How to Minimize Cheating During Online Assessments
Like many others across the nation, my school transitioned into virtual learning in March of 2020. One of the biggest questions that teachers, students, and parents all had about this new form of learning was “How will assessments work?” and How will we prevent cheating?”
Different schools and teachers adopted different tactics. Some have opted to join the “arms race” between anti-cheating software and cheaters. Others went for timed tests or proctored online exams.
Well, now it has been about 1.5 semesters since we’ve been in this environment. Whatever method you chose, we’ve learned that preventing cheating completely was almost impossible. Students always found a way to cheat through the system. In this article, I will share some tips I learned, during the past 9 months, on how to better assess students.
1. Divvy up Big Tests Into Multiple Smaller Tests
Let’s face it. When a single test, like midterms or finals, makes up a third or half of a student’s grade, they are more likely to cheat. Instead, break up the tests into weekly, or bi-weekly assessments. This will take the pressure off of students. And if a student fails one of them, there are plenty more to recover. Thus, students will be less likely to cheat on these “mini-exams.”
Having smaller assessments, also lets you get a grasp on which concepts students are having a hard time with. You can review the concepts that many students are struggling with, or offer extra help through tutoring and office hours. In turn, this will not only reduce cheating but also improve academic learning and satisfaction.
2. Consider Every Test as Open-Book or Open-Notes
There is no way for you to absolutely make sure that the student is not looking up concepts on another device or a screen. Instead, design your test so that it assesses the student’s problem-solving process.
For example, have your students provide work or justification to all their solutions. While answers to many of the “test bank questions” are online, most of them do not have the steps or explanations with them. Additionally, asking students to explain their problem-solving process, lets you make sure they understand the concept fully. (It also prevents students from randomly guessing).
3. Get to Know Your Student and Their Writing Style
While plagiarism-detection software is becoming more and more reliable, they are far from perfect. If you are teaching a course that is writing-intensive, consider assigning various informal assignments at the beginning of the year(e.g. personal essay) or a weekly assignment(e.g. weekly reflection). Get to know how your students write and what it sounds like.
If you are worried about the time necessary to grade all those assignments, you can grade them purely on a complete/incomplete scale; and keep them as a reference for comparing writing styles in high-value assessments.
4. Give Many Assessments Options and Let the Students Choose
Letting students choose how they will be assessed is one of the easiest ways of making your classroom more inclusive. Options allow students from every background/situation to shine(E.g. students who struggle with test anxiety, students with a bad internet connection).
Examples of Different Types of Assessments
- Video or Live Presentation
- Writing Assignment
- Traditional Test
- Creative Project
- And my favorite, online discussion forums.
Why I like Online Discussion Forums
Online discussion forums allow not only you to give feedback, but allows students to give feedback to each other. You can also require students to cite their source and respond/react to another student’s post. In a time when everyone is learning at home, discussion forums can also add a bit of social interaction for students. If you plan on awarding grades for discussions, just be sure to include a clear rubric.
5. Utilize the Honor Code.
Try this. At the beginning of any test, have students write(type out) something along the lines of:
“I attest that I am the student assigned to complete this test, and all work I submit is entirely mine”
While this may seem like nothing, having students copy this down, reaffirms the idea that they should not cheat into their brains. It also adds a sense of formality, as it gives students a sense that “if they cheat, they will get into big trouble.” And at the very least, having an Honor statement ensures that students can’t say “I didn’t know” when they are caught.
Last year has been a rough year for students and teachers alike. In a time where there is so much to worry about, students should not be stressing over tests(teachers too). In this new virtual environment, try experimenting with various teaching/assessment methods. Who knows? You(and students) might like them so much that you keep using them, even when we go back in-person.