ChatOps is King in High Stakes Exam Support

5 August 2020 by Andrew Boag

Catalyst recently entered the world of high stakes online assessment with the launch of our eAssessment offering in partnership with Monash University. And in the current Covid-19 world, more and more Universities are having to deliver their core assessments to students who are at home or remote.

As part of the exam hotline support team that Catalyst is delivering for Concordia University's COLE platform, we chose to roll out our own dedicated chat solution so that  hotline operators (both voice and web chat) can talk among themselves and with academic representatives during exams. Catalyst used our favourite open source chat platform – Rocketchat – which we’ve been using for years with great success.

It’s once again reminded us how a clean web chat platform can be so useful among a dedicated team of people working towards a shared and collaborative goal. This is critical when this team itself is all remote. Hard to imagine how we could do it any other way. Email would be a disaster and ticket systems, while useful, can be very noisy.

Catalyst did a bit of an internal retro last week to review some of the core success points for our Rocketchat implementation.

No ChatOps Training Required - It’s Easy

Be careful when a technologist says this, but “it’s easy.” By that we mean - web chat is easy. Browser-based and familiar. It has been so great to see academic support staff “get it” when they just log in to a space for each exam and watch what’s happening. When some of the Concordia support team members first viewed that setup, the reaction was “this is so easy.” Great when new technologies are received this way, as it’s not always the case. Well done to the delivery team.

Automatic Event Audit Trail

How many times have we used a client communication framework where it’s not easy to  gather up all the communications between company and client. Email is a great example of this. Once there is a criss-cross of mails going between various members of service provider and client, things quickly become a mess. Ticket systems are better but also not perfect.

Used for the right purpose, a chat room is a great way of keeping a simple log of all the interactions (even if some of these communications reference external tickets or reports). It means later on you can dive down into the details of when, who and what.

It also extends to an audit trail of decisions or permissions given. Catalyst stays well clear of blame games in the case when things go wrong. But sometimes we all need to be able to say “This is the way it was.” Learn from it, and move on. Useful.

Inspires Constant Improvement

ChatOps solutions benefit from the team investing time in them. From just actually being present and chatting about what's going on, to thinking about some of the integrations that can be included.

Some of examples of small tweaks that have benefited us are:

  • Integrating RocketChat with our icinga infrastructure notification framework.

  • Integrating RocketChat with our internal work ticket system. Tickets are easy to reference via chat.

  • Making dedicated chat rooms for particular events, and pre-populating these rooms with the relevant links that all members need i.e. a particular exam report. So we are all looking at the same data.

All of the above things were small, no teams of devs smashing away for weeks. It was just a small speculative initiative that became the new policy as it improved things for everyone. It’s so refreshing when things go this way.