Assessment is a critical window in gauging learning and acts as a communication channel between students and educators, especially in online learning environments.
While face-to-face classroom settings may enable educators to physically observe students, online learning can remove some of the traditional methods educators use in checking the learners’ progress. As educators rely more on digital assessments, it is crucial to ensure that no student gets an unfair advantage or gets left behind in the remote learning setting. With inclusive assessments, educators have an opportunity to gather valuable information and help improve teaching and enhance the efficacy of the curriculum, regardless of any platform or format. This also allows them to strengthen teacher-student relationships through positive feedback and interaction.
Educator effectiveness and student learning will ultimately depend on the integrity of assessment design and delivery. In addition, while the importance of assessment looms large in online learning environments, adapting in-person assessments to fit remote delivery is not without its challenges.
Academic integrity challenges in today’s remote learning environment
Education institutions are responsible for safeguarding assessment arrangements against academic misconduct while ensuring that students submitting their work in challenging circumstances are treated fairly. They also need to consider the amount of activities assigned to students and ensure that they have adequate time to produce their best work. In most cases, to compensate for the lack of in-person interaction, educators tend to give more written works and performance tasks, which can overwhelm students who may then resort to shortcuts to complete the requirements.
The lack of face-to-face interactions may complicate the assessment process and may push students to commit acts of misconduct such as using cheat sheets, plagiarizing responses or turning to more extreme forms of misconduct like contract cheating and impersonation. They can also resort to other forms of academic dishonesty such as using translation engines and text spinners to bypass integrity tools, as well as AI text generators and computational applications to answer asynchronous exams. When students engage in academic dishonesty to complete assessments, learning outcomes are invalidated and educators miss out on insights that can help improve the quality of teaching.
In the Philippines, a recent study on the perception of faculty toward online education during the pandemic found that state university faculty members considered online education to result in more academic dishonesty. With activities spread across various technology platforms, faculty members find it a challenge to detect academic dishonesty such as contract cheating or plagiarism in their students’ output.
Student collusion may also occur with increased frequency due to access to technology platforms and proximity to social media. Physical distance and a lack of connection to the instructor and classmates can make these acts less visible and more challenging to mitigate. Academic integrity issues may persist or even increase, if not addressed properly.
Upholding academic integrity in remote assessments
The function of assessment is to both measure student understanding and gain insights into teaching efficacy. Thus, it is imperative to ensure that checks and balance are woven into the design and delivery of remote assessments.
To help ensure academic integrity in assessments, educators may integrate the following steps:
- Create multiple versions of the test by rephrasing and rearranging question sequences to prevent student collusion. To support marking and evaluation, educators can use grading software like Gradescope with built-in Answer Grouping and learning analytics features to identify meaningful patterns in exam responses.
- Set a completion time frame for students that works with the school’s assessment policies and academic calendar. Educators can use tools such as browser lockdowns and test trackers to enforce deadlines and manage the test environment.
- Create assessment questions that require students to explain their higher-order thinking, such as showing their work or attaching a brief video of their thought process, using Gradescope’s file upload or free-response field.
- Provide formative feedback and support to students to encourage independent thinking and uphold the originality of writing and computer code assessments.
- Leverage advanced integrity tools such as Turnitin Originality to check for text and code similarity, and identify deliberate text manipulations designed to bypass plagiarism checkers, towards detecting signs of contract cheating.
Meaningful assessment is a vital component of student learning, especially in a remote learning setting. Thus, awareness of the existing and emerging forms of academic misconduct is a foundational element of upholding the integrity and accuracy of assessments for academic institutions and educators.
By recognizing the various forms of misconduct and gaining access to technologies that can help detect them, educators are empowered to design accurate assessments and create an environment that advocates authentic learning for students.
About the Author
Chukwudi Ogoh is an Assessments and Feedback Technologies Consultant at Turnitin.