AMS make online exam database, but faces challenge of getting profs to upload material

After several years of planning, the AMS is rolling out a central exam database.

In March 2011, student senators brought the idea of reinstating an exam database to Senate as a topic of interest. The plan was to create an online hub where old exams would be collected and made available for reference.

An AMS Academic Experience report from 2012 shows that an overwhelming proportion of students favoured the idea of the database. According to the report, 83 per cent of students “felt that an exam database would be a positive academic resource.”

The idea behind the project is to equalize access to reference material by abating the need for third party web sites where students might need to pay for unauthorized course material.

Associate VP Academic Daniel Munro pointed to the 2012 Academic Experience Report and noted that “students felt there was unequal access to [reference material] depending on students’ social circles or financial means.”

Regardless of the overwhelmingly positive response, the project has been in limbo since being endorsed by Senate in 2013. It was placed under the purview of a steering committee chaired by the AMS and composed of representatives from the Registrar's office, the library and the Centre for Learning and Technology.

The committee then reached out to hire a project manager based on an internal grant from the university. This project manager was charged with building the system for the database and collecting content from professors.

Over the course of the project manager’s term, UBC introduced a new policy regarding the use of teaching materials in UBC courses that pushed for “the free and open distribution of teaching materials beyond the UBC community.”

According to Munro, many faculty members took issue with the openness of the policy in regards to intellectual property ownership.

“That, I think influenced the culture of faculty here to be a little bit more defensive over how they use material like old exams,” said Munro.

As a result, the exam database had to be designed in a way that was responsive to these concerns.

“The way that the database is [built], professors can define who can access the material that they upload,” he said.

Munro also said that this will hopefully give professors more control over their own content.

The database is built, but the major hurdle now is getting faculty to upload their content voluntarily.

Munro said that he hopes that framing the discussion in terms of broader learning initiatives will help the cause. He'd like to have enough material in the database to consider rolling it out to students by September.

“I think what we are trying to do now is to get profs to see how this can be a way of starting a broader conversation around exam practices and assessment practices,” he said.

Considering how positively the idea for the database has been received, the VP academic’s office has clearly been pushing to support the interests of students even amidst all the challenges that have been posed so far.

To visit the database, click here.