Intercom Online......February 11, 1999

Test scheduling by e-mail
nearly eliminates conflicts

Web technology is helping The Smeal College of Business Administration nearly eliminate exam conflicts in the large classes of its undergraduate "junior core" -- a set of four integrated courses that undergraduate business students take in their third year.

The exam scheduling system, which underwent a shakedown during the fall semester, allows students to pick when it is most convenient for them to take their exams. The real proof came during finals when tests for 3,600 students had to be scheduled.

"While it's impossible to totally eliminate conflicts, we have narrowed it down to a handful," said Judy Ray, senior research associate with Smeal's Research, Instruction and Information Technology Group. "The remaining instances largely involved things you can't plan for, like a sudden illness or an unexpected need to be out of town."

According to Ray, the scheduling system is simple to use. Students can sign up for a test on-campus or off, and they can do it with a PC, Mac or UNIX-based system. They pull up the proper Web form, determine which day and time is best for them to take the test, then fill in their name, access identification and session choice. The scheduling system, a database on a secure server accessed via the Internet, then checks to assure the student is registered for the class and whether or not there are seats available at the desired date and time.

Exams are held over a three-day period with some 20 different sessions offered. If a particular session is full, the system won't allow a student to sign up and another choice must be made. Once the arrangements are successfully completed, the test-taker receives a confirming e-mail.

"We had some minor problems involving spellings of student names and we'd like our database to be fully in synch with information at the Registrar's Office," Ray said. "But we're well on the way toward an automated system that would allow students to sign up for the test, be admitted to a session by a card-swipe authorization, take the test electronically, and get their results instantly."

E-scheduling is the latest large-scale use of educational technology by The Smeal College since it began a major application of electronic testing last year. Beyond scheduling, Smeal personnel are putting the finishing touches on a system that would allow hundreds of students to schedule interviews with companies recruiting in the college's highly popular internship program. Another project involves peer evaluations in the junior core.

Each of the courses in the junior core has a particular focus, but the content is integrated so that students get a sense of how different parts of a business really work, how they are interrelated, and how one affects the others.

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