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Faculty of Humanities Teaching & Learning Office

Exam Guidance: running Blackboard Examinations during term-time (in-semester)

See also: www.tlso.manchester.ac.uk/e-learning/eassessment/

Are you planning to run an online exam in semester 2 of 2014/15? Or during 2015/16? If so, have you discussed and agreed this with the Faculty eLearning team? You will also need to get in touch with your School Exams Office.

The eLearning team is conscious of the increasing number of summative tests taking place outside of the normal examination period in January and May/June. In the case where these tests need to take place in Blackboard under examination conditions (i.e. with invigilation) the University – through the eLearning team – will need to ensure that adequate measures are in place for the security and integrity of the examination.


Online examinations taking place outside of the normal examination require special arrangements because they are not managed by the University Examinations Office. As with paper exams running outside the normal exams periods, the responsibility for organising and running an online exam during the teaching period lies with the academic in charge.

This includes:

The Faculty eLearning team is on hand to advise and support the academic right from the start and throughout the process in relation to the various pedagogical and practical aspects of online assessment. The team can also undertake some of the practical tasks on behalf of the academic; however, this should not be taken for granted as the extent to which the eLearning team can help out with arrangements will depend on the length of the notice given.

We therefore strongly recommend that the academic initiates the process as early as possible, ideally, the semester prior to the one during which the examination is taking place. As a rule of thumb, you should contact the Faculty eLearning team at least three months before the proposed date of the examination.

Things to consider

e-Assessment Desktop (eAD)

The first thing to consider is whether you need to use the e-Assessment Desktop. This provides a secure assessment environment but requires increased technical support.  Its use is most suited to exams for large cohorts. If you can ensure the security of your exam without using the e-Assessment Desktop, e.g. through use of invigilation, then it would probably be better not to use eAD.

If you need the eAD, bear in mind that it takes time and technical support to setup the exam room so this will impose some constraints on your exam. You will need to involve your Faculty e-learning team so that they can provide support and advice on the use of eAD and you will also need to book additional time in the cluster to allow the eAD to be deployed before the exam and switched back after the exam.

As eAD requires technical support from a number of IT teams, the use of eAD can only be supported during core working hours. If your exam must run outside core hours it will not be possible to use eAD and alternative approaches to exam security must be implemented.

Cluster Bookings

Many of the clusters that are used for online exams during the exam periods are used for teaching or open access during term time so must be booked to run an online exam.

Large Cohorts

Large cohorts present a particular challenge for in-semester exams because the computer clusters across campus are not centrally-managed; therefore, if the cohort cannot be accommodated in one cluster, you will have to speak to more than one manager to arrange/secure the booking – hence, again, the need to embark on the process several months in advance.

Which Clusters to Use

The table below shows the capacity and owners of the clusters currently used for online examinations. The Simon cluster on the 6th floor of Simon Building has been specifically designed to accommodate online exams and can be provided with partitions between desks. As it is centrally managed it is also usually easier to book. However, you may need to be flexible about the timing of your exam.
During term-time we would recommend the following larger clusters for exams:


Max. Capacity (with 10% spare)


Stopford 2


Life Sciences



Central IT

Barnes Wallis






Turing G105



Kilburn LF31


Computer Science

Stopford 1


Life Sciences

The Faculty also owns a number of smaller clusters which can be used for small cohorts. You may find it easier to book one of these as you can easily check their availability online.  You will find details of the clusters here: http://ict.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/facilities/clusters/index.html

Other considerations

Individual Requirements

Students who are registered with the Disability Support Office may require special arrangements, e.g. additional time or assistive software; it is important to identify any such cases in the cohort so that the DSO can advise or make alternative arrangements.

Rollout and Rollback of the eAD

When booking a cluster, you should take into consideration not only the duration of the exam but also the time it may take to deploy and rollback the eAD. The latter  take anything up to 90 minutes each way depending on the number of computers being used for the examination. Some clusters are time-controlled and will not be available before 09h00. For such clusters, the rollout will have to be done the day before.

Mock Tests

If it is the first time that students are sitting the examination online, we strongly recommend that you give them a mock test under the same conditions (or very closely) a couple of weeks before the exam. This is to ensure that the students are not unduly disadvantaged by the examination conditions.

Running an Online Exam in 2015? Contact:  elearning@manchester.ac.uk