If unions adhere to online assessment after COVID, they will have to do more to stop cheating

While in-person classes are back after the COVID disruptions of the past two years, our research suggests that at least some Australian universities plan to continue full online assessment. Students say they think cheating is easier online. there’s something proof it increased with the service online.

Yet our research, which covers 41 Australian universities, has found little evidence of changes in their academic integrity policies (which apply to all courses) and practices (which may vary from subject to subject) to address these issues. Our special interest was in computer courses.

Using software to automatically track students during online exams, also known as: remote proctoringis increasingly common† Intuitively, this technology seems to have advantages for detecting fraud. However, many have raised concerns about both the ethics and effectiveness of these systems.



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Life would be so much easier for educators if they could just offer their students an education. But they are required to assess their students. It is a integral aspect of the educational process

Unfortunately, some see the assessment results, rather than the education, as the end goal.

Students rely on these outcomes when applying for a job. Employers rely on the same results to help them decide which graduates to hire. With so much at stake, there will always be students who choose to cheat.

COVID forced hasty review changes

The pandemic forced universities to hastily rethink many practices, including assessment. A major challenge was supervising assessment tasks such as exams as they went online.

Teachers and researchers later reported academic misconduct increased† Academic misconduct includes deception, plagiarism, collusion and fabrication or falsification of data.

Our universities are obliged to establish policies and practices to protect academic integrity. This policy should provide education and training on good practices and actions to reduce the risks of cheating and other misconduct. Universities Australia has outlined principles of best practices.



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U.S research project changes in assessment practices as a result of COVID. We wanted to see how effective these can be in preventing scientific misconduct. We examined academic integrity policies and procedures at 41 Australian universities offering computer courses, interviewed leading computer educators at these universities, and surveyed computer scientists.

What did the study find?

We found little evidence that academic integrity policies and procedures explicitly address the circumstances caused by COVID.

Of the 41 universities, 38 offer online or distance learning for computer courses. Four offer most of their computer courses in online/remote mode. Only one does not offer computer courses in online/distance mode.

But only five universities across the country recognize the option of online exams in their policies. Even among these five, there are no policy differences between online and face-to-face assessment tasks.

The conclusion seems to be that the rules and regulations governing general scientific integrity apply equally to all assessment tasks, including online.

Some of our respondents expressed concern that current policies are ineffective. A particular concern is the time and effort it takes to prepare a case of misconduct against a student. One academic said:

“Any excuse a student gives is automatically believed, despite overwhelming evidence of plagiarism. Students also say that they did not take the scientific integrity module in order to obtain a reduced sentence. It is inconceivable that a third-year student does not know what plagiarism is […] yet they get warnings and no real consequences.”

COVID has changed needs and expectations of studentsResearch suggests: many students now prefer to study online. Universities need to consider students’ need for greater flexibility, including offering online exams.



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Nevertheless, some of our respondents noted an increase in cheating and other integrity violations when the assessment went online. Some noted that this could be due in part to the difficulties students faced. One academic said:

Online exams and tests were a big challenge. Students sometimes complained that their laptops got stuck, or that their internet connection went down halfway through the test. Such cases required the need to develop a new set of questions.

In any case, the abrupt switch to online education left little time to make substantial changes to assessment regimes. Courses based on personally supervised in-class tests and final exams continued, with in-person surveillance simply being discontinued. In some cases, 24-hour exams replaced two or three-hour exams, or shorter exams were administered in a longer window.

What can be done to restore integrity?

One or two suggested approaches may hold some promise.

Many respondents noted the need to develop new types of questions. These would be designed to be less prone to finding answers in Internet searches, collusion between students and contract fraud, where students pay others to do their work. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s recently updated database listings 2,333 suspected commercial academic cheat websitesincluding 579 that are specifically aimed at students in our higher education.



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Unfortunately, these approaches always seem to involve more work for academics† Further, it seemed unlikely that they would achieve the integrity typically afforded by face-to-face supervised exams.

Now that face-to-face classes resume, will universities restore the former assessment mix, including supervised face-to-face tests and exams? Some of our respondents indicated that their universities plan to continue with fully online assessment. No one told us that their universities are changing their policies or procedures to better protect academic integrity in these circumstances.


The author would like to thank all team members who worked on this project: Sander JJ Leemans, Queensland University of Technology; Regina Berretta, University of Newcastle; Ayse Bilgin, Macquarie University; Trina Myers, Queensland University of Technology; Judy Sheard, Monash University; Simon, formerly of Newcastle University; Lakmali Herath Jayarathna, Central University of Queensland; and Christoph Niesel, Queensland University of Technology.

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