Clàudia - she prefers to use a pseudonym - is studying 3rd year economics at the University of Barcelona and has followed the first semester's classes from her home in Ibiza, but she is already looking at plane flights to travel to Barcelona to take her exams, which will be held presentially because that is what her university has decided. Despite having introduced virtual teaching during the first semester due to the pandemic, most universities have decided to hold face-to-face exams, and yesterday we already saw crowds in some Catalan faculties. "I think it's a bit reckless", Clàudia tells the ARA.
Virtual teaching has changed all the plans she had: despite not being able to work during the summer because both the service and catering sectors on the island were unemployed, she has continued to pay for the student flat in Barcelona in the face of the uncertainty of not knowing if she would have to return later on; she has adapted to online classes despite the fact that on a technical level they "are far from perfect"; she has traded the tranquillity of the library for studying at home, and has seen her academic performance deteriorate. "The teaching load has increased. It's not the same to go to a classroom and then have a few hours off when you go home to eat. The curriculum has not adapted to this situation", she says.
Now that exams are coming up - they start on the 18th - she hopes that the university will give a "strong answer" and allow students to take them online. Still, she warns that often virtual exams are approached wrongly. "It's assumed that students copy and teachers end up putting in unfair formats, such as long questions to answer, tests with very limited time or a higher penalty for errors than if they were presential", she says.
For the time being, the UB is maintaining presential exams, despite the fact that the future rector, Joan Guàrdia, who takes office on the 12th, has stated that "they are studying formulas" to guarantee the health of the students.
Rebem la preocupació dels estudiants per fer #examenssegurs i compartim la necessitat prioritària de garantir la salut de tothom. Estudiem fórmules per aplicar un cop prenguem possessió #UniBarcelona #UB #LideratgeUB— Joan Guàrdia Olmos (@joanguardia) January 7, 2021
In fact, several student associations are putting pressure on universities and the government to rectify and design virtual tests, in line with the teaching model they have applied throughout the first semester. Entities such as the Associació de Joves Estudiants de Catalunya (AJEC), the FNEC or Fem-la Pública UB, Crida per la UAB and Bloc Estudiantil UPF have stated that maintaining face-to-face exams is not "coherent" with virtual classes and have demanded that the tests "be designed with other intentions than just preventing copying and fraud". The Government, however, does not plan to change the protocol, which states that teaching is telematic with the exception of internships and exams. "Universities will conduct presential exams with the measures we already know: groups as small as possible, areas with ventilation, distances, face masks. We know that the universities are preparing in this way", the Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, said.
The evaluation debate
For students, this makes no sense. This has been denounced by four second-year students of the health branch at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, who prefer not to give their names. "If teachers have been able to adapt the subject to teach it online, they should also be able to adapt exams", they say in a letter they sent to the ARA, in which they also warn that if at the end of last year they were able to take exams online, this time they should also be able to guarantee this, and not have to bring everyone together in the same classroom.
These students touch on one of the key elements of the problem: "If their great concern is that we do not copy, it may be time to change the system", they say. Even the UOC, which is an online university, calls on its students to take regular face-to-face tests, since there is little guarantee that students will not copy if they take exams from home. Students propose taking advantage of virtual teaching as a lever for change and promoting "cooperation, reasoning and wit" among students, rather than "memory".
"It's about time the evaluation system for many university courses changed. It seems that we are only asked for one grade and not all the knowledge that could be behind it. This means that a course that could seem very interesting to us, and which we could think has a lot of future, only creates anguish, stress and nerves, and that makes us constantly wonder if we really want to continue", students warn.