By Dasha Zolota
Using a number two pencil to shade in a bubble on a multiple-choice test is one of the true hallmarks of the university experience, right up there with Kraft Dinner and getting shitfaced.
But one Ryerson startup is saying no more.
Akindi founder and CEO Mahmoud Hashim says his company will save Ryerson thousands and make grading exams easier for faculty.
The university spent roughly $40,000 total on Scantron products last year, one quarter of which was to replace a decade-old scanner that broke. Another $10,000 was spent on machine maintenance.
“We came into the DMZ (Digital Media Zone) and told them, ‘Listen, we’ve talked to a lot of teachers, a lot of administrators, a lot of principals,” Hashim said. “The feedback is unanimous. It’s too expensive for us [Ryerson] to continue spending that kind of money on Scantron sheets.”
With Akindi, a professor would print out a .PDF test template and have their students complete it like any other multiple-choice test.
The completed test can be scanned from anywhere using a typical scanner.
Akindi marks the tests and provides answer-based metrics and analytics.
Scantron has supplied Ryerson’s bubble-test sheets for over 20 years.
Hashim said that if Ryerson switched, they could save between
$30,000 and $50,000 on paper costs alone. Because the school purchases in bundles, each page costs less than six cents, meaning that Ryerson spent approximately $20,000 last year to process nearly 340,000 tests.
Brian Lesser, director of Computing and Communication Services (CSS) said that before any changes could be implemented, there would have to be clear advantages over the current “fairly inexpensive” system.
“Probably, we wouldn’t save $20,000 a year,” Lesser said. “It might be a wash; you have to license the service and change your scanners. We might have to throw out the scanners we have and bring in powerful, new high-speed scanners that could do the full-page scan the way that Akindi needs it to be done.”
Elizabeth Kirley-Switzer, a criminal justice and criminology professor, said that as nice as having the analytics done for her would be, there’s little incentive to go with Akindi right now.
“It’s hard for me to see any benefi ts,” Kirley-Switzer said. “It puts too much onus on the professor in terms of labour intensity.” Also, she didn’t like the idea of printing tests on her own paper.
Ryerson currently owns two printers, which cost over $10,000 each, and three scanners all located in the Print Centre.
Both Lesser and Kirley-Switzer raised concerns over security issues.
The benefi ts of having one central processing system for the university is that it limits the likelihood of sensitive information leaks, among other potential problems.
“On one hand, it would be great for me if professors all have to print their own exams,” Lesser said. “They just saved me $20,000 a year; CCS has $20,000 to put into something else. [That might mean]professors are spending hours and hours of their time printing this stuff and scanning it themselves.”
Kirley-Switzer said her issue with the current system is the amount of paper being used and distributed needlessly. She hopes to see a testing platform that’s solely computer- based.
“Anytime you can digitalize, as long as you can securitize, you’re moving forward,” Kirley Switzer said.