When COVID forced classes off campus and onto the internet at the start of the pandemic, University faculty, staff, and students scrambled to adjust. A wrench was thrown into academia as we know it, affecting the very means by which students receive and digest information – as well as how they're tested on it. The playing field for academic integrity changed, and shifting circumstances led to a spike in infractions across the world. In response, institutions have gone to great lengths to mitigate cheating and plagiarism – but how far is too far?
Cheating in the Pandemic Era
Online and in-person classes are not created equal. In the pre-pandemic era, classes that were offered online respected this truth. But in the eleventh-hour scramble to convert on-campus classes for a remote classroom, some issues fell through the cracks – namely exams. Institutions across the world recorded a staggering increase in the occurrence of cheating when classes went online. This is due to a host of reasons:
- Students were under dramatically more stress when making the switch online. From connectivity challenges to privacy concerns to general pandemic-related worries, students were bringing a lot of baggage to the classroom.
- Ambiguity exists in some cases as to what was permissible in an exam setting. With students accustomed to utilizing the internet as a resource, it was not always clearly defined what tools, if any, were at the student's disposal.
- Opportunities to cheat were simply much more prevalent than in the classroom. Students took to social media and file-sharing platforms to help each other pass exams, and that contributed to quadruple the frequency of alleged cheating infractions in some areas of the world.
The Exam Reboot
The latest exploration in anti-cheating technology is a robot that writes custom exams for test-takers. A UK university is trialing the bespoke A.I. software to generate unique datasets for each student sitting an exam. The thought is that a custom exam for each student in a class would prevent students who have taken the test from widely sharing the exam questions and answers with the remaining students who have not.
There are many potential questions that must be answered in order to protect student rights. Specifically – how can it be validated that all versions of the exam are equally challenging? What prevents the software from drafting versions of the test that are markedly more difficult than others?
The best-case scenario for students is a fundamental shift in how knowledge is assessed. Some professors are choosing to proctor short oral exams to verify students' learning, while others are moving away from high-stakes exams to more regular tests and quizzes.
In any case, student life today looks dramatically different than it did a few years ago. Students must continue to advocate for their own well-being and fair treatment in the academic arena. Students also have an ally in Joseph D. Lento and the team at the Lento Law Firm. Reach out at 888-535-3686 to discuss your academic integrity challenges in the face of online learning.