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Virtual exams become a reality

A pilot scheme to introduce more exciting presentations to ICT exams has been welcomed by pupils. Warwick Mansell reports

Animation, Powerpoint presentation and eye-catching coursework submitted electronically - is this the future of exams?

Pupils have been producing stunning work in this summer's trials of the first use of "e-portfolios" in a mainstream academic qualification. The 230 teenagers are testing out the project for the OCR exam board in a move which could spell the end of paper-based assignments.

The trials are being keenly observed by the exams regulator, as e-portfolios, potentially exciting for pupils and informative for employers and universities, are seen as central to the future of testing.

Presentations, submitted by high-achieving students for this year's exams as part of information and communications technology coursework and seen by The TES, illustrate the power of the new format.

One candidate designed a children's illustrated story-book as a Powerpoint presentation in which colourful hand-drawn images were set against landscapes which had been downloaded from a web-site. Illustrations also peppered the candidate's written account of the work put into designing the presentation.

Other pupils have been using animation to make their presentations come to life at the click of a button.

More usually youngsters doing ICT coursework search websites, CD-Roms and other resources to use in material for a project, such as the children's story.

They then write an account of their research, which aims to illustrate their mastery of skills ranging from the use of search engines to problem-solving, before producing the project itself.

This is then printed off and presented in a file for marking by the teacher, followed by moderation by examiners. Under the new approach, the pupil creates an electronic folder, which is marked by a teacher, then put on a secure website for moderation by the board.

OCR is trialling the project with four schools in Worcestershire and Slough. If successful, it will be expanded to other subjects next year. The board hopes that by 2006, half of GCSE ICT coursework will be submitted electronically but it is cautious about some aspects.

At the moment, pupils are assessed on the work they do to create the presentation, rather than the presentation itself, to ensure those not using e-portfolios are not disadvantaged. However, OCR is thinking about developing exam modules in which e-portfolios are compulsory, which would mean more emphasis could be placed on the presentation itself.

Patrick Craven, OCR's assistant director of e-assessment, said the technology had the potential not only to enliven presentations, but to give pupils greater incentives to put work into projects which could then be displayed to best effect. In time, it is likely that e-portfolios will also be available to employers and universities, giving them more information on a student's achievements than is provided through exam results.

Dean Whitcher, 17, from Droitwich Spa high school, Worcestershire, said: "I found this a lot better than traditional coursework as I was able to show more of my work than I could by submitting paper copies.

"Just submitting my presentation on paper does not show how much work I put into it, because all I can show is stills, rather than animation. Doing this has given me a lot more interest in the subject."

Enza Smith, his teacher, said: "The pupils put a lot more effort into their presentations, because they know they will be able to show them off in the best light."

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