A review of more than 200 secondary schools shows the majority are digital-ready for this month’s NCEA online exams, according to the findings of a report by Network for Learning (N4L), which is partnering with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to help ensure students have a safe and positive online exam experience.

This is the second year N4L has offered the free digital health checks, with 52% more schools signing up to get their exam room internet performance and resilience reviewed.

Each school received a checklist of suggested improvements ahead of exams to ensure the student experience was safe and seamless, with 82% found to be “digital ready” in terms of internet coverage, with 18% encouraged to amend their exam room set-up to ensure their internet could cope with the demand on the day.

“It was super helpful to get N4L to identify potential problems we may have delivering online exams,” says Kevin Dean, Deputy Principal at Whangarei Girls High. “They provided a really good checklist to help make our internet as failsafe as possible, allowing us to think about some things we could do to make the experience positive and seamless for everyone, like how to manage power outages and keep students safer and more secure online.”

“For us, this has meant adding more wireless equipment to our gymnasiums, the only rooms big enough to host hundreds of students sitting online exams. N4L was able to help us get this equipment ahead of exam time, and we now feel more confident that everything should run smoothly for our first go at online exams.”

The school, which expects more than 200 students to sit 27 online exams across 14 subjects, is also taking extra measures to prioritise and protect exam internet traffic by creating a subnetwork (V-LAN) to keep it separate from the rest of the school’s internet. N4L worked with the school and their local support company, New Era, to set this up.

N4L reviewed Birkenhead College’s digital readiness in 2019 and was invited back for another checkup last month: “Our students enjoyed the online exam experience last year, and this year we got N4L in again to make sure our wireless internet is still up to scratch,” says Deputy Principal David Burton. “We have tripled the number of students sitting NCEA online so we wanted to make sure we could offer the same positive experience again.”

According to NZQA, around 35,000 students from nearly 300 schools are expected to sit NCEA online exams this year, a significant increase from 2019. Two-thirds of the NCEA exams can now be delivered digitally, with more schools opting to offer a range of online exams this year.

NCEA Online is reaching a tipping point with nearly two-thirds of all secondary schools offering exams digitally in 2020.

“With more subjects available it is wonderful to see the next step up in digital exams participation this year, says Andrea Gray, NZQA’s Digital Assessment Transformation Deputy Chief Executive. “The digital check-up programme is now in its second year and the feedback has been that schools are feeling more assured they can offer a positive online exam experience.”

N4L CEO Larrie Moore agrees: “Schools need to know their internet can work properly and safely throughout the school when and where they need it, with all students getting the same consistent online experience no matter where they sit in the exam room.

“They also need extra support during exam time should things not go according to plan, and we are fully on board to help with this.”

Schools will get extra support during online exams through N4L’s Helpdesk, which will triage issues for schools.

The Minister of Education announced a funding boost to move NCEA exams online in June of this year.

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