Upcoming Webinar: None of the above: Integrity concerns of standardized English proficiency tests with Soroush Sabbaghan and Ismaeil Fazel

January 4, 2021

Sabbaghan Fazel webinarThis session will bring to fore (or highlight) the oft-neglected discord between equity and integrity in high-stakes standardized language tests. The equity issues surrounding these so-called standardized language tests can potentially precipitate and predispose academic dishonesty. This presentation will discuss the ramifications of inherent inequities in high stakes language proficiency tests for academic integrity and will call for a more critical consideration of commercialized high stakes language tests. Redressing equity issues in language assessment can serve to promote academic integrity and reduce academic dishonesty.

Learning outcomes

  • Learn more about challenges to equity in high stakes language testing.
  • Recognize discords between equity and integrity in commercial standardized language tests
  • Review principles and best practices for equitable language assessment

About the presenters

Ismaeil Fazel - web sizeIsmaeil Fazel is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Education of Simon Fraser University. He has a PhD in TESL and a sub-specialization in Measurement and Evaluation from the University of British Columbia. His main research interests include English for Academic and Professional Purposes, academic discourse socialization, and language assessment. His publications have appeared in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, English for Specific Purposes Journal, and TESL Canada Journal, among others.

Soroush Sabbaghan - web sizeSoroush Sabbaghan is a Senior Instructor at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. He holds two PhDs, one in TESL and the other in Curriculum and Learning with a focus in Mathematics Education. His main research interests include language and mathematics education of bilingual and multilinguals, Language Learning and Technology, and ecological complexity discourses. He has publications in both Language and mathematics education journals and books.

Friday, 08 January 2021

10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Calgary (Mountain) time

This session is open to the public and everyone is welcome. Registration required. Deadline to register is 07 Jan 2021.

More information and registration:


This webinar is part of our series, Academic Integrity: Urgent and Emerging Topics. This series addresses timely and emergent topics that are cutting edge, provocative or high profile in nature. The series is hosted by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary.


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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, PhD, 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.

Comparing E-Proctoring Software to Hydroxychloroquine: An Apt Analogy

November 4, 2020
Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To help educators and administrators understand why I urge caution, and even skepticism about the use of e-proctoring software and other surveillance technologies such as those that lockdown students’ Internet browsers, here’s an analogy I have been using that seems to resonate:

In my opinion, e-proctoring software is to higher education what Hydroxycloroquine has been to the COVID-19 virus.

It’s not that e-proctoring software is bad, it is that it was never designed to be used under the current conditions. There are colleagues who would disagree with me about this kind of software being bad in principle. I accept their position. Let’s look at this through the eyes of scholar who is trained to reserve judgement on an issue without evidence to back it up. If we assume the software was designed for a specific purpose – to invigilate exams taken via a computer, then it fulfills that purpose. So, in that sense, it does what it is supposed to do. However, that is not the whole story.

We can turn to Hydroxychloroquine as an analogy to help us understand why we should be skeptical.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malaria drug, also used to treat arthritis. It was never designed to be used against the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus. Hasty attempts to do research on the coronavirus, including studies on Hydroxychloroquine, have resulted in numerous papers now being retracted from scientific journals. People ran to this drug as a possible antidote the coronavirus, just as schools are running to e-proctoring software as an antidote for exam cheating. Neither e-proctoring software nor Hydroxychloroquine were designed to be used during the current pandemic. People flocked to them both as if they were some kind of magic pill that would solve a massively complex problem, without sufficient evidence that either would actually do what they so desperately wanted it to do.

The reality is that there is scant scientific data to show that e-proctoring actually works in the way that people want it to, that is, to provide a way of addressing academic misconduct during the pandemic. By “scientific data” I do not mean sales pitches. I am talking about independent scholarly studies undertaken by qualified academic researchers employed at reputable universities. By “independent scholarly studies” I mean research that has not been funded in any way by the companies that produce the products. That kind of research is terrifyingly lacking.

We need to back up for a minute and look about why we invigilate exams in the first place. To invigilate means “to keep watch over”. Keeping watch over students while they write an exam is part of ensuring that testing conditions are fair and objective.

The point of a test, in scientific terms, involves controlling all variables except one. In traditional testing, all other factors are controlled, including the conditions under which the test was administered such as the exam hall with desks separated, same lighting and environment for all test-takers, length of time permitted to take the test, how it is invigilated, and so on. All variables are presumably controlled except one: the student’s knowledge of the subject matter. That’s what’s being tested, the student’s knowledge.

Exams are administered in what could be termed, academically sterile environments. In an ideal situation, academic hygiene is the starting point for administering a test. Invigilation is just one aspect of ensuring academic hygiene during testing, but it is not the only factor that contributes to this kind of educational hygiene that we need to ensure testing conditions control for all possible variables except a student’s knowledge of the subject matter.

During the pandemic, with the shift to remote learning, we cannot control all the variables. We simply cannot assure an academically hygienic environment for testing. Students may have absolutely no control over who else is present in their living/studying quarters. They may have no control over a family member (including their own children) who might enter a room unannounced during a test. The conditions under which students are being tested during the pandemic are not academically hygienic. And that’s not their fault.

E-proctoring may address one aspect of exam administration: invigilation. It cannot, however, ensure that all variables are controlled.

As an academic integrity scholar, I am distressed by the lack of objective, peer-reviewed data about e-proctoring software. Schools have turned to e-proctoring software as if it were some kind of magic pill that will make academic cheating go away. We have insufficient evidence to substantiate that e-proctoring software, or any technology for that matter, can serve as a substitute for an in-person academically hygienic testing environment.

Schools that were using e-proctoring before the pandemic, such as Thompson Rivers University or Athabasca University in Canada, offered students a choice about whether students preferred to take their exams online, at home, using an e-proctoring service, or whether they preferred to drive to an in-person exam centre. During the pandemic, students’ choice has been taken away.

We all want an antidote to academic misconduct during remote learning, but I urge you educators and administrators to think like scholars and scientists. In other words, approach this “solution” with caution, and even skepticism. At present, we lack sufficient evidence to make informed decisions. Educators need to be just as skeptical about this technology and how it works during pandemic conditions as physicians and the FDA have been about using Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus. Its use as being effective against the coronavirus is a myth. The use of e-proctoring software as being an effective replacement for in-person exams is also a myth, one perpetuated by the companies that sell the product.

Forcing surveillance technology on students against their will during a pandemic is tantamount to forcing an untested treatment on a patient; it is unethical to the extreme.


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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, PhD, 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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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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