The 24-hour exam helpdesk

The 24-hour exam helpdesk 

Exam-time can be stressful enough, but moving assessment online as a necessary response to the Coronavirus pandemic had the potential to add new levels of complexity for the University’s student community.

One of the means of supporting students was to create a 24-hour exam helpdesk, which will remain operational until the end of the exam season in late May.

Student volunteer Katie Schmierbach covers the night-shift working online from her parents’ home 60 miles south-east of St Louis, Missouri.

As she is working in a different time-zone, her shift starts at 4pm and finishes at 2am – more congenial than the 10pm-8am shifts worked by the night-shift staff based in the UK.

Katie had been doing a one-year taught Masters in Conflict Archaeology and Heritage in the College of Arts when the United States government called on all Americans living abroad to come back home. She left Glasgow on 22 March. As she had worked in the past for Development & Alumni Office on two fundraising campaigns, she received an email inviting her to join the exam helpdesk.

She took part in a training session led by UofG staff andconnects to the University network via VPN and uses a ‘soft’ phone to answer calls. 

“We have a list of the exam timetables and who’s in charge of what exam and most of the time just escalate the issue to the school.  It is pretty good – just very challenging to sieve through all the information we have on the database,” says Katie.

The timescale can also be challenging, she acknowledges, if the helpdesk has to respond quickly to a student who’s doing a timed exam.

“I really didn’t want to leave Scotland and didn’t want to leave the school – I was disappointed that between strikes and the virus I only got 10 weeks of school. But this is a way of being able to contact other students, even if they are not in my school,” she says.

The vast majority of enquiries are online although a few students have phoned the helpdesk on the computer-based phone system which was put in place.

Katie’s message to other students at this time is a simple one: “We know this is a very stressful time with exams – we are trying to help you and we are here to help you.”

She very much hopes to return to Glasgow as she has accepted a PhD offer and says she is really hoping there will be graduations in December.


Student Katie Schmierbach, sat at her desk, working on the exam helpdesk

The regular IT Helpdesk comprises four full-time permanent staff and a number of students working part-time, and is part of the Reach Out initiative. To upscale this to become a 24 hour Exam Support desk it was augmented by students who work as ‘roving’ Reach Out Student Ambassadors  helping library users, and students who work for the Development and Alumni Office on fundraising campaign calls. All in all, this makes a team of 31 providing round-the-clock staffing.

Mark Temple, Project Delivery Manager for the University’s online Enterprise Service Management system, UofG Helpdesk, has been working with colleagues behind the scenes to implement the Exam Helpdesk, and provide ongoing support. The online UofG Helpdesk,  has been an essential part of the Exam Support effort and this has worked really well as a vehicle for routing enquiries, and for making relevant ‘knowledge’ readily available in a short space of time.  

Mark added, “I’m really pleased by how well our switch to 24-hour support has gone, and how everyone has risen to the challenge, especially with everything else that has been going on as we’ve moved to remote working; it has been a pleasure working together with staff from other services as we’ve taken support to a new level, even having staff in a number of countries and time zones - perhaps this will be the new norm.“


First published: 20 May 2020

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