Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: SEAT – Student Examination Attendance Tracking
Year Submitted 2009
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name Title
Diane Crocker Registrar & Director of Enrolment Management
Debra Iafrate
Wendy Norman
Karen Younger
Cesar Mejia
Johnny Chung
Name of Institution University of Toronto at Mississauga
Office Address Room 2122, South Building
3359 Mississauga Rd. N.
Mississauga, Ontario L5L 1C6
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Telephone: (905) 828-3871
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Abstract

The introduction of FIPPA (Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act) legislation by the Ontario Provincial Government in the summer of 2006 created a challenge for many areas involving student records at Ontario Universities, but for the University of Toronto at Mississauga the biggest challenge was attendance checking at final examinations. The previous method of taking attendance at exams was now in conflict with the new FIPPA regulations.  Our challenge was how to take signatures without students being able to view another’s information.  The IT team in consultation with the Exam team determined that electronic scanning was the way to go.  The method had to be portable and the unit had to be light enough for someone to carry around an exam room of over 500 students.  It had to be sophisticated enough to be able to hold information from a student database with the ability to synchronize with the main database server in the Office of the Registrar.  Security was an issue so the ability to encrypt the data was crucial.  It also had to be fairly inexpensive to allow us to purchase enough units to accommodate our exam room schedule.  The IT Team found just the hardware in a non-networked Samsung tablet PC unit. The software ran as a stand-alone program.  All personal information on the tablet was encrypted using AES encryption.  The attendance data was then synchronized with the main database server each night which automatically populated our award winning Student Tracking System.  During the August 2007 examination period, the IT team and Exam team completed a pilot project of the proposed hardware and software solution for FIPPA-compliant exam attendance.  The result received praise from all Instructors, Chief Presiding Officers and students. 

 

Transformative Value

Did the project have a transformative effect on the service or the institution? Describe its impact

The technical development and implementation of both systems was accomplished by IT personnel, but all staff in the Exams Office played a major role in designing the program by presenting ideas, giving feedback and helping create the process which would enhance student services. Training in the use of the tablets was given as part of the overall mandatory training for all new Chief Presiding Officers. At the end of the December examination period a survey was presented to all Chief Presiding Officer which welcomed both positive and negative comments about the new system. Feedback was positive with many ideas on how to improve the system from the user's perspective. There was an increased demand from Instructors for the loan of the tablets to be used during term tests throughout the session. A process has now been set up for Departments to borrow and be trained in the use of the tablets for mid-term departmental exams.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.
Transferability

The hardware for the examination scanning consists of a non-networked Samsung tablet PC unit which weighs in at 1.52 lbs meeting mobility requirements. The software runs a full version of the Windows XP operating system and is therefore, a fully-featured computer. The application was developed in PHP with a MySQL database back end. All personal information on the tablet was encrypted using AES encryption, the same encryption method used by the US government for classified data. The attendance data is synchronized with the main database server each night, which automatically populates our award winning Student Tracking System. The application was developed in house, with applications which are completely portable across different platforms. By developing our own application we have the ability to change and add functionalities as needed to meet our exact needs. With a few adaptations, the application could serve as a welcome replacement to any existing paper-based process.

Quality Impact

Expected outcome for exams: - Reduce complexity, logistics, disruption and time required to take attendance during an exam. - Provide highly accurate attendance records. - Integrate with our Student Tracking System - Save thousands of sheets of paper per exam period. Results: The new home-grown solution for examination attendance allows us to scan a student card, identify who the student is and the courses the student is currently taking. From this we can ensure that the student is registered in the course, and determine if the student is sitting the correct exam. We have the ability to add students into the system which are not currently on the student class list (e.g. student writing a deferred exam from a previous session; student writing the exam in an alternate location such as AccessAbility). Once a student card is scanned and cross-checked, it will then update the onboard database to indicate the student is writing the correct exam. After each exam, the tablet is able to produce a list of all students in attendance, including their student numbers, for each course. At the conclusion of the exam the PC is returned to the Office of the Registrar where it is synchronized again and the attendance list is transferred to the main database within our office. The information now becomes part of the Office of the Registrar's Student Tracking System where it can be accessed by staff members. It is particularly useful to the Petitions team when they are required to know if a student has written the final exam in order to determine if they are eligible to write a deferred exam or receive late withdrawal from a course. The pilot project was run during the August 2007 exam period and was fully operable by the December 2007 exam period. This project provided the Office of the Registrar with a simple, efficient and fully-FIPPA compliant method of taking exam attendance. Furthermore, the technology can be adapted and/or used by other parts of the University and is currently becoming quite popular with departments who are running large term tests.

Productivity Impact

Cost reduction in examination attendance was affected mostly in the areas of paper costs and man hours. Previously it would take a Chief Presiding Officer most of the exam period to gather signatures of students writing the exam, an additional half hour at the end of the period to tally up the exams and compare them to the signature sheets and often resulted in discrepancies in numbers - exams vs. students - which sometimes took hours to resolve. Under the new system, the time to collect students' signatures is greatly reduced - where it used to take up to 2 hours to gather signatures under the old system it now take 20 minutes. It reduces the amount of disruption to the students. It is user friendly. The system produces reports at the end of the scanning cutting down the errors in comparing head count to exam scripts to signatures in a faster and more efficient manner. U of T Mississauga runs 4 examination periods per year - 2 weeks in April, 4 days in June, 1 week in August and 2 weeks in December. Over the period of 1 year we realized a savings of $300 in paper costs. The paper method would take a Chief Presiding Officer approximately 1 hour to gather 100 student signatures; with the electronic scanning method it took 20 minutes to scan 100 students. This is a savings of approximately 386 man hours over the year. This does not include the man hours put out to sort the individual signature sheets and cross-reference with the students enrolled in the course. It also does not include the man hours required to check attendance when processing individual student petitions. The initial outlay for the tablets was $1325 each including the barcode scanner, plus $500 for two extra batteries. We originally ordered 10 tablets allowing us to run 10 different exam rooms at the same time (each room holding one or more exams at the same time).

Innovation

The previous method for taking attendance at exams involved passing around a paper-based class list of student numbers and names. A student would sign beside their name to show they attended the exam. This information was later used to determine the outcome of a Petition (exemption from a University rule or regulation) and/or granting of deferred exams. The ability for students to see a student's name and number surrounding their name was in conflict with the new FIPPA regulations imposed by the Ontario Government. Our challenge was how to take signatures without students being able to view another's information. In December 2006 we implemented a method whereby a separate sheet was attached to each exam for the student to fill in and hand back with their completed exam. The single sheet was collected (over 30,000 pieces of paper in any exam period), placed in alphabetical order and checked against a master class list in the Office of the Registrar. This resulted in the utilization of a tremendous amount of paper and required many man-hours to cross-check and file individual signature sheets. In an office struggling to keep up their image of being paperless, this was a totally unacceptable solution. It was back to the drawing board for the Exam Office which solicited the help of the IT team. Prior to August 2007 the regulations surrounding signature lists as presented in the FIPPA legislation did not exist for any Ontario University. We know of no other Ontario University using an electronic scanning method and believe we are the first University to implement an electronic method for scanning attendance at an exam that could interact with our current student database system.