If the united sticks to the online assessment after COVID, they will have to do more to stop cheating
With face-to-face tuition returning after the COVID disruptions of the past two years, our research suggests that at least some Australian universities intend to continue assessment entirely online. Students say they think it’s easier to cheat online. There is evidence that it has increased with the move online.
Yet our research, covering 41 Australian universities, found little evidence of changes in their academic integrity policies (which apply to all courses) and practices (which may differ from subject to subject). to counter these problems. Our particular interest was in computer courses.
The use of software to automatically monitor students during online exams, known as remote monitoring, is increasingly common. Intuitively, this technology seems to have advantages in detecting cheating. However, many have expressed concerns about both the ethics and the effectiveness of these systems.
Read more: Unis uses artificial intelligence to make students pass exams honestly. But that creates its own problems
Life would be so much easier for educators if all they had to do was provide education for their students. But they are obligated to evaluate their students. It is an integral aspect of the education process.
Unfortunately, some view assessment results, rather than education, as the end goal.
Students rely on these results when applying for jobs. Employers rely on these same results to help them decide which graduates to hire. With so much at stake, there will always be students who choose to cheat.
COVID has forced hasty assessment changes
The pandemic has forced universities to hastily rethink many practices, including assessment. One of the main challenges was overseeing assessment tasks such as exams when they went live.
Educators and researchers reported an increase in academic misconduct afterward. Academic misconduct includes cheating, plagiarism, collusion, and fabricating or falsifying data.
Our universities are required to establish policies and practices to protect academic integrity. These policies should include education and training on best practices and actions to reduce the risk of cheating and other misconduct. Universities Australia has defined principles of good practice.
Read more: Both online and in-person exams have issues – that’s now clear. The United States have a window of opportunity to do better
Our research project explored changes to assessment practices as a result of COVID. We wanted to see how effective these measures might be in preventing academic misconduct. We reviewed the academic integrity policies and procedures of 41 Australian universities that offer computer science courses, interviewed key computer science educators at these universities, and interviewed computer science scholars.
What did the study find?
We found little evidence that academic integrity policies and procedures explicitly address COVID-induced circumstances.
Of the 41 universities, 38 offer online or distance education for computer science courses. Four offer most of their computer courses in online/distance mode. Only one does not offer any computer courses in online/distance mode.
But only five universities in the country recognize the possibility of online exams in their policies. Even in these five countries, there are no policy differences between online and face-to-face assessment tasks.
The inference seems to be that the rules and regulations that govern general academic integrity apply equally to all assessment tasks, including online tasks.
Some of our respondents expressed concern that current policies are not working. Of particular concern is the time and effort it takes to prepare a misconduct case against a student. An academic said:
“Any apology given by a student is automatically believed, despite overwhelming evidence of plagiarism. In addition, students claim they failed to complete the academic integrity module to obtain reduced sentences. It is inconceivable that a third-year student year don’t know what plagiarism is […] yet they receive warnings and no real consequences.
COVID has changed the needs and expectations of students. Research suggests that many students now prefer to study online. Universities need to consider students’ need for more flexibility, including offering online exams.
Read more: COVID has changed student needs and expectations. How are universities reacting?
Nonetheless, a number of our respondents noted an increase in cheating and other breaches of integrity when the review went live. Some noted that this could be partly due to the difficulties encountered by the students. An academic said:
Online exams and tests were a big challenge. Students have sometimes complained that their laptops freeze or their internet connection drops in the middle of the test. Such cases demanded the need to develop a new set of questions.
The abrupt shift to online education has left little time, anyway, to make substantial changes to assessment regimes. Classes that relied on personally supervised classroom tests and final exams continued with them, simply abandoning in-person supervision. In some cases, 24-hour exams have replaced two- or three-hour exams, or shorter exams have been performed in a longer window.
What can be done to restore integrity?
One or two suggested approaches might be promising.
Many respondents highlighted the need to develop new types of questions. These would be designed to be less likely to seek answers in web searches, student collusion, and contract fraud, where students pay other people to do their jobs. The Higher Education Quality and Standards Agency’s recently updated database lists 2,333 suspected fraudulent business websites, 579 of which specifically target students in our higher education sector.
Read more: 1 in 10 college students submit assignments written by someone else – and most get away with it
Unfortunately, these approaches invariably seem to involve more work for academics. Moreover, they seemed unlikely to achieve the integrity typically offered by face-to-face supervised examinations.
With the resumption of face-to-face classes, will universities restore the old assessment mix, including in-person proctored tests and exams? Some of our respondents indicated that their universities intended to continue the assessment entirely online. No one has told us that their universities are changing their policies or procedures to better protect academic integrity in these circumstances.
The author would like to thank all the team members who worked on this project: Sander JJ Leemans, Queensland University of Technology; Regina Berretta, University of Newcastle; Ayse Bilgin, Macquarie University; Trina Myers, Queensland University of Technology; Judy Sheard, Monash University; Simon, formerly of Newcastle University; Lakmali Herath Jayarathna, Central Queensland University; and Christoph Niesel, Queensland University of Technology.