Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Academic Integrity and Cheating on Exams

Just as technology can be used as a tool for learning, it can also be used by students as a tool for cheating. Cheating appears to be part of life. Just when we figure out how to prevent cheating with one strategy, students come up with a way around it. Once it was sufficient to prohibit students from having their cell phones with them during tests, but now there are wearable technology devices that can be used to cheat (Adkins, 2016).

Do Students Admit to Cheating?

The Josephson Institute on Ethics surveyed 23,000 American high school and college students about their frequency and perception of cheating. More than half (51%) admitted to cheating on an exam one or more times in the past academic year. Fifty-seven percent of students surveyed agreed with the statement, "In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating." For more statistics and information visit Cheating in College: The Numbers and Research.

Students have indicated that they cheat by texting answers to other students, snapping pictures of an exam using their phone or other mobile device, using their device to search the internet for answers during an exam, purchasing term papers and test banks, hiring someone to take online courses for them, and creating fake test scores or letters or recommendation for college admission (Best College Reviews, 2016).

When asked why they cheat, students gave many reasons. Those reasons included peer pressure, to help a friend, the gains outweigh the penalties, academic pressure, low chances of being caught, no honor code or rules stated, low impression of the value of the class and/or tests and assignments, and not enough time to prepare. According to Adkins (2016), as we prepare our students to be competent professionals it is important to instill in them a mindset of integrity. In order to foster this culture of integrity, institutions have begun using services that authenticate learner identity and monitor student performance during exams.

Test Proctoring Perceptions

Many institutions have implemented test proctoring as a way to reduce cheating. The four most common proctoring modalities reported by faculty in the Annual Proctoring & Learner Authentication Survey are: an approved human proctor; test centers; instructor as proctor; and live-virtual proctoring. The survey found that faculty are most satisfied when they proctor their own exams or use a testing center located on campus. The lowest level of satisfaction came from the use of automated virtual proctoring. Faculty perceived an instructor proctored exam as creating the strongest psychological deterrent to cheating with virtual proctoring having the lowest deterrent.

Those faculty perceptions are echoed by students in the survey findings. Students reported that it is most difficult to cheat when an exam is proctored by the instructor. Students rated comfort and convenience as much stronger factors in their decision about a proctoring modality than cost.

Tools and Techniques to Prevent Cheating

Here are some ways that educators can reduce the opportunity to cheat:
  • Ban all electronic devices from the exam room (this would include watches, phones, calculators, and other mobile devices).
  • Check students hands as they come in for the exam - could be done casually with a handshake.
  • Use teaching assistants to monitor exam room if instructor is not available.
  • Randomly check student ID's in order to prevent imposters from filling in for students during an exam (especially if it is being proctored by someone who does not know each student)
  • Walk around the exam room to prevent students from communicating covertly.
  • Be alert to physical signals such as coughing and tapping.
  • Create fresh new tests to avoid the possibility of the answers being available online.
  • Keep test materials locked up and passwords unique and strong.
  • Create multiple versions of tests and alternate the distribution of the versions to the students or utilize the randomization feature in the Moodle quiz tool.
  • Remind students of the academic code of conduct before an exam begins. Having students sign a pledge before a test or exam can reduce cheating. For example, before a student can begin the online exam, they must open a separate quiz with only one question - do they agree to honor the academic code of conduct during the exam?
  • Use open book tests and have students explain their work on the exam. This approach allows them to use whatever study materials they want, but explaining their reasoning indicates their understanding of the concepts.
  • Prepare students for learning instead of just test-taking by indicating how the course learning objectives will be met.

How Can We Foster Academic Integrity?

  1. Stay informed about emerging technologies and their impact on testing integrity.
  2. Talk to students about the code of conduct for academic integrity. It is not enough to just bring it up on the first day of class when discussing the syllabus. According to Adkins (2016), one of the most common excuses that students make when confronted with a testing violation is that "no one told me that doing this was wrong." Make your expectations clear and go over the rules for each exam.
  3.  Teach your students about academic integrity. Training should affirm and encourage actions that are honorable and inform students about the actions that are not honorable and the ramifications both professionally and academically. Some faculty members have students sign an integrity statement as an early assignment in their course, and others have students sign one every time they take an online exam as a reminder of the expected behavior.
  4. Be involved in your course. When a faculty member is actively engaged in a course then the student is more likely to feel that cheating is a violation of that relationship. When the human element is removed from an online course, the student may feel that they are not letting the instructor down if they cheat.
  5. Take a multi-modal approach. It is a good practice to provide several modalities of proctoring and not allow students to do all their testing with just one. Be creative with this. It may be easy and time effective to re-use the same test banks over and over but students can easily share and/or purchase this information. Moodle makes it easy to build a large test bank of questions that can be rotated, modified and re-purposed.
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