Surpass Community Insights: Adapting to Remote Working

Person on computer video call

Most of us who can, have been working remotely for some time now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and are likely to be doing so for a few months yet. Even when we do begin to transition back to an office environment, remote working is still likely to play a bigger role in our working lives than it ever has done before. 

Many organisations were well-equipped to continue business as usual remotely as it already formed part of the usual way of working, but for others, there’s been a sudden, forced change in how they work as they adapt to the ‘new normal’. 

Whilst being the result of an unprecedented global situation, many industries have been forced into a digital transformation, and into rapidly implementing solutions that they otherwise thought they weren’t ready for. However, the positive results of taking this leap mean that some of these changes will be likely to stay for the duration of the pandemic and beyond. 

In this article, we’re going to give an insight into how the Surpass Community has adapted to remote working. We’ll take a look from both the perspective of the Awarding Organisation and the Surpass Team to look at some of the new solutions that have been implemented and the positive outcomes, as well as how Surpass is built to facilitate remote working.

How has the Surpass Team adapted to working remotely?

Although primarily office-based, the Surpass Team were already well-prepared for remote working and it already formed part of the day-to-day routine for many teams. Everyone has transitioned to home-working, but what about teams who are more used to dealing with colleagues and customers face-to-face?  

With on-site training impossible, the Surpass Product Communications and Training Team are a great example of a proactive approach to remote working and have used their knowledge and creativity to ensure a like-for-like training experience is delivered virtually.  

Recognising that face-to-face methods don’t always directly translate to a virtual training experience, the team underwent a Certified Online Learning Facilitator course to discover how best to re-purpose traditional workshop exercises for collaborative online learning. The team have also invested time into selecting the most appropriate technology to facilitate a community training experience. 

As well as this, the team had to completely re-think the training structure and come up with innovative ways to measure learning and maintain the much-needed interactive element of the course, now offering a blended learning course split into 12 modules to provide thorough end-to-end coverage or allow flexibility to learn specific parts of the system. 

‘The team already have a lot of expertise in how to deliver engaging training, but we recognised that there are key differences in doing this virtually compared to face-to-face sessions. As soon as it became evident that this would be the primary method of delivery for the foreseeable future I was keen to up-skill the team, in order to empower them to continue what they do best remotely. Virtual sessions we’ve delivered so far have been really successful and I can see the option for remote delivery forming a bigger part of our training offering in future.’

Georgie Page, Product Communications and Training Manager

The next virtual end-to-end Surpass training session is taking place from 10th – 13th August. Contact your Account Manager to register your interest for this or any future sessions. 

How has the Surpass Community adapted to working remotely?

Members of the Surpass Community are taking a similarly proactive approach. In a recent podcast for the e-Assessment Association, Leo Webster, Customer Success Manager for End Point Assessments at NCFE spoke about how his organisation have had to do a lot differently in recent times, particularly with regard to EPAs which have many in-person aspects such as observations. 

‘We’ve had a lot to do in a very short space of time…first and foremost we appreciated that a lot of our customers would be facing a lot of uncertainty, so we wanted to act quickly and keep them on board every step of the way…we set up weekly check-in webinars where our customers were able to just drop in, we’d provide them with updates there and then from the previous week, and dedicate half of that weekly check-in just to answering questions…we’ve been proactive in the ways that we needed to be.

Leo Webster, Customer Success Manager for End Point Assessments at NCFE

Listen to the e-Assessment Association podcast series on ‘Assessment and COVID-19’.

How can Surpass Facilitate Remote Working?

‘One of the big barriers is remaining engaged when you’re remote…we’re constantly aware of things like click fatigue…within Surpass, that empathy for the user is really fundamental.’

Chris Morrison, VP Product Management, BTL Surpass

Many aspects of the test development process are traditionally conducted with face-to-face meetings and workshops, but Surpass includes many features that mean you can manage your team and processes remotely, without increasing your workload or compromising the security of your item bank. Here’s just some of the ways Surpass is facilitating remote working for the Community. 

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Easy but Secure Access

Surpass is browser-based and doesn’t require anything to be downloaded, so as long as your team can access a web browser, they can get up and running from anywhere and pick up from where they left off in the office. Customisable roles and permissions also mean that you can be sure that team members can only access and see what they need to. 

For colleagues working within an Awarding Organisation, single sign-on adds an extra layer of security, with users able to access Surpass alongside their company systems without the need for a separate log in. 

‘With teams working from home and outside of their network access controls, we’d recommend looking at implementing single sign-on in Surpass. Not only does it limit the number of separate logins a user needs, simplifying password management, it can reduce security risks too, especially when combined with multi-factor authentication. It also simplifies the management of users, lessening the administrative burden on your IT staff’.

David Scott, Chief Information Security Officer, BTL

Contact your Account Manager for more information on SSO with Surpass. 

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In-built Workload Management Tools

The existing ‘Tasks’ functionality in Surpass is specifically designed to help manage large teams of Subject Matter Experts in the item authoring, review, and standard setting processes. 

Whilst some organisations traditionally carry out these activities with face-to-face workshops, many organisations have been managing this remotely for some time due to having global teams, or item writers who fit work in around other employment. 

‘We talk about the ‘new normal’, but this was normal before for a lot of people as well, so a lot of the processes of having non co-located people developing items for a bank was already happening…so we’d solved a lot of the problems already.’

Chris Morrison, VP Product Management, BTL Surpass

‘Tasks’ in Surpass allows you to assign your SMEs a quota of items to create, or a selection of items to review, without exposing the entire item bank or any other parts of the Surpass system. 

Progress can be tracked by team leaders using a user-friendly dashboard, and feedback on items can be easily gathered via a voting system so you can quickly see which items require attention. 

You can even track edits that have been made, for lead writers to accept or reject as they see fit. 

Whilst conducting these activities virtually rather than in-person may require a different approach, it can be streamlined with a good platform like Surpass, meaning that assessment activities certainly don’t need to be delayed.  

‘With the current situation people are looking for ways around the face to face interaction, but still maintain the integrity of the test development process…You have to do a lot of air traffic control in an item writing process…moving from in-person to virtual takes a strong plan ahead of time…It’s great to have a really good item writing platform that streamlines the process and maintains the integrity fairly efficiently.’

Amanda Dainis, CEO and Lead Psychometrician, Dainis & Co 

When asked in a recent podcast on whether organisations should be considering virtualising their test development process, Norah Duffy, Program Director and Credentialing Specialist at the California Water Environment Association pointed out the long-term impact of the crisis: 

‘We anticipate that travel budgets may be reduced or restricted for some time… so everyone is going to be looking to keep their costs down, both credentialing bodies and the volunteer pools they are pulling from. Additionally, during this time people have come to get used to and appreciate the ease and convenience of virtual platforms, so I think it’s going to be the new normal moving forward.’

Norah Duffy, Program Director and Credentialing Specialist at the California Water Environment Association

Transitioning to Remote Test Delivery

We’ve looked at how test development activities can continue remotely, but what about delivery? 

Other than delivery of necessary examinations for key workers, centre delivery simply hasn’t been an option over the last few months, so many organisations have turned to remote invigilation, so that their assessment programmes can continue securely. 

Surpass offers a dual-camera remote invigilation solution, and for those Awarding Organisations who were already using this, assessment delivery has continued largely without disruption. The Association of Corporate Treasurers were early adopters of remote invigilation and in a podcast recorded at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, Nicoleta Toma, Assessment Operations Manager, commented: 

Demonstration of the invigilator's view for online invigilation.

‘This method is really a game-changing way of invigilating; our students are located in more than 80 countries and this enables them to sit their exams wherever they are in the world. As long as they have access to wifi, a smartphone and laptop or PC with a webcam they’re good to go…and in most recent times, many awarding bodies are facing difficult decisions to postpone exam sessions…and because of this invigilation method we’re using, we’re in a fortunate position.’ 

Nicoleta Toma, Assessment Operations Manager at ACT

The Surpass Team have helped rapidly transition a number of high-profile awarding bodies to the Surpass Remote Invigilation service recently. Some of which had already undergone pilots of the service, but the onset of COVID-19 has accelerated the uptake of this delivery method. 

Surpass Community member, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) were just one of the organisations to make the decision to roll out remote invigilated examinations for some of their qualifications as part of their ongoing digital strategy, meaning that as many students as possible had the opportunity to study for and take their examinations during the COVID-19 crisis. In an article published by WSET, Ian Harris, WSET CEO commented: 

Online programmes are never going to completely replace the classroom environment, but they give us another very important string to our bow in the short-term, and will be a valuable add-on for us to offer in the longer term, extending the global reach of WSET in the post-COVID era.’

Ian Harris, CEO at WSET

The London Institute of Banking and Finance similarly rolled out remotely invigilated exams in June after undergoing successful pilots of the service earlier in the year. In an article recently published by Professional Paraplanner, Mark Heaton, Managing Director, Corporation and Professional Learning said:  

Our courses and qualifications are delivered predominantly online, so remote invigilation was something we had already been exploring and piloting. But with physical exams being cancelled, we knew we had to look at making remote invigilation available more widely, and quickly… This is not just a contingency arrangement though. LIBF will retain the remote invigilation option alongside centre-based delivery for the long term, to give students a choice about how and where to sit their examinations.’

Mark Heaton, Managing Director, Corporation and Professional Learning at the London Institute of Banking and Finance

Ceri Harper, Head of Test Delivery Services at BTL commented: 

The current situation has removed the uncertainty around remote invigilation, and the number of organisations making the move to this method is fantastic. We’ve worked hard to support customers with quite rapid implementations of the service. Test centres are opening now and we are seeing organisations restart their assessment programmes. Safety is important, so centres have strict measures in place to protect candidates and staff, and some customers are looking at a hybrid model of dual centre and remotely invigilated options to ensure candidates with health or family concerns have a choice. Despite social distancing restrictions, we’ve not seen a widespread impact in our centre capacity, as many of the centres’ other normal operations have been put on hold enhancing our test capacity in some areas. Our global network has demonstrated its unique ability to adapt, and I’m proud of the team’s professionalism.’

Ceri Harper, Head of Test Delivery Services at BTL

A Note on Equivalence Reporting

When transitioning to any new delivery method it’s important to gather data so you can be certain that the candidate experience is not being affected. Traditionally undertaken when moving a qualification from paper to on-screen, the same should be done when transitioning from test centre, to remote delivery. By analysing the data from both methods over time, you can demonstrate to candidates, regulators, and external stakeholders that equivalence is maintained. Look out for more detail on this in a future article. 

For more information on our services, please get in touch with your Account Manager, or contact us directly. You can also follow the Surpass Community to be the first to know when new content is available.


You can find more information about the topics discussed in this article in the following resources: