Tegrity has announced its Remote Proctoring System. The purpose of the system is to allow online programs to assess students with the same level of security as would be found in the physical classroom. Before giving my response, I would like to look at the issue of academic cheating in general.
On the first day of school one year, I happened to be in the high school hallway when our calculus teacher walked by, a grim look on his face as he led one of the school’s most well known students, a highly regarded member of the honor society, to the office. Something had aroused his suspicions, and he had tested her, learning that her mathematical abilities were at the early algebra stage, roughly 8th grade. Throughout high school she had copied every math homework assignment and every test from friends. She had never been caught until then.
That girl was by no means unusual. The Educational Testing Service’s campaign to stop cheating cites statistics indicating that academic cheating has risen dramatically over the last few decades at both the high school and college level. Recent studies indicate that 75-98% of college students admit to having cheated. Another study said that 95% of students who admitted cheating said they had never been caught. It used to be that cheaters were the people just trying to get by, but today’s cheaters are just as likely to be the top performers in the school.
Those statistics all come from traditional, physical classrooms. If the goal of the new Tegrity Remote Proctoring System is to provide the same level of security found in those classrooms, then it has set a pretty low bar for its standard. A better approach lies in changing the nature of assessment itself, thus making the concept of proctoring unnecessary.
Donald Campbell created Campbell’s Law in 1976, stating that using a single metric (such as a high stakes test) to measure student achievement invites corruption: “When test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” More importantly, though, the kind of test on which students can cheat this way is not the best way to measure student achievement, and we would be far better off using different assessment methods.
The tests on which students cheat almost invariably are designed to test fact recall. Students access the information they need to select the correct answer (or another similar method) and copy the answers without understanding them. Such tests are at the very bottom level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and I have to question the value of a class that makes such learning a critical component of assessment. In my own instructional design, tests like that are usually short quizzes, low stakes assessments early in the instructional process to be used as formative assessments of student understanding before we move on to the real learning. The real learning is when the student uses that information in a meaningful way in an assignment nearer the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
From Mary Forehand’s “Bloom’s Taxonomy.”
For those low stakes checks for understanding, which can even be totally ungraded, most learning management systems include safeguards that can be used to make cheating less likely, although not impossible. Campbell’s Law suggests that if a course uses multiple measures of student learning, and if such tests are not high stakes, the likelihood of cheating is minimized. It is reduced even more when the course uses policies that emphasize the formative nature of the assessment, such as the ability to retest when the first attempt shows a lack of understanding.
The various ways to assess the student’s ability to use information effectively, such as project-based learning, usually result in a product created by the student or a collaborative group of students. This product also has the potential to involve cheating, cheating of the kind that would not be detected by any proctoring service. That has always been true. I graduated from college 40 years ago, and every fraternity and sorority on campus had a file system for papers and projects that could be retyped and turned in by students who had never even read them. It is actually much harder to do something like that today since we have a variety of services, including Turnitin, that allow electronically submitted projects to be checked for even the slightest indication of plagiarism. Even that should be unnecessary, though, if good instructional practices are followed.
The teacher whose first view of a student project is its final draft has assumed the role of an evaluator and forgotten that there should be an instructional role as well. The purpose of such an assessment is to teach the all important process of working in whatever field of study is being assessed. Since assessment and instruction should be aligned, the purpose of instruction should be to teach that process. A well-designed project includes a number of milestones along the way, opportunities for the teacher to evaluate the progress being made and intervene instructionally as necessary. For many teachers, the final draft of a project is the minor last step in a well-monitored process, a step that only gets a small percentage of the overall grade. Under such a system, cheating is close to impossible.
The final step in eliminating cheating would be to adopt a complete standards-based grading system, but that’s another issue for another time.
The Tegrity Remote Proctoring System may well do what it is designed to do in replicating the security system of a classroom in high stakes assessments on fact retention, but students who have learned to cheat in the regular classroom—which is apparently by far most of them—will learn to cheat under that system as well. The final step of the Tegrity process requires the teacher to watch each student take the test, one at a time (at an accelerated speed, of course), for subtle signs of cheating. I can’t help but think that all that extra time could be better spent by providing the instructional guidance students need as they work through a high quality project on which they cannot cheat.
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