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Academic Assessment during Epidemic Containment | Qatar University

Academic Assessment during Epidemic Containment

2021-04-26 00:00:00.0

It has been over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and changed our students’ lives dramatically, raising questions about their ability to endure a prolonged crisis, with potentially long nationwide closures and other significant challenges. The Final Exams for Qatar University students have started, increasing our students’ stress level and pressure during Ramadan. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask, at this time, to what extent our students have been able to cope with the current situation so far, what their concerns are, or whether familiarity with the new reality has altered their attitudes, actions and stress levels during this crisis.

The Interplay of Stress and Familiarity

Change is inherently stressful, and stressful situations require our dynamic response. However, our response or reaction during the stressful situation that arises from unexpected change tends to be determined by our own conceptualization of the situation and our mechanism for coping with it, which subsequently affects our actions in a way or another.

No one has been immune to stressful experiences due to the uncertainty which has surrounded the pandemic and the tight restrictions imposed in order to contain the spread of the virus, not to mention the risk of being infected and having to deal with the dire consequences. Nevertheless, it would seem that some of us have somehow become acclimatized to the situation and are, therefore, performing reasonably better than we did at the beginning of the outbreak.

Such familiarity has provided many of us with a certain degree of reassurance in the novel situation. This time last year, we were all dramatically affected by the sudden outbreak and rapid spread of Covid-19. I vividly recall how some of our students were initially quite perplexed and apprehensive when we suddenly shifted to online teaching in the middle of the semester. However, what was previously very stressful then has now become rather familiar, although still not that welcome or preferable.
Not only have we become better oriented towards new scenarios, but some of us have started to embrace the resulting lifestyle with its concomitant challenges and opportunities. Signs of recovery have even started to appear in some parts of the world. Although far from certain yet, many cities around the world are slowly starting to re-open as vaccination programs advance worldwide, giving us a promising glimpse of hope that in a few months, life will get back to normal.

Students Have Their Say

On chatting with some students about the interplay of stress and familiarity and how they have coped during the crisis, I noticed that some of them had valid concerns. Meanwhile, others seemed to be managing reasonably well, having formed new habits and routines in order to ensure success in their studies.

Ghaliya Al Mansoori, a business student, described how she found the lockdown terrible at first, but later she decided to break the monotony by enrolling on various free online courses, which eventually helped her start her new marketing company in July 2020: “I have been working from home and I have had 25 clients so far. I feel great about this achievement.”

Ghaliya also added, “I think we all have to deal with this, so it’s better to start doing something new. Everyone at home needs to set a long-term goal then work to achieve it by relevant short-term goals and working towards them one after another.”

Similarly, Afaf Ibrahim AlDha’en, a student in the College of Education, talked about the importance of time management, stating, “I have faced many challenges during this lockdown, as I have a family, my studies at QU, as well as concerns about my health. Trying to deal with this all I try to keep up a high morale and organize my time. I have a daily schedule that I follow. I recite verses of the Quran after each prayer, and before Iftar, we enjoy cooking together and preparing the long-awaited meal. Our communication with relatives is now only on social media at certain times. In this way, I am less distracted, less stressed, and I can focus on my priorities.”
However, Afaf also admitted that she was “deeply concerned” about her health as she is required to take her exams on campus, whereas she strongly prefers to sit the test online.

Sayyed Yousuf, a student at the Foundation Program, indicated that he had been handling it reasonably well: “I am in quarantine, but I don’t stress about it very much because I do many things to adapt and pass my time. I study every day about 2 to 3 hours. Sometimes if I am bored, I play a video game. In the past, I used to go to the Cornish for jogging every day, but now I exercise in my home and sometimes I play football. I want to stay safe. Now we are in Ramadan and I recite verses of the Quran at least 1 hour a day. These activities fill my time and help me stay well.”

Under Qatar University rules, Sayyed will be requested not to come on campus since he is in quarantine; alternatively, a make-up test will be scheduled for him once he leaves the quarantine.
Nevertheless, a significant number of our students are still considerably challenged during the current circumstances, and I hear their voices and concerns on a daily basis. Evidently, the crisis has prevailed longer than expected. Some students have underperformed due to lack of face-to-face interaction, as well as boredom which has resulted from prolonged lockdown; others have stopped taking their studies seriously enough, consequently missing some of their assessments.

Final Exams: Safety vs Security

Afaf was not the only student to express concerns about taking exams on campus during the current conditions, as I heard similar comments from a reasonable number of students. Therefore, I think we need to work towards sustainable solutions. Administering exams on campus during a pandemic can be a stressful experience, as students’ anxiety over their health and safety could negatively affect their performance, especially with the recent rise in the number of Covid-19 cases. Students are rightly concerned about the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.

However, it seems necessary at the moment to administer some of the tests on campus because transitioning completely to online testing could similarly present serious challenges, such as having to deal with unstable Internet connectivity issues in remote areas, and the possibility of the false impersonation of examinees. If we can begin to address these challenges and succeed in finding a secure examination platform that features advanced proctoring techniques to prevent impersonation, then online testing could become a preferred and even attractive option under pandemic conditions.

For now, the rigorous cleaning of all facilities on Qatar University campus has become a daily procedure all over Qatar University campus, including inside offices and exam rooms. No students or faculty members are allowed into any building without a green Ehteraz status or evidence of vaccination. Moreover, everyone must wear a mask at all times, and any student who displays signs of illness is requested to leave the exam room and apply for a make-up exam.

Teachers, who also face tremendous challenges, have a bigger responsibility than ever to combat diminishing morale amongst the students. As teachers, we have a duty to fulfil a leading supportive role for our students who might be suffering the negative consequences of the current situation, such as anxiety or a compromised willingness to learn. Students are always encouraged to communicate with their teachers if they need any other support. Students at-risk of failing a course are contacted individually to attend one-to-one remedial online sessions so that they catch up and stand a better chance to succeed. Therefore, it is crucial now, more than ever, that a positive teacher-student relationship is established right from the beginning of the semester as it would facilitate the students’ adjustment and adaptation, especially in these unprecedented, extraordinary circumstances.

No one can predict how long it will take for us to get things back to normal. All we have at the moment is a candle that we should keep burning brightly in order to light up the path ahead of us. In this way, we can continue moving forward. We must remain calm and composed under pressure because life is full of uncertainties beyond our control. Learning how to deal with challenges would eventually make us stronger in the face of the future and its uncertainties: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

Written by Dr. Mohammad Hosam Al-Nahas, English Lecturer at Qatar University.