Invigilator: An Unappreciated and Diminishing Role

NL 54 Invigilator: AN Unappreciated and Diminishing Role

Capt Mazlan

Capt Mazlan, Senior Lecturer, Advanced Nautical Studies Dept, Malaysia Maritime Academy


Love what you do and do what you love – Ray Bradbury

Introducing the invigilator

Have you ever encountered a situation on an airplane that the person sitting beside you introduces themselves as an invigilator? Maybe an artist, engineer, researcher, surveyor, doctor, manager, teacher or so many other professions; at ALAM we are often times called to invigilate, can we therefore introduce ourselves as invigilators?

Invaluable secrets of the invigilation trade

In the context of maritime education, I believe watchkeepers are the best invigilators.

They must be able to maintain an active invigilation at all times. The term invigilate actually means to keep watch, mostly over students during an examination to be more precise. Experience as a watchkeeper teaches them “invaluable secrets of the invigilation trade”; the nuances and things one can’t just get in a classroom or invigilation hall. For example, the experience as watchkeepers under pressure with lots of responsibility has given them character, confidence and the ability to command attention in any given situation; to watch over, be watchful and devoted as a watchkeeper.

The natural invigilator

Watchkeepers must also interact with authorities and be able to handle queries from all sectors, e.g., other watchstanders, officers, ships, etc. They maintain a proper watch to ensure safe passage. The ability to prioritize is another key element imbued amongst watchkeepers. They must also be able to multi-task, which should be useful in an invigilation hall keeping watch over many students. Watchkeepers are trained to handle emergencies, being exposed to the principles of the Bridge Resource Management (BRM) makes them natural invigilators!

Some qualities and behaviors of an invigilator


What then, are some specific criteria to be an invigilator? It is not as if we’re selecting some qualities for a prestigious award like best employee, speaker or teacher. Invigilators often get little recognition or credit for their work! Since the year 2007, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) confers awards for exceptional bravery at sea on an annual basis, as well as the International Maritime Prize. With all these awards, do we really need the best invigilator award? Maybe this would help ensure and maintain standards of conduct as well as quality results of students, and by extension reduce accidents and increase shipboard management standards?

As an invigilator, we should treat the students as clients – i.e., be nice to them, be diplomatic, courteous, helpful and generous. Invigilators must also be mindful and enforce the rules. After all, integrity, standards and devotion to duty are also important qualities for seafarers and also invigilators. In that role, invigilators also act as enforcers or policeman.

The culture and economics of invigilation


It is also common for people to develop emotional-attachments, maybe even to sympathize with students, especially those invigilators working in an organisation for quite a long time. This could be a problem as standards and quality may be compromised. Culture may also play an important role in invigilation. For example, Asians especially have a save-face kind of culture, they don’t like to point the finger at people. Relationships matter more than the procedures. In the current desperate economic climate in shipping, many organisations have disappeared from the market, competition is stiff. We have yet to recover fully from the 2008 economic meltdown. In such desperate situations, it is best not to cause attention to yourself, rock the boat and alienate friends. Does this make one a bad invigilator?

The insults and risk that comes when invigilators do their job

“I will piss on your grave!” That was the last statement given by a student on the way out from the examination hall to the Chief Invigilator. He was chased out after being caught cheating on his exam. The risk of retaliation is real. Invigilation is not for the faint at heart. Culprits might want to settle the issue outside the legal boundary and there is nothing the organisation can do about it.

Excuses, excuses time for a robot invigilator


I actually sometimes fear for my safety. I therefore, sometimes do not want to perform the role of an invigilator. It is not fun. There are no incentives for the risks taken, only fault-finding. There is nothing to learn in such an activity; at least from the invigilators point of view – or is there? What about the character and devotion spoken of earlier? These are not even measured as a part of one’s key performance indicators (KPI). These are all some of the common reasons (excuses) given in order to avoid performing the task as an invigilator. Of course, there are many other excuses that one can craft to avoid the pain in handling his or her duty and responsibility. Maybe give the task to someone else or an Invigilation Robot. Hopefully, the time will come when we will be able to enjoy an auto-invigilation environment. No manual interventions required. By then, ships will also probably be fully automated and not need any humans on board as well.

The term invigilation isn’t even in the STCW


A teacher on the other hand, as opposed to an invigilator, has many roles; designing programs, teaching subjects, coaching and mentoring are some examples. More often than not, a teacher will design, teach, assess and evaluate the programme as well. Some teachers may focus on research activities. These activities will make the teacher great. Invigilation is only a small part in the life of a teacher. Who really cares how many hours of invigilation one has done? The term is not even mentioned in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) Code, 1978. Some elite teachers have never done any invigilation duties in their life of teaching. They are “so busy” that they manage to outsource this task to others

Can you name one famous invigilator?


We have Bloom’s taxonomy; it is a part of a good teacher’s required vocabulary. So is Donald L Kirkpatrick’s training evaluation model (reaction, learning, behavior and results). Good teachers must also understand many models, including e.g., coaching models. There is also the matter of formative and summative assessments. There are many books written about teaching. Somehow, invigilation has yet to make it into the “big league”! For example, can one name any famous invigilators?

The most dangerous kind of invigilator


A teacher who acts as a friend is the most dangerous candidate for being an invigilator. The bond is so strong that they will tend to skip the procedures in order to maintain good relationships. It is not my fault. I do not want to be an invigilator. It was imposed upon me. What does one expect? Since not many want to do the job, organisations have to force it onto their faculty members.

Invigilators must uphold the integrity of the assessment system


What maritime education and training desperately needs are assessors. The assessors will conduct all assessments based on the criteria stipulated in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) Code, 1978. The focus would be on competency. Candidates are required to demonstrate their competency. Whereas, written assessments are skewed more towards the knowledge aspect only. Invigilators would thus be required to ensure the integrity of the assessment system.

And finally, the insignificant invigilator

Next time, when you meet someone on an airplane, tell her that you are an invigilator. Love it or hate it, an invigilator is indeed an insignificant role in the life of a maritime instructor.





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