By Arlene Jones
I got a text message back in April. A young lady, Sherwonna Barron, wanted to speak with me. We made arrangements to talk at a mutually convenient time. Sherwonna was a student at Olivet Nazarene University. She had attended the university for her bachelor's degree, so continuing on there for her masters was a given. Sherwonna took two classes and both times she had been an 'A/B' student during the course; yet when it came time to take the midterm and finals, her test results were coming back as failures or barely passing. Her classes are five-week intensive online sessions, where she was able to speak with others in her group over the phone, but never met them in person.
As she told me about her dilemma of doing well in the course (50 percent of her grade), then failing when it came to the exams, I could understand her confusion and frustration. But when the conversation morphed into charges of racism and conspiracy, my cynical and skeptical nature went into overdrive. Maybe what she needed was someone black who also had been through the course who might better explain the subject, so that she wouldn't be failing her exams. I have a sister who is a nurse and another friend who is a licensed pharmacist here in Chicago. I suggested some additional tutoring might be the better solution and put her in contact with the pharmacist. In the meantime, Sherwonna would email me copies of letters she had written and text messages she had gotten from the course instructor.
One of Sherwonna's major concerns was that when she went to take the computerized exams, she had a lot of problems with the system. After getting the bad grades and contesting the results of her exams, the university wasn't open to hearing after-the-fact complaints about its system. Sherwonna was sounding like a disgruntled student who had failed the course and was looking to find excuses. Part of the reason for Sherwonna's frustration was that ONU uses Moodle, a learning platform where the teacher, administrator and student can have a personalized learning environment. Yet, when she takes the exams, she doesn't get a printout of the test. When she fails the examination, she has no idea of where she made a mistake or if she really did. ONU took a defensive stance when she brought up her concerns with computer issues. Yet, when I Googled about problems with Moodle, I found a number of student websites that complained about Moodle's glitches.
Another concern Sherwonna had was that the questions on her exams were not on the subject matter that she studied, along with the exam questions becoming progressively harder. She had taken one of her examinations at the home of a physician friend and that person had seen her select the correct answers, only to be in shock when her examination results came back showing her to have failed the test. In response, Sherwonna even went so far as to hire a computer expert to investigate ONU's computer system. ONU, instead of being open and willing to look into the problem, became defensive. It was also because of her pushing back that she learned that the class doesn't all get the same examination. The Moodle system is set to select 50 randomized questions from a database of 250. Sherwonna found that strange, because one of her teachers had thrown out a question that everyone got wrong; so she had assumed they were all taking the same exam.
Sherwonna re-took her pharmacological examination with my friend the pharmacist watching. Again, even though they agreed with the answers she selected, she barely passed the exam. My friend texted me and told me something is definitely suspect with the exam. Now, I was fully onboard with something being amiss with ONU's system. Prior to contacting me, Sherwonna filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Consumer Fraud division. ONU responded with an undated response defending their actions. Within that letter, they gave a breakdown of those in Sherwonna's group who took the final exam. Two people logged in at the same time and got the same grade. The third logged in earlier that morning and forty-five minutes later was done — that person's grade being ten points less than the first two test-takers. Sherwonna spent nearly an hour on the test and failed. She strongly suspects that somehow those others in her group cheated.
ONU has expelled Sherwonna. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that something is amiss. As Ricky Ricardo would say to Lucy, "ONU, you got some explaining to do!"
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