RU digital assessment and Chromebooks

In order to facilitate large scale digital assessment, the university purchased ca. 1000 Chromebooks. For these, Cirrus Assessment was chosen as user friendly assessment software. In the future, the faculty digital assessment software (TAO, see below) will only be necessary for assessments that Cirrus can’t handle. Also the wireless network in the Gymnasion/RSC was upgraded to give this large number of Chromebooks a good wireless network connection. More information on this cam be found on the RU page on digital assessments.

Chromebooks only run webbased applications, in a browser. In June 2018, more than 300 students Computing Science were successfully graded in a large scale digital assessment with these Chromebooks using a Windows application (a modern computer program development environment) that ran in a tab of the Safe Exam Browser and was delivered through Amazon Appstream 2.0.

Faculty digital testing environment: TAO

We offer a digital testing/assessment environment, based on the open source product TAO Testing, that can be used for both summative and formative testing. Although TAO supports many question types, only a limited selection is supported in the operational setup at the Faculty of Science:

In TAO itself, there is no support for entering mathematical or chemical formulae in answers, although formulae can be used in questions. Entering computer source code is possible in a free text field, but not in a manner which resembles the computer program development environments people are used to nowadays. In these cases, a programming environment can used, next to the browser with TAO. Digital tests have been done with Windows Paint, Microsoft Word, Clean and Virtual NMR) next to the test software TAO.


The environment consists of five parts, all are web-based:

  1. A “database” environment in which lecturers can create and manage their own collection of exam questions and answers.
  2. An “authoring” environment in which lecturers can create exams from questions from the database.
  3. A “testing” (exam) environment in which tests can be performed. The tests take place on the computer lab PCs managed by C&CZ with Safe Exam Browser.
  4. A “grading” environment in which the answers that were handed in can be reviewed and graded.
  5. A “review” environment in which participants can view their graded test.

At this moment, all parts of the environment exist and are operational.

Advantages and disadvantages of digital assessments

The advantages of digital testing are many.

  1. Correcting/grading, especially for large numbers of participants, can be done much faster.
    1. Answers to open questions are typed in, solving the poor handwriting problem.
    2. Automatic grading of multiple-choice questions is possible.
  2. As the database of exam questions grows, it becomes easier for lecturers to create tests.
  3. For most students typing and/or clicking is much easier than writing.
  4. For courses in Computing Science, especially computer programming, the possibility to type and modify code instead of writing code on paper is a major improvement.
  5. Functionality as offered by Versatest (digital microscopy) is only possible in a digital environment (but it has not yet been integrated in TAO Testing).
  6. We have integrated the course survey (Alice) at the end of the digital test which has led to a vast increase of the survey response percentage.

There are also disadvantages:

  1. Digital testing introduces new cheating risks. It may be difficult to eliminate all of them.
  2. Digital testing places a burden on the available PCs for students. This problem increases as the use of digital testing grows. See Chromebooks.
  3. The PCs in the computer labs are not shielded from a major power outage. If this happens the exam can only be cancelled.
  4. The current solution can not easily be used for exam questions where the answer requires the use of mathematical or chemical formulae, reaction equations, diagrams, in general any substantial amount of free format “drawing” by the student.