3 Reasons why proctoring an exam using Zoom is a bad idea

March 31, 2020

Lots of people have been asking me about using Zoom to proctor exams. I’ve taught over 100 online courses, between the graduate courses I’ve taught for the Werklund School of Education and dozens of continuing education courses.

Combining that experience with research expertise in academic integrity, I can say that using Zoom to proctor written exams is a bad idea. Here’s why:

1. Zoom is not a substitute for a professional proctoring service

Professional proctoring services are sophisticated, both in terms of technology and operations. Asking an individual professor to proctor an online exam using Zoom as a makeshift solution is a bad idea. Most instructors are not trained on how to proctor online exams.

Given that some instructors are also working from home, while managing child care and family responsibilities, it is even less likely that they could do an excellent job of online invigilation, especially for a large class.

2. Creates additional technology barriers for students

Not all students have web cams or reliable Internet service. Requiring students to have cameras on and stream video during an exam could put some students at a technological disadvantage. If you suddenly require them to buy a web cam, you could be adding financial stress to the equation as well.

At our university, we cannot penalize students if they do not have a video camera. If you did not tell students at the time they registered for the course that a web cam would be required for the course, it is unethical to suddenly make it a requirement partway through the course. If we want students to act with integrity, we must demonstrate integrity in how we run our courses… Changing the rules as you go along just isn’t ethical.

3. Things are not always as they seem

My colleague, D’Arcy Norman, shared this post on how and why the video feed is not necessarily trustworthy. Go read his post. Watch his video. They try it yourself and see how easy it is to create a video background that makes it look like you’re in front of your camera when you’re not. (Hint: It is really easy.)

Besides, if an instructor suspects exam misconduct are they going to use Zoom as their evidence? How would they actually be able to prove it? I mean unless a student has crib notes out in plain view, the case management for that could get messy fast. Chances are high, I would say, that an allegation of academic misconduct could be dismissed (in the student’s favour) if the evidence is not strong enough.

There are few benefits and many potential complications with using Zoom to proctor written exams, especially for large classes. Of course, the exception to this would be individual oral exam where the student interacts in real time with the examiner. That could be do-able via Zoom. In the case of graduate student thesis defences, it may be the only option, but the examination committee must take steps to verify the identity of the student if they are not personally known to at least one of the examiners.

My recommendation is to consider alternate assessments if possible. If it is not possible, then consider a professional online exam proctoring service. Trying to use Zoom to MacGyver your exam invigilation of written tests is probably not going to serve the purpose of upholding integrity.

Note: This post was updated on April 13, 2020 to clarify that I am specifically referring to written exams in this post.

Related posts:

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


COVID-19, Contract Cheating and Academic Integrity in Online Courses: What you need to know

March 16, 2020
man creating a presentation on laptop

Photo by Canva Studio on Pexels.com

With the increased response to COVID-19 there has been a concurrent escalation in predatory and unethical practices such as price gouging on hand sanitizer and cleaning products on Amazon and online books suddenly popping up for sale about COVID-19, with material entirely plagiarized from free online news sources.

Of particular concern for academic integrity has been a notable spike in aggressive contract cheating marketing. To stay focused on teaching and learning, here are some strategies to help:

Talk to your students about academic integrity.

Emphasize that it is important for them not to engage with any third party offering “help”. Be straight with your students: Contract cheating and “homework help” companies do not care about students! Educators and family members care about students. Tell your students: “Do not hire a third party to complete your academic work for you. Ever!”

Remind students not to give their login credentials for learning management system (LMS) to anyone.

We know that contact cheating companies pay students in exchange for their login credentials. The companies then go in and harvest whatever they can – notes, slide decks, exemplars from previous students, and whatever else they can find. They will do this for every course the student is registered in, plus any previous courses to which the student still has access. Downloading this material takes only a few minutes. The companies then re-sell these items on their own websites.

Refrain from posting sample work from previous students!

Because of the predatory nature of contract cheating companies, I recommend that you avoid posting examples of students’ work anywhere online, even with their permission. If you wish to share examples of work, do it during a live synchronous session by sharing your own screen. Do not share entire papers this way, but rather a couple of pages, preferably with random sections redacted.

This way students can still get an idea of what a model paper looks like, while simultaneously engaging in conversation with you about your expectations for the assignment.

This does not prevent people from downloading the work because a motivated individual could still take screen shots and share them; but it does make unauthorized or predatory re-sharing more difficult.

Align your teaching practices with what your institution already has in place.

Many institutions have, or are rapidly developing, resources to help instructors. Now is not the time to create your own personal honor code and require students to sign it. That could cause issues of unfair assessment or unanticipated appeals later on. If your institution does not have what you are looking for, ask them for it, or better yet, work with colleagues to develop it.

Although you may be worried about students cheating in online courses, rest assured that there is plenty of highly credible evidence to support that there is not necessarily more cheating in online courses. (See Harris et al., 2019, for very recent research on this topic.) What we DO need to be prepared for though, is a barrage of companies who want to prey on our learners at a time of rapid change and vulnerability. Now is the time to exercise care and caution. Protect your learners from predators!

Related posts:

The Impact of COVID-19 on Academic Integrity https://wp.me/pNAh3-2ra

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Academic Integrity

March 10, 2020
woman wearing face mask

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

This past week I attended the annual conference of the International Center for Academic Integrity in Portland, OR. Participants shared news stories and websites such as Worldometer Coronavirus, which gives daily updates on COVID-19. During our stay last week, both California and Washington states, which flank Oregon to the south and north respectively, declared states of emergency. And on the last day of the conference, Oregon followed suit, as many of us headed to the airport for our already scheduled flights home.

We followed news stories with interest about large schools such as Washington State University closed to undertake “deep cleaning”. Within days it became clear that the university would not be re-opening for on campus classes, but instead would be moving all spring classes online, effective immediately.

An abrupt shift to online learning at this scale is unheard of in the history of education. No doubt educational historians of the future will look back on this as a pivotal and challenging time in terms of a rapid re-think of education, with online learning being seen as a viable alternative at a time of this global health crisis. Resources such as this one from the Chronicle of Higher education are quickly popping up about how schools and educators can move to online learning quickly.  As one news report points out, there are implications for academic integrity when teaching and learning approaches shift dramatically in a short time.

Proctoring services are available for online exams, but they are not free. Instructors who lack skills and experience with online teaching may find themselves at a loss with how to re-design assessments such as quizzes and tests that they have only ever given in a face-to-face classroom. Students may find themselves confused and frustrated as their learning environments and assignments change quickly and without sufficient communication about what is expected of them.

There is no doubt that institutions that choose to move away from traditional classroom-based learning to online learning quickly will experience growing pains, but hope is not lost. As this article from a group of researchers at the University of Maryland University College reminds us, academic misconduct is not necessarily more prevalent in online courses. It is important to keep the focus on teaching and learning, rather than on cheating, as Tricia Bertram Gallant points out.

In this paper I wrote with some graduate students a few years ago, we offer practical tips to take pro-active approaches to upholding academic integrity. Many of the ideas can be used in online courses.

The key thing to remember is that as educators, our focus should always be on  students’ learning. If you find yourself in a situation where you are moving to an online environment very quickly, it is OK to tell students that you are learning as you go, too. Remind them that you are all part of a learning community together and you are there to support them.

Even if the world is shifting rapidly around us, teachers are in a unique position to encourage students and help them focus on the positive. Convey through your words and actions a sense of calm to reassure learners that you are still focussed on helping them learn in ways that are productive and future-focused. The world may be changing quickly, but the fundamental values that underpin academic integrity can continue to guide us in times of uncertainty:

Courage

Have the courage to talk about COVID-19 and how it is impacting teaching and learning at your school. Share facts, and have courageous conversations. COVID-19 presents learning opportunities not only about the virus itself, but also about prevention, and impact. If students are feeling anxious or scared, that is normal. Have the courage to acknowledge the mental health impacts and reassure students that it is OK to feel unsure or overwhelmed. Also, have the courage to share facts. Now is also a great time to talk about fake news and how to look for accuracy in news reports.

Fairness

In times of crisis may be fairer to incorporate some flexibility into how you assess your students, as well as how you handle the impact of trauma on students’ lives. If learners find themselves quarantined or personally know people who have been affected by the virus, they may be experiencing trauma. Take this into account when you interact with them.

Honesty

Be honest with your learners if you find yourself in a position of having to teach online for the very first time with no preparation. Sometimes being vulnerable with your students can help them to understand that you are human, too.

Respect

As institutions and educational bodies make decisions quickly in a rapidly changing environment, it is important to respect those decisions. Avoid openly criticizing decision-makers who are also trying to do their best in a situation they have never faced before. Instead, honour their decisions by adapting as quickly as you can, as best as you can. Remind students that they also show respect by adapting. Be patient with questions and remind students that you still expect them to conduct themselves respectfully even if learning happens in a virtual classroom.

Responsibility

As an educators, we have a responsibility to lead by example. Remind students of what their learning responsibilities are. Take the time to explain your expectations of them, even if classes are quickly moving to an online environment. Let them know you still expect them to be responsible for their learning, but also show compassion if they are experiencing trauma or anxiety.

Trust

It is important to trust that your students are doing the best they can; and so are their parents, school administrators and everyone else. Trust that things will get better. Trust in yourself as an educator.

As an educator, you’ve got what it takes to see your students through this!

Related post:

COVID-19, Contract Cheating and Academic Integrity in Online Courses: What you need to know https://wp.me/pNAh3-2rx

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Share or Tweet this: The Impact of COVID-19 on Academic Integrity https://wp.me/pNAh3-2ra

This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


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