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Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 18:48 GMT
Testing students by mobile phone
Student using mobile
The project capitalises on teenagers' familiarity with mobiles
As the government announces plans to modernise the exam system, various experiments are going on with innovative ways of assessing what students know.

How about using your mobile phone to answer questions read out by a robot, for example?

Most schools ban them from lessons but almost every teenager now has one, so why not turn that to advantage?

This is what Ultralab at Anglia Polytechnic University is trying for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), working with phone company Orange and CWA New Media in New Zealand.


Pupils enter their coursework "milestones" on a website which can be accessed and marked by teachers and commented on by fellow students.

At the end of the course they dial a freephone number to answer questions posed by computer. A voiceprint checks their identity to prevent cheating.

A "robot" asks them questions similar to those they said at the outset of the project that they would be able to answer by the end of it.

They can re-record the answers as often as they wish, provided they do it in one sitting.

The answers from thousands of students are stored centrally and can be marked at any time by examiners - all of which saves having to timetable numerous face-to-face meetings.

As part of what is known as the eViva project, the idea is being tried at 10 English schools, including Bishop Lovett in the Isle of Wight.

Shifting technology

Fourteen-year-old Charlotte found it somewhat strange, talking to a machine.

"It's a bit nerve-racking because they don't tell you how you've done," she said.

Ultralab stress that, as it stands, "this is not the future of exams". But it says it is a valuable research project that will inform the future of assessment.

The starting point is that currently, assessment does not take sufficient account of youngsters' familiarity with various media.

But the technology is changing so rapidly it is difficult to devise reliable alternative assessment processes before they go out of date.

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