I can’t give secure assessments in a remote teaching-and-learning setting!

Don’t tell anyone: there’s a dirty little secret here!

I have some bad news: people cheat.

More specifically, students cheat on tests and other assessments.

So, how do you give secure assessments in a remote teaching-and-learning setting? It’s all too easy for students to use resources that are not allowed on a particular assessment; it’s all too easy for students to share and copy both answers and work.

A partial solution manages to avoid loss of integrity, with the bonus of giving better assessments. For many years I have been giving quizzes, tests, and exams that are open-note, open-calculator, and open-book. The advantages are that the assessments are more authentic; they can test real thinking, concepts, and knowledge, not just memorized facts; and there is no need to detect some of the more blatant forms of cheating, such as sneaking in notes written on hands or inside water bottles or using calculators inappropriately. The disadvantage is that it requires rewriting some of the routine questions that so many of us have written in the past, but it’s well worth taking that time.

I said above that the resources problem is partially solvable. The difficulty is the internet. If you allow internet access, the field is wide open and who knows what students can find, including calling a friend. I don’t know how to prevent this kind of cheating when we’re all at home and there’s no proctoring at all. You can make some progress by requiring students to show all work, but even that can be cribbed. More creatively, you make some progress by requiring students to make a video showing how they solved a particular problem, but that too doesn’t prevent getting unauthorized help before the video begins.

This problem, of course, is not really new — it’s just that the pandemic has forced many of us to confront it in a new way. Some places make students agree to an honor code; in fact, there are a few schools and colleges that have had a long-standing policy of giving entirely unproctored exams, either in the classroom or take-home. Apparently that works, though I don’t quite understand how. I do think that it must require a long-standing culture, as recent cheating scandals at Harvard and at Stuyvesant High School suggest that a hybrid environment in this regard is not effect. What makes me uneasy is that it’s our obligation as teachers to help students resist cheating, not necessarily through regimented proctoring but at least by agreeing not to put temptation in their way too blatantly.

So what’s the solution>

Categories: Teaching & Learning, Technology