Above: RCAM and Northeast State Testing Services moved proctored testing online for students. Photo courtesy Northeast State
As Coronavirus/COVID-19 forced a national shutdown, colleges sought new ways to engage students and deliver content online. The Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) of Northeast State partnered with the college’s Office of Testing Services to keep apprentice students on track with proctored online testing.
Cindy Necessary coordinates training and credentialing services for apprentice students enrolled at Northeast State through RCAM. Those apprentices follow course maps to earn their certificates. They are required to complete a set number of courses each year. “We are trying to keep them on schedule,” said Necessary. “In the downtime we wanted to get the remote online testing going so they wouldn’t get so far behind.”
The national lockdown in response to COVID-19 created a problem for apprentices to follow their course map that includes hands-on laboratory tests. Through the work of RCAM and Testing Services apprentices can complete those courses not requiring lab time and take exams online remotely. The process keeps apprentices earning credit hours and moving toward their U.S. Department of Labor Certification.
Necessary found an ally with Barbara Clark in the Northeast State Office of Testing Services where plans were already underway to move the College’s Accuplacer testing online for students. The RCAM and Testing staff reviewed NCCER’s remote online testing availability. “Because the Testing Center had started working on how to do Accuplacer testing online,” said Necessary. “That’s when we knew this might be a viable option for our apprentices.”
The first step involved getting Zoom credential to host testing sessions for students. Northeast State’s Information Technology department acquired Zoom professional service credentials for a slew of departments including RCAM and Testing Services. RCAM currently uses the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum for the Mechatronic Apprenticeship Program and administers the exam program for apprentices at RCAM. NCCER announced a temporary remote proctoring option through May 15 and possibly beyond for craft module tests using online testing remotely versus live in person proctoring.
Zoom virtual testing requires proctors see what students are doing during exams. An auditor from NCCER must be invited to the exam session and proctors store the video file for review purposes. Clark with Northeast State Testing Services followed the strict regulations set forth by NCCER prior to making Zoom online testing available tor apprentices. This testing also met FERPA standards to safeguard students’ privacy during exams.
Clark contacted Necessary and the duo decided that Clark, who is a certified NCCER proctor for RCAM, would receive the training to perform the online testing remotely. Webinars plus additional training sessions included learning Zoom teleconferencing software and how to secure test sessions. NCCER granted approval on April 22 to RCAM and Clark to administer proctored apprentice testing remotely.
Testing staff assessed what hardware and software apprentices need to access the online exams. Students are required to have access to laptops or tablets. Once a student logs into a zoom meeting, a proctor verifies their identity to take the exam. Upon completing the exams, students get immediate results of pass or fail. “Right now, we will see on an individual basis what the apprentices need due to work schedules, computer abilities, and internet access,” said Clark. “I am grateful to be working with both Testing Services and RCAM to meet the needs for all students regardless of the career path.”
RCAM expects to open the first round of exams for 10 students immediately with five more in the coming weeks. Those numbers could expand as RCAM’s regional partners learn of the Zoom online testing options. Necessary sent word to all RCAM’s industry partners that this testing was available for their apprentices. “We’ve contacted all our apprentices and told them if they want to do this just connect with us by email,” she said. “Our industry partners/students are thrilled we are able to offer this and give them an option. We are all learning in this.”
Clark expects to keep testing on schedule while keeping the apprentices connected with RCAM staff for advisement. She said some employers offered to accommodate apprentices by allowing them to test on the job site for computer and internet capabilities if need be.
Necessary said RCAM’s Zoom test delivery system for apprentices could expand beyond the region. RCAM is currently reviewing several online based programs and testing options. The uncertainty of the times had prompted RCAM and Testing Services to preserve the exam model for the future of online education. “We want to have more than one option if this should happen again,” said Necessary. “You have got to have options if you can’t physically be there.”