Industry Panel: The New COVID-19 Normal

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Written by Michelle Jackson, Lenovo

The November member meeting was a candid and insightful panel discussion on the impacts of COVID-19, and what certification programs are doing to adjust. We heard from three leading programs about what the impacts have been, the responses their organizations made, and how the responses have been received by customers and partners.

Panelists included: Jedidiah (Jedi) Hammond from Dell Technologies, Jim Lucari from HPE, and Liberty Munson from Microsoft, with Clyde Seepersad from The Linux Foundation and Graham Livingstone of TrueAbility as moderators.

The session was interactive with key questions posed to the panelists.

How have you addressed the “Last Mile” challenge?

Insights:

Due to the test center shutdowns, programs had to transition to remote proctoring or expand availability of remotely proctored exams. When candidates are responsible for their own internet connection, successful exam delivery can be a challenge. The panelists shared that these issues have become less frequent and delivery is improving.

  • Even though candidates test their system prior to an exam, the network connectivity can vary a few hours later when they begin the session.
  • Leverage vendor data to understand the real issues during exams. Some issues are out of the control of programs / vendors.
  • Employ crisp communications to explain what is expected from the candidate including their testing environment (e.g., no reading questions aloud, secure room, disruption free space).
  • Be empathetic and educate candidates in a “gentle way”. Help them to understand the reason for the rules.

What has your experience been in offering concessions to candidates?

Since March 2020, many programs have offered deadline extensions, free retakes, and other concessions to support candidates ability to complete or maintain their certifications.

Insights:

  • While programs may have offered extensions initially this year, in some cases, they are handling these on an individual basis at this time.
  • Another concession has involved enabling remote proctoring to regions where it was not previously offered due to security concerns. Given the circumstances, some greater risk is being accepted, but with careful monitoring.
  • In other cases, extension of expiration dates, vouchers, and/or exam retirement may be extended as far out as June 2021.

How has the pandemic affected your exam volumes?

All panelists shared their volumes dropped initially but have leveled off, and in some cases are increasing. The increases have been noticeably higher for entry-level / fundamental tier exams.

What are your predictions about the future of proctored exam delivery in test centers?

The panelists believe that proctoring in test centers will not go away. Some candidates prefer taking their exam in the test center environment, especially those who do not have dedicated “office space” at home.

On the other hand, it is expected that as much as 50% of exams will continue to be delivered via remote proctoring. Candidates who might not have opted for a remote exam previously are now comfortable with the process and like the convenience.

How have you adjusted to conducting your development workshops remotely?

Some programs were already doing at least part of their development process remotely, so the changes have had less impact. Others have had to redesign their workshops more extensively, and this is still a work-in-progress.

Insights:

  • Virtual workshops offer cost savings related to T&E, and wider access to more SMEs.
  • Virtual meetings may work well for item development and technical review, but present greater challenges for JTA and competency modeling.
  • To promote engagement, break the sessions up into smaller chunks, and require participants to turn on video. This means exam development will likely take longer.
  • Additional suggestions included starting JTA meetings with a “straw man” to initiate discussions, and giving the candidates homework to complete prior to the next meeting.
  • To address the problem of SMEs cancelling or dropping out of the process, some programs are “over recruiting” to ensure they have enough SMEs (e.g. recruit 14 people if 10 are needed).

What economic impact has the pandemic had on your program?

As discussed earlier, the initial drop in exam volume meant less money coming back to the programs. Another aspect has been corporate events being changed from an in-person to a virtual format. However, the virtual events can drive awareness of learning initiatives that are tied to certification.

What sort of feedback have you received from candidates?

Some programs have been leveraging more candidate surveys over the last nine months. This practice provides valuable data and metrics for program decisions. Others receive feedback in a less formal way.

Insights:

  • Exam delivery has been getting smoother over the last few months. Capacity is no longer an issue.
  • Candidates are appreciative of the concessions offered to them.
  • Find the balance of fairness and security. Redesign the rules where necessary.

What are the key lessons you have learned?

All panelists agree that communication about remote proctoring is critically important.

  • Programs need to help candidates understand that policies are in place to make their experience fair, while protecting the value of their certification.
  • Communication with proctors is important, especially in relation to practical exams. Test sponsors need to help their delivery vendor understand their needs and requirements.

The session was packed full of valuable experiences and insights. This is likely a discussion that will continue for the months to come, as we go forward in the “new COVID-19 normal.” Huge thanks to all of our panelists and moderators!

Join us for our next ITCC Member Meeting session on Thursday, December 17 at 11:00 a.m. Central. Contact ITCC HQ for the invite.

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