Cheating is making online education terrible for everyone

Since Covid-19, as we know, many students are having to move to online education. This sudden shift of venues is proving to have a range of challenges for educators.

Marium Raza, enrolled at the University of Washington is a student who was looking to do her biochemistry exam online. When she realised the exam would have a digital- proctor she decided to do some extra homework. Marium discovered that the University were planning to use artificial intelligence and a webcam to monitor her while she worked.

That is to say, the University is using robots and video to ensure there are no exam cheats.

Marium told Recode. Firstly “the status quo should not be visualizing each student as someone who is trying to cheat in any way possible.” And secondly, “we don’t have any transparency about how our recorded video is going to be used or who is going to see it.” Similarly, other classmates felt anxious about the new levels of surveillance. And in addition, one anonymous student said there were privacy concerns and just not having enough RAM to run the Proctorio software.

Furthermore, when the students tried to use the facial recognition tool, the system struggled to accept their facial algorithm. In order to get a better exposure, students had to sit in full light of the window to outline the contours of their face. In short, this left the students believing the system might be biased.

online education graphic
online computer software failure

Online education software failed

Finally, Raza and her classmates got to take the exam, without the Proctorio’s monitoring, after a software practice exercise failed.

A spokesperson from the University of Washington Victor Balta, told Recode, “that the software had not yet been widely used by Professors”. And the signing of a six- month contract with Proctorio only occurred a few weeks ago and was due to the remote instruction required by the Covid-19 crisis.

The sudden move to re-create the in- person class experience hasn’t been an easy road for some students, amid this pandemic. As we can see some institutions are going to great lengths to catch students cheating,

The transition to online education started long before Covid-19. And In short, it’s up to the schools and universities moving forward, just how they are going to reproduce old testing standards remotely. The only obvious solution here, I see would be surveillance. Otherwise they need to come up with alternative solutions to measure – learning.

Student surveillance is on the rise as tests move online

The move to online has left some educators asking themselves, “how do I grade my students?” As many are reaching large numbers of students, across the country and sometimes even across the globe. In response, professors are saying they have lowered their expectations or adjusted their exam processes to pass-fail grades. While other professors are continuing the old approach of a timed, closed-book exam. And a result, they are turning to remote proctoring services to stop any cheating.

These include service like Proctorio as well as competitors Examity, Honorlock, and ProctorU.

Examity, for example, a recent Verge investigation subject, uses both a human element and a level of automation. Remote proctors watch students via webcam, ask for student ID and ask them to put their phones away. While the AI can also verify ID, it can analyse keystrokes. Proctorio, can conduct gaze detection to monitor screen time, using their AI. All in a bid, to stop the cheating.

While none of these companies are new, they’ve all had an increase in demand during the pandemic. Examity and Proctorio were founded in 2013, ProctorU has been around since 2008 and all have been successful. The demand for online education in recent times is expected to grow from being a $4 billion market in 2019 to a nearly $21 billion market in 2023. Examity, have reported they are currently used by over 500 colleges. Whereas Proctorio in the last month administered 2.5 million exams – a HUGE 900% rise for the same period last year.

That doesn’t stop some student voicing their disapproval

The University California Berkeley has already banned online exam proctoring, due to the last two reasons.

student surveillance is on the rise
student cheating is on the rise with online education

New testing practices mean students are finding new ways to cheat

There are ways of course that people can beat the system, as it’s not perfect. Just look online for the tips and tricks for duping remote proctoring services.  People go to great lengths to cheat from hiding notes to having a secret laptop therefore, proctoring services are coming up with new solutions to beat the cheats.

Proctorio even took the initiative to advertise for a “professional cheater” that pays between $10,000 to $20,000 a year, to stay one step ahead of new cheats.

Phillip Dawson, a researcher who studies cheating at Australia’s Deakin University, says “there are different kinds of cheating” because of the rapid shift online.

For example

  • Being paid to take a course on behalf of another person. According to Quartz some Chinese students paid firms to finish their online semester
  • buying essays online – new technology allows students to automatically paraphrase making it hard for instructors to spot plagiarism.
  • Spinbot is a service that rewrites chunks of text
  • Student can use google translator to translate text to another language and then again back to English, for a good rewrite.
  • Talk to Transformer an AI based writing tool can help students to finish any incomplete texts.

Programs like LockDown Browser, that stop the student using other applications during an exam or Turnitin, the anti-plagiarism essay tool, are both designed to stop would be cheats.


Conclusion: This could be a chance to change how higher education works

For both students and teachers, the introduction to remote learning has been a hurried and deficient system. On one hand, teachers are often untrained users having to also cope with the pressures of their own family responsibility, while trying to take their classes from home. To the student similarly unfamiliar with the new service, the added concern of internet coverage, the correct device and having suffice memory. Some students are already burdened by the fear and anxiety caused from having to live through the pandemic.

However, it seems now, expert Ray Baker, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania says moving forward “our new normal might not be that everything’s online.” He suggests perhaps “a third.”

Democratising education

Marium Raza believes that the “whole process should be democratized” as students become included in decisions about their online learning experience. She would also prefer that schools have a bit more trust in students and seek student consent to the use of software.

Firstly, do our views need to change on our approach, not just on cheating? Secondly, what does it really means to test students’ knowledge? As I’ve mentioned, some professors are already looking at other ways to measure learning. Thirdly, do the assessments online need to be traditional exams?

Prior to the pandemic, some professors were already disagreeing with the use of online proctoring, stating that it doesn’t actually work.

Douglas Harrison, a vice president and dean at the University of Maryland’s global campus argues that teachers need to make “assignments more meaningful” in order to reduce the likelihood of cheating.

This could be achieved through

  1. case studies
  2. scenario-based learning
  3. adaptive learning, which can use algorithms to adapt lessons to individual students
  4. computer-based learning tools, such as Assistments, which allows students to receive automatic feedback on their answers and gives teachers analytics about what kinds of mistakes students are making.

To sum up, our current situation is a litmus test to see what works for online education and what doesn’t. Certainly, there are improvements to be made for a better overall learning experience online for student and teacher alike.

Universities are depending on Blackboard and Canvas, two existing learning management platforms to post assignments, online discussions, and resources. Teachers are using video conferencing to take their classes and lectures. However, some teachers and students just don’t have the right device or internet connection to make online courses work.

digital classroom

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