The final exams and papers that assess student performance are an incentive for students to do their very best work. If assessments become compromised, it threatens the whole institution. A systematic appraisal of the interplay between online test administration software, cheating prevention, and student dignity surfaces some principles and strategies to help make the best online test administration software choices. A crucial stratagem is engaging with students to understand their view of the appropriate balance.
Students, parents, school administrators, faculty, and employers are all aligned around academic integrity. They want it. Without academic integrity, the whole value chain of education falls. It’s a social contract, but it got frayed by the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.
Students did not get the collegiate experience that they were expecting. Sports were canceled. There were no parties, concerts, or dances. Gone were the everyday cues in school that remind you to do your own work and play by the rules. In their place were only videoconferences.
Students paying $50-$70,000 to develop their minds collegially in a bucolic campus got something very different for the last 15 months. The deal has been broken. It is easy to understand how some students feel like they deserve to cut some corners. Some students violate the rules of exams and get outside help. Others crib their final papers from online sources. It is also easy to understand how the vast majority of students trying to make the best of a lousy situation see the few’s actions as a betrayal. Furthermore, they see the ad hoc implementation of proctoring technology by their schools as just another letdown. Systems are either not effective in stopping non-independent test-taking and, perversely, threatening to catch innocent students up in suspicion.
A lot has been written on how to prevent cheating, not so much on the moral obligation of colleges and universities to advance student learning while doing so. It’s time to take 20 steps back and get a handle on academic integrity from a perspective where the students’ dignity is given more consideration.
Five ways to put students first in online test administration software cheating prevention:
Schools often just started using proctoring software by dictat. Schools just told students that they are using it with no debate or opportunity to discuss the options and rationale. The objective of invigilation is clear. For example, this sentence from UC Berkeley’s Guidance and Recommendations on Proctoring from spring 2020:
The perception that others in a class are benefiting from misconduct can undermine the culture of integrity that allows a fair exam process, creating an incentive for misconduct.
Students need to believe that the institution is doing their best to curb the student misconduct AND that if there is misconduct, it is not going to disadvantage them if they play by the rules. The Berkeley Guidance continues,
It is important that students perceive that they will not be disadvantaged by the misconduct of other students, a problem that can be exacerbated by curve grading. Instructors should explain that they have processes for detecting misconduct...their exam process is focused on assessing learning not creating a competition, and that cheating is taken seriously.
Just siccing a video robocop on students’ remote exams doesn’t solve the problem. It’s an important part and perhaps the most visible manifestation of a school’s commitment to fairness. Ensuring academic integrity involves a range of efforts that begins with an organizational commitment often solemnized with an “Honor Code.” For the online exam itself, invigilation requires some key proctoring features to be successful.
There are no two ways about it. Being watched and listened to by the webcam and camera is an intrusion into a student’s personal life. But using invigilation efforts that are not robust enough can be worse than using nothing at all. An analogy is treating an infection with antibiotics. The doctor will advise you to use the whole course of medication. Less than the therapeutic protocol may not cure the disease and may help breed superbugs that are resistant to the antibiotic. Acknowledging the impact of remote proctoring on students’ rights and privacy is the first step. Having a dialogue with students about the importance of academic integrity to the value of their educational experience helps create the culture of honesty necessary to preserve it.
Asking students to accept the intrusion into the personal lives that good exam invigilation makes requires a level of trust between the school, the faculty, and the student. Radical transparency can go a long way toward building that trust. Students have good reason to be distrustful of the kind of data collection involved in test invigilation. They have read about the security breaches in financial services, the micro-targeting predations of Facebook, and the algorithmic bias that has disadvantaged women, people of color, and the lower socio-economic class. There is little reason for them to expect that technology companies involved in remote test proctoring would be any different.
Students are protected by a body of laws that address this issue. The privacy laws like the GDPR of the EU, California’s CCPA and CPRA, and Illinois BIPA guarantee that data collected in remote proctoring won’t be put to nefarious use. Other jurisdictions may not have these protections in place, so it is incumbent on proctoring companies to police themselves to these standards. Some proctoring companies go further. Innovative companies disclose the rationale for collecting, processing, and retaining this data. And they do it in a way that is easy to understand and actionable by students, faculty, and educational institutions. At Rosalyn, we strive for this kind of radical transparency.
The vast majority of students want a level playing field, where each student has a fair shot at scoring well on a test. University of California academic integrity researcher Tricia Bertram Gallant says that “cheating is often spontaneous, situational, and opportunistic and not the result of a conscious and careful cost-benefit analysis.” Gallant agrees that there is an epidemic of cheating in high schools, with 51% of students admitting exam cheating and 31% admitting plagiarism. However, 99% of those same students agreed that “it’s important for me to be a person with good character.” Lapses in academic integrity are just that, lapses. Gallant then argues that ethical development is a moral charge for schools.
Students, even students who make ethical lapses, believe they are good people and want to do the right thing. Creating the most favorable conditions in the academic environment where integrity is expected by peers, facilitated by the learning environment, and esteemed in the classroom is the key to stamping out cheating. It requires changing the mindset of exam invigilation from law enforcement to the educational development colleges are morally bound to deliver.
Cheating IS an existential threat to academia. So is the trampling of student’s rights and dignity by careless exam invigilation. Schools have found ways to move forward with assessments during the Covid pandemic. Still, the cracks are beginning to show in the bond of trust between students, faculty, and colleges. A systematic appraisal of the interplay between online test administration software, cheating prevention, and student dignity surfaces some principles and strategies to help repair the rift. A crucial part of all of them is engaging with students to understand their view of the balance better. At Rosalyn, we have embraced this dialogue by empaneling an industry-first Student Advisory Board to gain insights into the student perspective and better support the culture of academic integrity necessary to the best educational experience.