Students dive into prelim season, facing unprecedented proctoring protocol.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students dive into prelim season, facing unprecedented proctoring protocol.

October 14, 2020

Specter of Virtual Cheating Prompts Professors to Explore Unconventional Proctoring

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As prelim season begins, professors have had to tackle academic integrity differently than usual, imagining unorthodox methods and procedures for proctoring online tests.

Prof. Stephen Lee, chemistry, responded to the potential of cheating by reverse engineering his CHEM 2070: General Chemistry I prelim. He worked tirelessly with his teaching assistants to think of every possible way students could cheat.

“Everything that we thought could be a form of cheating, we made it so that it was not a form of cheating,” Lee said. “The exams are open notes, open internet.”

“We said that a group of students considering cheating might trust each other up to groups of three or four,” he continued, explaining how they decided the number of forms of the exam. “Strangely enough, cheating requires trust between cheaters. It’s a remarkable statement that to consider cheating, you have to have the same principles as someone who doesn’t cheat.”

Ultimately, they settled on 20 unique versions per sitting, with three total sittings, totalling 60 different test variations for the first prelim. And Lee wrote the questions such that changes were substantial, with every question completely altered.

The three-question test took place over 45 minutes, where students sat in Zoom breakout rooms with four to five other students and a graduate teaching assistant to keep watch. Students were allowed to take all three sittings and submit a maximum of two exams.

He also wrote the questions so that students would be unable to ask for and receive outside help within the time constraints. And the sheer number of forms made it so that students would have to take the exam with at least eight other students in order to have a good chance of receiving two matching forms.

Then, there was the option of oral exams. These would be given to students over Zoom if they had failed to submit an exam in the prior three sittings. Lee also stated that students suspected of cheating would be selected to take the oral exam. Students who chose to type their entire exam would have a higher chance of being selected to retake the oral exam.

“Normally in an in-person exam, you’re not allowed to type your exam,” Lee said. “The problem with a typed solution is that it’s very easily reproduced on the computer.”

By contrast, Prof. Maren Vitousek, biology, used Examity to have the first BIOEE 1780: Introduction to Evolutionary Biology and Diversity prelim auto-proctored.

According to Vitousek, once students log-on to take the test, “they are recorded via their webcam and microphone. The student’s desktop is recorded just during the time that they’re taking the exam. It’s not a lockdown browser. Examity reviews those recordings using algorithms designed to detect whether there are any violations.”

Some students expressed concern about the data that the software potentially collected, though Vitousek clarified that Examity does not do so. Natalie Morris ’24 said that using Examity also came with technical issues: “I know a lot of people couldn’t log into their exam. They couldn’t start their exam and the 24 hour window was about to close.”

After some students notified the professors that they weren’t comfortable using Examity, the professors set up an alternative testing method.

“We were sent emails about an in-person proctoring system a few days before the test, three different time slots for people to take an in-person proctored test, ” said Zachary Lakkis ’23.

On the other hand, Prof. Robert Connelly, mathematics, took an asynchronous approach to testing in MATH 1120: Calculus II.

“I trust the students to essentially follow the rules. The idea for the exam is they have 24 hours. We also have students from all over the world, students that are almost 12 hours out of phase with our time zone,” Connelly said. “We should have some sort of accommodation and still have it be equitable for everybody.”

According to Vitousek, ensuring academic integrity virtually has changed since the transition to online classes.

“I think we’ve all had to be much more creative in thinking about how to assess student learning,” Vitousek said. “But there’s also a big part played by course components. How do you get students engaged in a discussion with their peers online? How do you moderate and grade those discussions?”

The nature of test-taking has also changed. One shared experience not present this year was “getting up from that first prelim, looking around the room and seeing everyone else being as frazzled and completely obliterated as you are,” said Anabella Maria Galang ’23, one of CHEM 2070’s TAs.

“What a lot of freshmen are experiencing is, ‘is this actually this hard or am I just dumb? Or is this course supposed to be this difficult?” Galang added. “And at the end of that exam when you’re sitting alone in your dorm room, you just hang up the Zoom call.”

Correction, 7:30 p.m.: A previous version of this story included a quote that said Examity users must “agree to them having access to your, your caches, your browsing history.” Prof. Vitousek clarified that this was not the case. The article has since been updated.