Proctoring and Academic Integrity

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Maintaining high standards of academic integrity is an essential feature of any class. It can be particularly difficult to prevent academic dishonesty in an online environment. Remote proctoring is one option, though it has some downside and is never fail-safe. Another option, with fewer downsides, is to create assessments that make it difficult to cheat in the first place. This section will briefly review both sets of options.

When a higher-stakes assessment, like a final exam, is necessary for your online course, you may need to consider how to proctor it. Remote proctoring options, like Respondus and ProctorU, allow for some degree of control over the environment (both physical and virtual) in which a student takes an exam. They either regulate students’ test-taking conditions (such as by ensuring that they are able to use only a single browser window during the exam) or monitor them while they complete their exam (typically by recording their screen and webcam). As such, they come with the downside of raising privacy concerns: with most remote proctoring, a student’s every move, both on their computer and in their exam-taking space, is being watched and recorded. In addition, there are technological challenges: some students, especially those who live in rural areas, may not have a stable enough internet connection to maintain the bandwidth that the proctoring service requires; and some students may not have the equipment they need (like a webcam) to satisfy the requirements of the proctoring. It may be advisable or necessary to offer a reasonable alternative (such as a directly comparable written exam) for students who do not have the resources necessary to complete a remote-proctored exam. Finally, it is important to realize that there is no way to guarantee that your students are not using prohibited resources when completing the exam. For example, remote proctoring software may provide good oversight over the machine a student is using to complete the exam, but it may have less ability – if any at all – to observe their use of a separate mobile device during the exam. Despite this, if it is necessary to have students complete a high-stakes assessment, in which no other way of ensuring academic integrity exists (such as those discussed below), then remote proctoring may be the best option for protecting against academic dishonesty.

Remote proctoring is not the only option for ensuring the integrity of a high-stakes assessment. After all, you, as the instructor, get to decide what constitutes cheating. If students are not breaking your rules (or those of the University), then they are not cheating. So is there any way to relax your rules while upholding the validity, rigor, and integrity of your assessment? One approach is to make your exam open-book: allow students to use whatever resources they have at their disposal while taking steps to ensure that the exam remains a good test of what they have learned. Even with an open-book exam that consists of multiple-choice questions, there are ways to improve the integrity of the assessment: when possible, use formula-based questions, for which an algorithm can generate unique versions of the question for each student; use application-based questions that require more than simply looking up an answer; avoid using publisher materials, since answers to these questions can typically be easily located online; and create a large test bank, with a subset of questions chosen at random, and in random order, so that no two students receive the same exam.

Avoiding multiple-choice exams altogether, if your class size permits it, is a more reliable way to ensure the integrity of an assessment, even when resources are available to the student. Clearly, a written exam can be administered open-book without much concern for academic dishonesty, provided that at least some originality safeguards are taken. For instance, you could ask students to apply concepts from class to novel real-world scenarios that they come up with, ensuring that each student is writing about something unique; or you could use a program like Turnitin to check for answers that have been copied from elsewhere. Finally, consider outside-the-box options that, by their very design, make academic dishonesty unlikely. For instance, consider oral exams over Zoom, or recorded presentations – both of which allow you to see your students’ faces and voices as they deliver their work. Creative projects completed over the course of the semester – ideally with some direct consultation with you – can be the gold standard: if such a project makes sense with your subject matter, it might be authentic, highly cheat-proof, and an excellent summative assessment of what a student has learned.

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