December 19, 2015

Post on Proctoring

So I'm probably setting myself up for a pretty lame entry. My topic is test proctoring at a large university. Big rooms, lots of students, no talking, lots of sitting and waiting.

But the nuances of proctoring at MFU and the scrupulousness with which test supplies are distributed are somehow fascinating to me. Let me explain the procedure.

1) University faculty and staff receive a schedule of which exams they'll be proctoring about 2 weeks prior to the exams.

2) On the day of the test, proctors are expected to sign in at the Academic Services building 45 minutes prior to the exam. There is a long counter with big signs labeling the classroom and subject of the test, and under the signs, there are individual sign-in sheets. All exams have at least 2 proctors, and some of the larger exams have 3.

3) Teachers sign in and sign to receive a large envelope (or 5, depending on the test) containing tests and answer sheets.

4) Teachers then proceed to the far end of this same room to check out the "Stationaries" box. Let me just say that I'm not too satisfied with the use of stationaries in plural, nor to mean anything other than fancy paper. However, here at MFU, the stationaries box looks like something I would have had at home as a sixth grader. It's a clear plastic tote, about 10x5X5, with a laminated plastic card attached to the front listing its contents in English and Thai. The scrupulousness is amazing.

Inside the box, there is: a small pencil bag of freshly sharpened No. 2B pencils, 2 blue pens, 3 erasers, a pencil sharpener, white-out, a small ruler, a stapler, extra staples, a white board marker, a white board eraser, a red stamp pad, a stamp of the word "MISSING", and probably a few other things that aren't coming to me now. I was too self-conscious to take a photo during the exams in front of my co-proctors.

5) After all materials have been officially checked out, proctors can go to their rooms to set up. The rooms aren't that close to the check-out center, so if you are unlucky (or stubborn) enough to being carrying all 5 huge envelopes (rather than show your weakness and wait for help), your arms may be legit sore the next day. Personal experience.

6) Once in the room, proctors carry out the end of a very anal chain of organization. The desks have been lined up  and labeled with seat numbers. These numbers correspond with numbers that have been stamped on each test and answer sheet.  Proctors carefully place the test materials on each desk according to number. If some of the biggest rooms, two test run concurrently, and students from the different sections sit in alternating rows, labeled A and B. The test preparation committee has printed the "A" section on pink paper so that it's clear which rows get those papers. The desk labels for the A group are also pink. I'm pretty impressed by this attention to detail.

7) After the tests have been distributed, the proctors usually have about 30 minutes to wait before students are allowed in. It's a good time to do some of your own grading, or maybe introduce yourself to the other proctors, assuming that you've got enough proficiency in a common language.

8) When the students come in, years of practice in such a scrupulous system are evident. They drop their bags near the door, and bring only bring their pencil cases to their assigned desk. For the most part, they are silent, and dive into the tests immediately. One area of the test administration process that is not very scrupulous is the late policy. As far as I can tell, THERE ISN'T ONE. Students are allowed to just roll in whenever, I guess. I'm not a fan.

9) Once the students are settled, proctors bring around the attendance sheet, and check each student's ID as they sign next to their names. Thai names are extraordinarily long when written out with English letters, so many of the names on official IDs are abbreviated. That seems weird, but when your first name has 13 letters, and your last name has 15, what are you gonna do?

Interestingly, after I offered the sign-in sheet to the students, many of them "wai" me, which is how Thais show respect for older or more prestigious people. It's a small bow with hands in a prayer position. When they do it, it strikes me as oddly religious, and I imagine the western equivalent as crossing oneself as a Catholic. Please let me pass this test! In reality, though, it's more like a very formal "thank you."

Students who do not come to the test (yikes) get the red "MISSING" stamp on the attendance sheet, and on all of their test materials. That's the funnest part of proctoring. Stamp, stamp, stamp!

10) After attendance has been taken, the arduous 3-hour wait sets in. Every test is allotted 3 hours, and in general, at least one student will take the ENTIRE time.

So, proctoring.  The idea is to prevent cheating, I guess. Ideally, proctors should stand in various locations around the classroom to monitor students. At MFU, sitting is acceptable. The proctoring directions indicate that we should not eat, drink, *smoke*, or work during proctoring. By the way, smoking on campus is punished with a 2000 Baht fine, so I'm not sure why that even made it into the directions. Although, after staring at students for 2 and half hours, even I could go for a cigarette! (Kidding, mostly).

What actually happens during proctoring depends greatly on who your proctor buddies are. I know that many people grade or work while proctoring. There is a lot to do during finals week, so I get it.

Other faculty take proctoring uber-seriously and pace the aisles.

I was a sociology major, but I don't remember if I know a word for the phenomenon where we police ourselves based on what we see others doing. When I proctored with more lax people, I was more lax. However, when my co-proctors were serious, I was serious, which I think reinforced their seriousness, and made it uncomfortable fo any of us to check our phones, or pull out reading material. If you know the name of this phenomenon, please comment.

Time passes incredibly slowly when you sit and stare at people taking tests. Especially when you're thinking about all the work that you could be doing. I took to counting the number of students with dyed hair, the number with bangs, the number with glasses, etc. just to stay conscious. I sipped water and ate mints periodically to stimulate my brain.

11) Eventually, some students begin to finish the test, and a glimmer of hope shines that at some point, each of them will finish, and maybe before the 3-hour limit. When students finish the test, they leave their testing materials on the desk, pick up their bags, and often "wai" (bow with hands folded) the teacher. Once several students in a row have finished, some proctors begin to collect the papers in small stacks, leave spaces for students who are still working. It's torturous to watch students sit and stare at their papers for literally minutes without making any progress. Minutes turn into hours very slowly when you're watching the clock, waiting for the last few to finish, or at least give up on their test.

12) After all students are finished, proctors reorganize the test materials, file them back into the big envelopes in order and then walk back to the Academic Services building together, relieved, but disoriented from the experience.

13) The materials are turned in at the check-out center, proctors sign out, and the stationaries box is checked back in.

So, those are the 13 steps of proctoring I guess. Step 14 is obviously getting a glass of wine as soon as possible.