Covid-19 : What is not said in the debate about university exams


The last weeks of January and the first of February are dates that in the university environment are associated with evaluation and exams. This year, in the context of the pandemic, we have observed a debate that has reached confrontation, regarding the adequacy or not of taking face-to-face exams in universities, at the height of the third wave caused by covid-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, face-to-face universities have made a remarkable exercise in flexibility and adaptation to circumstances, adapting a considerable percentage of teaching hours to online teaching .

With regard to the evaluation at the end of the first quarter of the 2020/2021 course, most universities opted for the evaluation of classroom manner . The debate has arisen when groups of students have complained about the health risk, manifesting in the same sense the Minister of Universities, Manuel Castells .

This article does not try to position itself on one side or the other, or to analyze the health risks that may exist in the face-to-face performance of the exams. What it seeks is to observe the situation from a pedagogical perspective, paying attention to what is ‘not said’ in this debate.

Thus, it is a question of identifying absences, understood as symptoms of deep problems, and generating some pedagogical reflections:

  1. Pedagogy is absent from the debate on educational evaluation at the university in the context of a pandemic, which is surprising at least given that Pedagogy is the science that studies education.
  2. Exams are one evaluation technique among many other existing and developed from Pedagogy and Didactics. Just to list some evaluation techniques, as an example, it can be evaluated from projects, small investigations, observation, resolution of cases, essays, etc .; not necessarily in person. However, it seems that it can only be assessed through examinations.
  3. Face-to-face teaching has innumerable advantages over online education , in the possibilities for a complete training that integrates theory, practice, specific and transversal skills, etc. However, it is striking that, in general, one part of the teaching has been adapted (the didactic methodology) to online media , and another (the evaluation) it is understood that it is only possible to do it in person.It is observed, consequently, that evaluation is not understood, that in teaching it should always be formative and integrated into the didactics itself. Assessment is one more component of the curriculum, along with other fundamental ones, such as educational objectives or didactic methodology. All of them integrate the teaching process and the training that accompanies it. From Didactics, harmony and fluidity between these curricular elements would be understood to be desirable, understanding that all of them function as a Rubik’s cube, where the turn of any piece influences the others. In the current context, the desynchrony between ‘how it is being taught’ and ‘how it is being evaluated’ is remarkable.
  4. Observing the difficulty of university teachers to use other assessment techniques other than the face-to-face exam, it is understood that the university reform promoted after the Bologna Declaration (1999) is a failure with regard to the continuous evaluation of the student, more than 20 years later.

Pedagogy lacks social recognition

From these reflections two main conclusions can be deduced:

  1. Pedagogy is still not socially recognized as the science that deals with studying education (also university) because it is absent in the discourse on core aspects of teaching, such as formative assessment (face-to-face or not face-to-face).
  2. The need for training university teachers in Pedagogy and Didactics, and therefore also in educational evaluation (concept, theoretical approaches, techniques and instruments, etc.) is clear.

Some external circumstances, currently the pandemic, allow us to clearly identify some fundamental needs. With so much noise, observing what is not present in the educational debate seems an inalienable scientific position, if what is intended is to profoundly transform society through Pedagogy and education (including university).

Author Bio: Pablo Rodríguez Herrero is Profesor del Departamento de Pedagogía at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid