Where Does Academic Integrity Stand In The Online Era?
Macquarie University's Learning and Teaching community blog opened a debate related to the consequences a jump from face-to-face teaching to online teaching can have for academic integrity.
The response to the coronavirus pandemic by teachers is undergoing a gigantic change in terms of the combination of assessment methods many or most teachers will use in universities worldwide. The greatest and maybe the most startling change for many is to shift away from controlled and monitored on-campus exams. The necessity of physical distancing has led to the decision in many universities to partially suspend the use of face-to-face monitored evaluations of class work such as written and practical examinations.
Online Monitored Evaluations
At first, educators’ hope was that remotely prepared online proctoring services would solve this problem. However, this hope has dissolved in recent days. A current article by Pr. Michael Sankey, President of ACODE (Austalasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning), points out that more and more university teaching and learning experts have come to the conclusion that online proctored exams are not a good fit in the current environment, that it won't be enough. The explanation for this includes that technology and human adaptation do not advance at the same pace.
Online monitoring or proctoring is viewed as an extremely new and sophisticated technology for both students and educators to embrace in a short period of time and it's also conceived as very expensive to implement in a time of serious economic difficulties.
Additionally, it is widely believed that service providers will be overrun by demand. In the last 10 days, we have already heard leaders at many universities seriously limit or forbid the use of online proctoring through service providers. In almost every location where remote monitoring is being considered, it is also being fairly heavily restricted. If online proctoring is used, the community of academics, students and administrators will need substantial additional resources and technical support if they are to achieve acceptable results. Viable examples do exist. The University of New England, for instance shifted to online monitored exams over a long period after serious planning for resources and support.
Online Non-supervised Assessments
As a result of these developments, we can see a significant increase in the amount of online non-supervised assessments being used to replace the traditional written examination. This incorporates day-to-day assignments and projects, take-home time- restricted tasks and non-supervised online tests.
Others, though fewer, are considering standards such as online Viva Voce quizzes or online presentations. These arrangements mean that, as the present semester advances, there is a good chance new opportunities will appear in the general academic integrity arena. In a normal semester, people tended to view monitored face to face quizzes as a backstop in the general assessment integrity structure of their curricular unit. In a way it was seen as a balancing component in the general set of checks and balances that conserve an acceptable environment of academic integrity.
It is clear that the change in assessment techniques and the sharp line in in-person proctoring, provides multiple opportunities for cheating, though it is important to note that most cheating takes place via commercial service contracts. Tracey Bretag's (2018) research into contract cheating has revealed that a constant portion of cheating occurs and is affected by different factors including recognized opportunities to cheat, threat of detection, the perceived value of assessment tasks and the quality of students’ support mechanisms.
While a global perspective on academic integrity would surely advocate the inclusion of a toolset of support, detection and education measures, the previous mix of measures probably cannot now cope with the shift. In years past, text-matching devices were useful since much cheating involved plagiarism from digital sources and it required little work on the part of the professor. However, such devices are no longer useful in detecting custom written work done by contract cheating. It could be argued, in fact, that well known use of text matching pushed the “cheating market” into the control of contract cheating services.
Technology that would allow automated detection of external custom work is not commonly used as yet, and there is limited proof to date about their accuracy and effectiveness. Assuming that online detection is not realistic in the short-medium term, the work of identifying contract cheating mainly falls on academic staff. But questions remain: can they really detect contract cheating? Would we still be maintaining academic integrity standards?
There is hope on the horizon, a hope that predicts that there are possible ways forward on a time scale acceptable to society given the fast pivot to online teaching in this time of coronavirus.
One of these concerns research by Philip Dawson and colleagues at Deakin University who have carried out practical investigation into the viability of providing academic teaching personnel with the capability to effectively detect and evidence instances of contract cheating. While detection isn't suggested as the “only” answer, it will play a central role in, maintaining the general structure of academic integrity, in a moment where in-person monitoring can no longer play the role it played in the past.
Another possibility is to return to the tried and true method of oral assessment, but in a form that is adapted to the contemporary online world. One authentic approach can be found in the Griffith model. This approach requires that students choose time periods using online booking tools and give short oral presentations or live talks as if they were real tasks, assisted by online video conferencing platforms. The team from Griffith University Business School has created a guide called “interactive oral assessment”. It has been tried with classes of over 300 students. The Griffith team presented a Transforming Assessment webinar on “Authentic online oral assessment (an exam replacement)” that might well be worth examining.
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