Tips for managing online exams
Preventing academic dishonesty in exams
It is clear that only a small percentage of students cheat, or attempt to cheat, during exams, although there is some concern this percentage is rising during remote instruction when exams are online. It is the job of all faculty and teaching support staff to prevent and detect cheating, in order to protect the vast majority of students who are honest, hardworking and committed to their studies, and to ensure the continued integrity of Simon Fraser University degrees.
No technology is perfect. We know students are more likely to cheat (in both online and face-to-face classes) when they have difficulty in their learning environment and there is a perception that there is low risk of being caught, leading them to believe a positive cost-benefit analysis exists. Instructors who are clear about their expectations, provide timely support and report incidents of dishonesty will minimize academic dishonesty in their courses and beyond. While the detection of cheating is important, prevention is more important.
Prevention of dishonesty during online exams
- Please ensure that students understand all the rules of the examination you are setting ahead of time (eg, no cellphone or webpage use, whether they can use course notes, etc.) Please do not assume that students know what your rules are. If you are using take-home exams, be explicit about what collaboration is and is not permitted. Tell students what sources they are allowed to use AND how to cite them. Provide examples to avoid misunderstanding.
- Help your students understand that, like the rest of the university, you have a zero tolerance policy towards cheating. If faculty and teaching support staff take academic dishonesty seriously students will do the same.
- One of the best ways to strengthen academic integrity in any kind of assessment is to ask higher-order questions that require students to explain their answers in their own words, or show their work as they solve quantitative problems. When we are largely teaching and assessing online, designing exams for open book/open web takes many forms of dishonesty out of the equation.
- Examination questions should be prepared by the instructor alone. Do not allow anyone to see the questions prior to the exam and when uploading to Canvas.
- If you decide to invigilate an online exam (rather than treating it as an open-book exam), do not leave the invigilation of an examination solely to your T.A. or T.M. no matter how experienced they may be. Invigilation is the instructor’s responsibility.
- As a general rule you should have one faculty member or T.A. for every 25-50 students sitting an examination if you are invigilating through Zoom. For information on live proctoring using Zoom, go to this link. Suggestions include ensuring participants can only chat with the host, not each other, not allowing backgrounds, and communicating your expectations about how students can ask questions, what to do when the exam is completed, and so on.
- Although challenging for students in different time zones, one way to increase the integrity of your exam is to have all students taking the exam at the same time. Make the exam long enough that the majority of students will need the whole length of time to complete the exam, while recognizing that taking an exam in an unfamiliar online environment will need more time than a traditional in-person exam. Inform students prior to the exam that they must be prepared to manage their time carefully in order to complete all the exam questions.
- Prepare and administer different versions of your examination to the extent possible. You can use features in Canvas that randomize questions and answers so that each student effectively receives a different exam. Other minor changes such as using different numbers in quantitative problems ensure fairness (the exam is materially the same) while preventing simple sharing of answers.
- Additional resources are available from the Centre for Educational Excellence, including those created by faculty members at SFU.
Detecting and handling dishonesty during exams
- Check the identifications of students before the examination begins and look for (and challenge) unfamiliar faces. It is a criminal offence to impersonate someone in an examination.
- Be vigilant; do not spend the exam time reading or grading. Students who want to cheat will observe your habits and take advantage of them.
- If a student is seen or suspected of cheating, handle the situation quitely and calmly. Under no circumstances should you address the student in a group Zoom chat or otherwise engage in public discussions or confrontation.
- Take a note of what you see, record their name, the time and the offending behaviour.
- After the exam, you should make arrangements to further discuss the incident with the student, after which you may decide upon a penalty. The procedure is set out in the University Policy S10 Student Conduct and Discipline. Generally, at a minimum, a student who cheats should fail the exam.
Detection of academic dishonesty after exams
What is considered evidence to file an academic dishonesty report?
The standard of proof that must be met to file an academic dishonesty report is “on a balance of probabilities”. Assess whether a reasonable person would believe that there was more than a 50% chance that the student acted dishonestly? Every situation must be assessed independently. The following observations can be considered evidence of academic dishonesty when filing a discipline report, especially when the student does not present a plausible alternative explanation.
Significant similarities in answers
- Common similarity in answers across several student exams/papers which includes identical errors, such as spelling mistakes or unusual solutions.
- Answers submitted on an exam match the correct answers to another version of the exam.
- Answers submitted are word-for-word verbatim copying from an online source or from an assignment submitted in previous semester.
- One way to detect similarties is to conduct horizontal grading to ensure consistency in marking across questions and to catch similarities in answers that signal students have copied from each other (e.g. assign one TA to mark question 1, another TA to mark question 2, etc.)
Irregularities across the student’s work
- Different voice in multiple modes of assessment (e.g. the students voice in emails to instructor, discussion boards, short answers, essays is significantly distinct so as to suggest one piece of work was not written by the student).
- Inconsistency in writing style and/or referencing styles across assignments
- Paper does not match the level the student is at or speaks to advanced material that has not been taught in the course
- Completion time for exam in Canvas does not match students understanding of concepts in discovery interview (e.g. completing 8 multiple choice in 2 minutes)
- Information in discovery interview does not match performance on exam
- Instructors should not require students to re-do the exam to “fish for” evidence or confirm a suspicion. However, if there is evidence to suspect collusion/ contract cheating, (e.g. two students submitting their academic integrity declaration with identical IP address during a timed exam), asking questions to assess if the student’s level of understanding matches their performance on the exam is reasonable. An example of an irregularity would be a student who completes his multiple choice questions very quickly (i.e. 6-7 answers in 2 minutes) but is unable to speak to basic foundational concepts in the interview.
- If you encounter any novel or interesting examples of examination cheating please share them with the Academic Integrity Coordinator.
- If you have any suggestions for improving the integrity of examinations please share these as well.
- The Academic Integrity Co-ordinator in Student Services, Arlette Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org, assists departments with incidents of academic misconduct to ensure that the process followed is fair to students and instructors.
Arlette Stewart, MA
Academic Integrity Coordinator
Heather Roberts, MEd, CCC
Student Conduct Coordinator/Case Manager
What is Academic Integrity (video)