Phase 1 of the UNSW Medicine program covers microscopic anatomy and pathology, and has utilised virtual microscopy images since 2004. In Semester 2, 2014, for the first time, online practical examinations with automated marking were employed by Associate Professor Gary Velan (Head, Dept of Pathology).

This program already makes use of a number of adaptive tutorials created by Associate Professor Velan using the Smart Sparrow platform (available on BEST), but assessment has traditionally involved students viewing digital images and answering questions in an exam booklet. The decision to test examination using an adaptive tutorial was an attempt to decrease the marking time required for paper-based assessment with a large student cohort (560 students).

It was reported to take 10 h to develop the assessments, which included multiple choice and multiple response questions adapted from existing exams, as well as drag and drop style questions and labelling questions on whole slide images (virtual slides) from the Slice image bank.

Example drag and drop question using a Slice virtual slide

By automating the marking, 50 h of marking time was no longer required and it saved entering 3500 marks by hand, an estimated 3 h of work.

Associate Professor Velan reports “Online summative practical assessments using Smart Sparrow’s platform are time-efficient and reliable. Furthermore, the analytics provided by the platform enable areas of difficulty to be documented and addressed. Rich feedback can also be provided to students, such as “heat maps” which show where students placed their markers in drag and drop questions, with the correct region highlighted”.

Heat map analytics from drag and drop question.

Setting up an adaptive tutorial for exam conditions requires creating a private lesson with your questions and then enrolling students into the adaptive tutorial. All student responses will be matched to the user and grades calculated. Depending on your institutions policies, students then sit the exam in computer laboratories; at UNSW browsers are locked to allow access to the tutorial but prevents other unauthorised access to the Internet.

For more streamlined assessments, integration of the Smart Sparrow Platform with your institutions’ LMS is available with institutional subscription to BEST. This automates the entry of marks into the grade book.

If you’re interested in trying automated online assessment this semester, feel free to contact the BEST team at or leave us a comment below.