Tip: Technology and Academic Integrity
If we are going to meaningfully engage in making our classrooms more equitable spaces, we need to engage in conversation about the educational technology tools we choose to use in these spaces.
As we look to the fall, one concern I have repeatedly heard from faculty is: What can we do about exams? (and more broadly, issues of academic integrity in remote online courses). When we first pivoted online, I offered a couple resources on non-proctored assessment; today I want to provide a little more information for us to consider as we think about how we will design our fall courses for remote delivery.
"Phones R Good 4 Cheats" by Mr_Stein is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Why should we be concerned about technology and assessment?
In a recent editorial, How Students Cheat Online, and Why Stopping Them Matters, the founder of ProctorU makes the argument that stopping cheating is vital to the entire reputation of the institution, and by extension to us as faculty: “If a degree program is compromised because the final exam can be found online, the wrong person takes the test or a student cheats to get an A, the institution could suffer significant harm to its reputation and pedigree. If society at large loses confidence in the validity of education credentials, their value to students is destroyed.”
It’s hard not to be concerned when stories in the popular press have flourished, such as a recent New York Times article, Keeping Online Testing Honest? Or an Orwellian Overreach?, which quotes research claiming that:“In surveys, about one in three students say they have cheated in online tests — about the same as the proportion who admit to cheating offline.” And we all have personal examples of students we have caught cheating, stories that confirm our collective sense that cheating is an issue of vital importance. It not only violates our sense of what is fair, but it feels like a personal attack on our integrity as an instructor.
In counterpoint, there are many voices who ask us to consider that it is not just an issue of cheating. It’s an issue of equity. Saying that we use technology to mediate (to surveil) our students’ experiences with our classes is giving that technology more power over our students than we may have considered.
Shea Sweager’s article, Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education, is a deep dive into the ethics of automated test proctoring services and the harm they can do to students, particularly underserved/underrepresented students. The author asks us to consider who is served - and who is left out or outright harmed - by technology-mediated surveillance.
Anytime people from a non-dominant group seek to participate in education, predictable counter arguments emerge that rest on the belief that their inclusion would harm current students, academic standards, productivity, etc. Algorithmic proctoring companies capitalize on colleges’ and universities’ preexisting discriminatory fears by first stoking those fears and then selling products to alleviate them
Audrey Watter’s post on School Work and Surveillance warns us to consider that “surveillance is always caught up in the inequalities students already experience in our educational institutions” and concludes with a plea for trust:
Too often in education and ed-tech, we have confused surveillance for care. We need to watch students closely, we tell ourselves, because we want them to be safe and to do well. But caring means trusting, and trusting means being able to turn off a controlling gaze.
If we are going to meaningfully engage in the work of making our classrooms more equitable spaces, more welcoming spaces, for our students, it seems reasonable to engage in conversation about the benefits and the harm of educational technology tools we choose to use in these spaces.
What should we do?
Douglas Harrison’s article, Online Education and Authentic Assessment, argues that the answer is changing the way we assess students: “authentic assessment - such as case studies, scenario-based projects and word problems - can often represent a superior way of measuring students’ learning, engaging and empowering them to demonstrate knowledge rather than demanding that they prove their worth via high-stakes exams.”
Thomas Tobin, in Student Agency in Uncertain Times proposes four things we can do to help alleviate the pressure on students to cheat:
Lower time pressure. Consider eliminating time limits, or putting more generous time limits, on timed activities. (This also helps to make the assignment more equitable for students with internet access issues, students with frequent interruptions from children, students who are simply slower readers or who are less confident test-takers.)
Lower due-date pressure. Balance pedagogical need for due dates (draft 1 needs to be done before draft 2; quizzes should help a student prepare for the exam) with your ability to grade assignments (we can’t grade hundreds of items on the last day of class), and consider flexible due dates for some assignments.
I have about half the assignments for my classes set with no due dates except a couple days before the end of the semester. I provide the students with a recommended schedule to stay on track with these assignments, and reminder announcements each week saying, “Hey, you should have completed 1, 2, 3, and 4…” but there are no due dates and I grade them as they come in.
Lower grade anxiety. Consider more lower-stakes assignments - these offer more opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery, and less risk if a student messes one of the assignments up. (See also specifications grading, labor-based grading, or ungrading for other schools of thought on grading.)
Lower communication anxiety. I think about this as meeting students where they are. I explicitly tell students - in the syllabus, in introductory videos and announcements, and repeatedly over the semester - that I promise to support them in the following specific ways: I accept late work, I will offer extensions so that they can complete work, I encourage (in fact, in many cases I require) students to re-do assignments that they didn’t do well on the first time.
Yes, putting all these suggestions together may mean a student has more time to Google answers or get help on an assignment. But pause a moment and think about what is a better learning experience: student takes a quiz, doesn’t know the answers, runs out of time, and they fail. Or, student takes a quiz, doesn’t know the answers, chats with classmates, Googles some terms, comes back to the quiz, and gets some of the responses correct. Then they have a two-day waiting period - during which hopefully they are reviewing or at least letting it all stew a bit - after which they come back and take the quiz again. This time they pass the quiz.
If this quiz is worth 10% of the overall class grade, obviously that not only increases the likelihood that the student will want to get help on the assignment, but there’s also the legitimate concern about whether that quiz should “count” as truly demonstrating mastery of the content. But if the quiz is one of 12 they do over the semester, and they have opportunities to re-do quizzes, and perhaps the lowest grade will be dropped…there’s much less motivation to do the work of cheating. Or this is my hope!
I would love to hear your thoughts - what are your concerns about cheating on papers and exams? About the use of educational technology to assess or evaluate students? What do you do to address the issue of academic integrity in your courses?
For further reading:
This white paper on academic integrity has many more suggestions about authentic assessment.
For more about academic integrity as a feature built into assessment design, here’s a one hour webinar: Going Remote With Integrity 2.0: Technological Tips & Techniques
For a bit of a challenge against a system of surveillance: Against Cop Shit (pardon the language - his, not mine)
For more discussion of varies issues around designing remote learning, the Hybrid Pedagogy site has many articles, including Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel’s article, A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin.