I don’t cheat. Part of the reason is that I have never struggled so much in a class that I felt like cheating was my only option – the much larger reason, though, is that I would simply die of mortification if I were ever caught. I don’t know how well that first stipulation will hold as I enter my first year at UC San Diego, but the second is definitely here to stay.
Still, even a straight-laced student like myself can see several glaring holes in online testing formats. And after taking my first two tests at UCSD, one of which was a midterm, it seems pretty clear that teachers are struggling to uphold academic integrity in an environment where students feel utterly disconnected from their classes. This, in turn, could lead to an unfair playing field among students and even lower the overall quality of students’ education.
One of my tests took place over Zoom, where we kept our microphones and cameras on and were supervised by the teaching assistant. Once our work time was up, we had to take pictures of our work and upload it onto Gradescope, which obviously led to a lot of sudden movement and noise and made it a lot harder for the TA to watch everyone carefully.
My midterm, on the other hand, was a take-home test that we completed on a lockdown browser. It involved a very invasive AI that would flash warnings at me if I dipped my head too far down, and it recorded the entire test for my teacher to review, along with a full view of my entire bedroom, just to prove that I was alone. Despite all this, my professor did not seem happy with the results, which were apparently skewed way too high for her tastes.
The main issue here is not that these tests are complicated, confusing, and stressful, although they certainly are. It is that all of these hurdles are probably doing very little to reduce cheating. Having students keep their microphones on or making them use lockdown browsers may help to eliminate some of the more rudimentary cheating tactics, but you can only get so many answers through Google or by yelling questions out to your siblings. As the math cheating ring from Winter Quarter 2020 made clear, students are on their home turf with online learning and are demonstrating unprecedented creativity in finding ways around the rules put in place. In the most basic terms: students who chose to cheat during in-person learning will continue to do so when they are at home.
Getting rid of assessments is not a feasible solution, but fairly testing students during virtual school is not an easy task. For example, students are attending class from around the world, which is why take-home tests are so helpful. On the other hand, this means that some students will take advantage of this to spread the questions to people who haven’t taken the test yet. This doesn’t, however, mean that we should get rid of take-home tests; it is unfair to make a student take an exam at 3 a.m. just because some of their classmates think it’s cool to leak the exam questions. There are, fortunately, ways around this challenge.
“I think the best way to avoid cheating in online testing is to make application questions that can’t be found on the internet, and to make various versions of the exam so students have different problems,” Seventh College freshman Shreya Repakula said. “Of course, none of this is a perfect solution, but i think it’s a favorable way given current circumstances.”
One possible solution is to offer open-note tests and slightly decrease the time allotted for the test. Even if a student has all their resources with them during the test, it would take far too much time to search up every question. Students would have to compile clear and concise notes, which would demonstrate a thorough understanding of the subject.
“I think if students are allowed to use their notes they’ll be less inclined to try and cheat,” Seventh College freshman Claire Williams said. “Most of the questions that are being asked on these assessments are very concept-based, meaning that if you don’t understand those concepts using your notes, the internet probably won’t even help.”
Meanwhile, a tighter timeline would force students to practice similar problems beforehand so that they can move quickly on the test.
“Since the professors can’t necessarily regulate who does what during an exam, they’ve mostly been open note,” Repakula said. “However, since it’s still possible to give them a time limit, memorization is incredibly helpful. In this way, I think tests might just be a little harder now, even if they are open-note.”
Another idea is to do away with examinations altogether and grade students solely on more intense projects. These assignments would tackle many concepts and be more challenging than regular homework assignments. This would push students to explore new types of problems and give them a chance to broaden their understanding of the subject.
Many classes have embraced one or both of these tactics as an alternative to traditional tests, and it seems to be working relatively well.
Of course, the goals of every course are unique, and requirements vary widely across the board. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but the fact remains that we are living through unprecedented times and it is unrealistic to expect things to be the way they used to be. Tests just cannot possibly be the same benchmarks of learning that they used to be, especially as we grudgingly settle down with online learning for the rest of the school year.
Students and teachers alike are struggling to adapt to online learning, but stricter tests are not the answer. We must remember that the goal is to check students’ understanding of the material, not to come up with the perfect test. Implementing more and more regulations for online testing does little to prevent cheating and just makes a difficult situation even worse. Students and teachers alike should focus on methods of assessment that push students to achieve and present their mastery of the subject. The problem of assessments during virtual school is one that schools across the country must confront, and it’s not clear where the solution lies. Still, it is one we must solve if we hope to keep up the reputation and value of our education.
Art by Malo Grimsby for the UC San Diego Guardian