Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Online exam cheating - a matter of trust and support

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels
One of the most discussed aspects of the last few months has been the issue of online examination. The sudden transition to online delivery worked reasonably well for teaching and collaboration, but teachers whose courses rely on traditional written examinations had difficulties and there are plenty of news stories on the increase in cheating in such settings. Many exams relied on makeshift invigilation via Zoom/Teams/Skype since there was no time to find a more secure option. Online proctoring systems were purchased by many institutions, often hastily, and have resulted in some privacy issues as illustrated in an article in Sydney Morning Herald, 'You’re being watched and recorded, every breath': Students unsettled by exam software.
It’s not fun, knowing you’re being watched and recorded, every breath and movement. It’s even more invasive than a normal exam. Someone is staring at just you, but you have no idea who it is.
In many cases it was not possible to change the whole assessment process so quickly since such changes in a curriculum must be announced to students before commencing the course. 

There's a good discussion on online cheating in an article in Inside Higher EdBest Way to Stop Cheating in Online Courses? ‘Teach Better’. It's based on a webcast, The Academic Integrity Braintrust, featuring three experts in the field, Tricia Bertram Gallant (University of California San Diego), Douglas Harrison (University of Maryland) and David RettingerUniversity of Mary Washington. One important point to remember when judging spring term 2020 is that it was a global crisis when all university education went online with virtually no preparation time. Students were forced to study from home, in less than perfect learning spaces and with often considerable pressure and stress. The temptation to cheat is very strong and if the opportunity arises to cut a corner, many of us will. 

An important factor that leads to cheating is when students feel isolated and out of touch with teachers and colleagues. Harrison picks up this theme:
... when students don’t feel connected and a sense of belonging to the learning community, whether it's online or face-to-face, they are more likely to detach from any sense of collective community responsibility or ethics and substitute for that a pure ethic of mercenary self-interest.
 Maybe increased focus on team-building activities and collaborative learning could create a climate where cheating becomes irrelevant, especially if the course builds on group assignments and the demonstration of skills. Ramping up surveillance and prevention only leads to a cat and mouse mentality. Harrison again:
We end up focusing on the worst possible negative outcomes that the most malicious and malintended student would engage in, rather than starting with, 'What’s the best teaching and learning experience I can construct and deliver for the vast majority of students who are there to learn authentically and who want to succeed?
As a way forward, David Rettinger offers a list of small scaleable changes for improving academic integrity, based largely on community building and the redesign of assignments and assessments. Establishing a sense of community takes time and requires careful planning, but if the class can agree on common ground rules for how they want to work this can lead to a sense of group loyalty that makes cheating extremely difficult to consider. Academic integrity issues need to be taught and discussed and institutional policies made clear to all. Basically, if the students are consulted and involved in how they learn they will be much less likely to cheat. In terms of examination forms, using numerous low-stake tests or assignments reduces stress and makes cheating less tempting.
Rettinger said he had replaced exams in some courses with lots of low-stakes quizzes -- with "stakes so low that it’s not worth cheating." When his courses do include final exams, they are open book, and all of the questions on them are drawn from those students have shared in discussion boards over the course of the term, so that "gives them a sense of control over the assignment."
Maybe this experience will see a drop in traditional 3-4 hour exam hall testing once our campuses open up again. Maybe we can move to more project-based assessment and assignments that reflect the skills and knowledge used in professional situations. Maybe ...