simpler. We are preparing distance examinations and the moment the relevant university-wide directive is adopted, we are ready to issue a Dean’s directive and start examining. When it comes to state exams, the situation is more complicated, because it is linked with changes in other directives. Measures which would enable the necessary changes had been accepted by the Academic Senate of the Charles University and are currently at the Ministry. As soon as the Ministry expresses its agreement – the timing is something we cannot influence but we hope it would be in a matter of days (or a couple of weeks) – the Faculty is ready to almost immediately issue the relevant directives and measures which will enable distance examination. When it comes to examination in person, that depends on the development of the epidemiological situation, but as soon as the situation sufficiently improves and measures are relaxed, the Faculty is ready to almost immediately start examining in a way that will conform to existing norms and measures regarding public hygiene that will still be in place. (Šedo) Although it is not quite in my nature, I would be perhaps a bit more optimistic. I expect the registration of the relevant documents at the Ministry really in the coming days, not in weeks, and when it comes to implementing both distance and in person examinations, we have already prepared the technical details, so then it is just a question of launching a system that is already prepared. At the moment, it all depends on the relevant signatures at the Ministry.
Q: What form will the distance examinations take?
A: (Vokurka) Distance examinations will follow some of the rules applied to examination in person. Dates will be listed via SIS, it will be made clear that those dates are for distance examinations, and these dates will have the same validity as dates set for other forms of examinations in the SIS. By registering for such a date, a student will indicate consent with the fact that examination will take place in a distance form. This will take place using some technical details, which will be mentioned a little later. At the beginning of the examination, a check of connection quality and a check of personal identity will take place, probably via the SIS and a personal photo. It will be agreed whether the exam will or will not be recorded. For recording, consent of all participating parties is required. Then, in a technical manner, questions will be drawn, and if all that works well and some backup – for instance via mail – is in place, the examination will commence. Time for preparation will be minimal. It is something the guarantor of the subject will decide upon but in principle we envisage that students would start answering almost immediately. Then the examination will continue, more or less as usual, whereby provision will be made that some other students can be connected as well.
Q: What sort of technical equipment will a student need for distance examination?
A: (Vejražka) The basic technical equipment, such as a great majority of students do have. Nothing special. One must have a notebook with a camera and a microphone, eventually a desktop computer with a camera, microphone, and speakers, and that’s basically it. The examiner will send a link to an electronic examination room where the exam will take place. Examiners will have recommendations regarding programs they should use for this purpose. To a large extent, though, it will be up to them. Many institutes have experience with particular conferencing programs, so we won’t force them to use just one particular program we’d select. A student will establish a link by clicking on the link sent by the examiner, in some cases it will be necessary to install some application. In most cases, however, it would be programs which students already have, such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, or some such. Naturally, it is also necessary to have a good internet connection, but the demands are really not extreme.
Q: What would happen if internet connection went down during an examination?
A: (Vejražka) If the connection is interrupted during an exam, the examiner would first of all try to re-establish the connection and continue with the examination as soon as possible. This naturally assumes that both parties want the examination to proceed as smoothly as possible. If, however, the connection is not re-established, then it is up to the examiner to assess whether the student’s responses so far are sufficient for grading the examination. If not, i.e. if the connection is interrupted early on, the examination on that date is considered invalid. With respect to state examination, the general rule according to which a student can register for the next date in one month still applies. We will try – although this also depends on some of the higher regulations and directives as mentioned above – to enable students who were not able to complete their state examination for such technical reason (problems with the connection) to register again for this examination sooner. When it comes to examinations which are not state examinations, the basic rules for what happens in such cases will be set by the subject’s guarantor, whereby subject guarantors will receive some recommendations as to how such rules should be formulated. (Šedo) I would just add that already in pre-Covid times, in cases of non-state examinations, individual institutes and departments had their rules regarding the period of time that must elapse between an unsuccessful exam and a new registration for an exam date and in many cases, there were basically no limitations or rather, it depended only in the availability of examination times. We will naturally try to administer exams as quickly as possible, it is in our joint interest, and it is also in the students’ interest not to for instance try to repeatedly disrupt examination by interrupting the connection. That sort of behaviour then naturally generates mistrust in the other party.
Q: How will questions be drawn?
A: (Vejražka) At our faculty, it is mandatory that questions be drawn, which is why they will be drawn even in distance examinations. What will change is that a question will not be drawn by a student but by the examiner. The examiner will have to draw a question in a manner that is beyond doubt, either by drawing in front of a camera from a whole lot of questions or by using some technical means such as a generator of random numbers. The faculty will prepare such instruments for examiners so they will have them at their disposal.
Q: Will examiners take into account the fact that students speaks without time for preparation?
A: (Vokurka) The fact that students answer questions without having time to prepare will be taken into account by the examiner to some extent, but it also depends somewhat on the nature of the subject. I am convinced that our examiners are, even in these conditions, capable of assessing students’ knowledge.
Q: Is it possible to set some order of succession in distance examinations, so that a student would know when, what time, is his or her turn?
A: (Vokurka) In distance examinations, the relevant departments will prepare schedules so that students would know when, within a given day, it is going to be their turn.
Q: If both distance and in person examinations turn out to be possible, will students have the option of choosing which form they prefer?
A: (Vokurka) If both forms turn out to be possible, it will be up to a student to choose which form he or she prefers. We realise that even once it is possible to administer in person examinations, some students may not be able to turn up in person. They may be in Slovakia or somewhere else abroad, but even if they’re here, all students will be equal in having the right to choose which form of examination they prefer. (Šedo) This provision, which makes sure that if both forms are possible, all students are equal in being able to choose the form they prefer, applies both to state examinations and to non-state examinations.
Q: Do all medical faculties take the same approach to distance examinations?
A: (Šedo) I must say this is something of an uncomfortable question, because the answer reveals a lack of systematicity in our approach and by that I do not mean lack of unified approach at our faculty. Masaryk University had already issued a regulation which defines examinations at all its faculties. We expect that our university will issue such regulation within a few days. Although current legislation is clear on this point, i.e. in person examination is not permitted due to the epidemiological situation and distance examination is not possible because it is not yet permitted, we are still waiting for this permission. We know that some faculties took a somewhat more voluntaristic approach and they do give [distance] examinations. On the one hand, I understand this does suit both the faculties and the students, but on the other hand, examinations administered in this way do violate existing rules and regulations and are therefore open to later legal challenges. I heard from an academic colleague from another faculty that where there is no prosecutor, there is no judge, so if we examine everyone like that, who’s going to complain, but I think that is not a step the First Faculty of Medicine should take. We have some unfortunate experience of procedural matters being challenged by students who failed an examination, be it a state exam or not. We must also realise that any circumstance may bring the course of a state examination in doubt would negatively reflect not only on us but also those who passed those exams successfully, that is why we are strict about following the rules as adopted by the Charles University, because these regulations are part of the legal framework within which we function.
You can find video here (only Czech version).