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For many of those who have transitioned their classrooms to digital-first environments, the benefits have been plentiful. We’ve heard of better use of time, heightened student engagement, increased efficiencies and –arguably most importantly — boosted learning outcomes. (For more on the benefits of going digital, do check out our short video from customers of ours which is here.)

To see only the positives, though, would be folly. We have to understand that we can’t see a move to digital solely with glasses of the rose-tinted variety. There are issues to overcome, inevitably. And one of those issues is one that’s prevalent in the world of digital, with even some of the most prestigious HEIs falling fowl to it, is the issue of exam security.

We’re holding a spotlight up to that issue in this piece, exploring the issue with one of our customers, Ali Abdullah, who teaches Spanish at the Community College of Qatar. Ali faced issues of a breach in security last year. He talked to us about that; about how the signs that meant he was initially convinced of something untoward going on, and about how he overcame these challenges.

The background

Ali started using McGraw-Hill Education’s Connect platform in 2016. In Spring 2017, though, he took it to the “next level” as he calls it and begun to use it for both quizzes and exams. “The cheating started as soon as we went digital with our assessment,” Ali explained. And he said that, for him, the red flags, for want of a better phrase, were numerous.

The telltale signs

“There were the scores being too high, to start with,” he said, “And then there were the completion rates. They were quicker than I could have done. Additionally, there was just so much activity on their phones or devices in our sessions — so much finger movement.”

“The students were sending screenshots of the quiz questions to one another using Whatsapp. Or, worse still, they’d be working with an external Spanish tutor who they would send the questions to and who would send them back the answers.”

“On other occasions, these tutors were also given access to the Learning Management System we are using, Blackboard.”

Ali explained that “at its peak” this was happening across a high percentage of his students, and the impact it had on him wasn’t ideal. He talks of feeling disheartened, disappointed, and “betrayed.” Happily, though, Ali found that he could brush it off and not take it personally, despite commenting that it felt a little like “being at war; a constant back and forth where I’d be offsetting behaviours continually.”

Dealing with the issues

What is also uplifting is the way Ali was able to overcome the challenges he faced.

Ali talked us through his approach to dealing with the breaches he had encountered. The most important one, he commented, was to ensure you’re using a controlled environment or a computer lab for quizzes and exams. He also advocated the use of lockdown browsers. The second recommendation he found was to “remove the mobiles.” Now, they’re banned during quizzes and exams. “Once the mobiles or devices are gone, 80% of the power is gone.”

The third point Ali implemented was the use of the quiz and exam features in Connect by creating a question pool and randomizing the order of both questions and answers. This ensured that the students did not have the same assessment. In addition, he added a timer, also a Connect feature, to the assessments. “If there’s a short amount of time, the students won’t be focusing on helping each other, they will be concentrating on getting their own answers right,” he added.

And, lastly, Ali is a firm believer of allowing open notes and of using the Check My Answer feature in Connect. Keeping in mind that there is a timer, this served two purposes. First, without a lockdown browser, it discouraged the use of internet resources like translators and language websites. Second, and most importantly, it encouraged students to be more independent learners and more confident in their abilities. Contrary to even his own initial fears, the use of open notes and “Check My Answer” did not result in grade inflation. It actually resulted in the most balanced quiz and exam scores since going digital with Spanish assessment. “If students become independent and more confident learners, they will not need to attempt dishonest ways to succeed.”

Now, Ali explained, the situation has been remedied entirely and the cheating has stopped. Ali is now guiding others at his HEI on protocol around exam security and is beginning to run professional development courses on the subject over the next couple of months. Summarising his experience with exam security, Ali said, “You have to show your students you’re determined and not give up.”

To read more on Ali’s success with Connect, check out the case study here.

Learning Matters

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