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Go Back to the List April 15, 2020
Crisis-driven online exam shift ‘chance to boost academic integrity’

Integrity benefits of remote assessment via tech and change in attitudes outweigh the drawbacks, experts say
Higher education’s online shift, driven by the coronavirus pandemic, will reduce the incidence of cheating and plagiarism among students, according to a leading academic integrity expert, while others praise the capacities of remote invigilation technology.
The coronavirus crisis has been described by some as a “perfect storm” for contract cheating. But Cath Ellis, associate dean of education at UNSW Sydney and a researcher in the field of academic integrity with a particular interest in contract cheating, said that on balance, the pandemic’s influence on integrity would be more positive than negative.

She said its pernicious effects were likely to be outweighed by heightened awareness of integrity issues, reduced reliance on traditional exams and improved detection thanks to the “digital fingerprint” of online education.
“There might be new and possibly more opportunities to cheat than there were before,” said Dr Ellis. “There might be new and more temptations to cheat. But, in many ways, nothing’s changed. Scrutiny of student behaviour should be no different to what it ordinarily is.”

Northern hemisphere universities fear an explosion in academic misconduct as they approach the end of the academic year with little prospect of staging face-to-face examinations. But Dr Ellis said the backup tests cobbled together around the world could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

She said there was a “misplaced trust” that cheating could be overcome by “putting students into great big exam halls” where they were eyeballed by “people with squeaky shoes walking between the aisles”.The University of New England (UNE), a long-standing specialist in distance education, has been moving its exams online since 2017. Its plan to make remote exams the default option by the end of this year has been expedited, with all tests now conducted online.
“We’ve basically done a 10-month change project in two weeks,” said Jennifer Lawrence, programme director for academic success. “With the shift to online invigilation, a lot of people are very nervous about academic integrity. But my experience has been that it’s much more secure.”
She said “high stakes” exams were delivered using remote invigilators via US-based company ProctorU. Students, who typically take the tests at home, must use their webcams to show that they have not smuggled in materials that could give them an unfair advantage.

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Written by John Ross,
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