Fair assessment: tackling the rise in online cheating
The move to online learning has seen a big increase in academic misconduct such as plagiarism. Camilla Roberts explains how careful planning of online teaching and assessment can minimise cheating
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Since the beginning of the pandemic, colleges and universities have seen an increase in academic integrity violations, possibly caused by student stress and the transition to remote delivery methods.
Even outside the pandemic, an instructor has multiple opportunities to foster the reduction of academic integrity violations in his or her course through course design, information given to students and student interaction.
It is important to first examine some reasons why students might cheat.
1. The pressure to succeed: Students are often pressured to maintain certain grades for scholarships or future graduate studies. When the student sees that their grades are not what they want or need, they may turn to dishonest ways to get the grade they want.
2. Everyone else is doing it: If a student is studying and doing all their homework yet is only making a C, when they see that another student is cheating, without being caught, and making an A, there is a potential for the C student to attempt to do whatever necessary to make the A.
3. Material is not relevant: Students who do not see the relevance of the material may choose to not put much time into the course and may cheat to get a passing grade.
4. Poor time management: This can lead students to act in desperate ways, attempting to get answers, often from the internet, at the last minute before a deadline.
5. Misunderstanding of policy: Students may not understand what constitutes academic misconduct in the institution or course.
What can be done?
Instructors can have a significant influence on levels of plagiarism and cheating via online course design decisions. The modes of teaching and assessment can either encourage or discourage students’ academic integrity so require careful consideration.
Assessment types: The methods of assessment in the face-to-face course may not work online. Do current assessments accurately show that the student has memorised information or has a true mastery of the subject? Instructors should move from a few high-stakes assessments, such as four exams per semester worth 25 per cent each, to more regular lower-stakes assessments, such as weekly quizzes accounting for 50 per cent, two projects for 20 per cent, and three exams for 30 per cent, thus reducing the value and stress associated with one assignment.
E-proctoring: Should the students’ assessments be proctored, either via an e-proctoring company offering live, recorded or automated proctoring, or by the professor themselves via videoconference? E-proctoring can be useful. However, it is important to understand some concerns. The cost of e-proctoring may not be feasible for the student or institution. E-proctoring could be distracting to students, especially those with some intellectual disabilities. E-proctoring may not be necessary if the instructor adapts assessments to a form where proctoring would not be necessary.
Exams: If instructors use traditional exams, they should use the tools within the learning management system (LMS) to randomise questions; use a question bank to pull a variety of questions; randomise answers to questions; and view the metadata of students’ exams such as time started/submitted and timing of answering each question.
Teaching academic integrity
Students must be made aware of the guidelines and expectations for the course, through the syllabus, through conversations during the course or, ideally, both.
Instructors must take time to fully explain the institutional policy of academic integrity. When students know that they will be held accountable, they are less likely to cheat. The course syllabus should also include information about what academic integrity means personally.
The syllabus or assignment guidelines should include expectations of authorised and unauthorised sources of aid or collaboration. Instructors should take time to discuss these expectations, sharing some concrete examples of authorised aid or collaboration.
Instructors should have conversations about the implications of the course on the students’ career, major or future life and success, demonstrating how plagiarism is detrimental to long-term learning.
Building trust and respect
More so than the course design or the information provided to students, building a professional supportive relationship with all your students will likely reduce academic integrity concerns.
Students want and need connections at the institution. These connections build mutual respect. When that respect is present, it is less likely that the student would do anything to break that respect.
These basic steps help to build a professional relationship:
Learn all students’ names and use them
Have regular office hours during which students can book one-to-ones via Zoom or other platforms
Be willing to meet with students outside posted office hours if needed, especially if the student has another course during the posted hours
Give useful, informative and timely feedback on assignments.
The above suggestions are necessary not only during this time of stress and transition, but should be applied in any circumstances when teaching. In most cases, students are attending higher education to learn and better themselves. They do not enter to be academically dishonest. Therefore, as instructors it is our job to provide the support and assistance needed to deter or reduce the temptation to cheat.
Camilla Roberts is director, honour and integrity system at Kansas State University.