Test Integrity: Strategies for Deterring Cheating in Online Exams

test integrity: strategies for deterring cheating in online exams

 

In this presentation, Lorna Olsen will discuss methods for preventing cheating in online tests. Faculty have, rightly so, been concerned about this issue and have been asking about it since the HyFlex model was announced. Fortunately, there are strategies you can employ to minimize and deter cheating.

Policies and Contracts

One strategy you can employ is to let your students know that you are aware that they might be cheating, that you have taken steps to minimize cheating, and that NDSU has policies regarding academic integrity. The syllabus requirements for NDSU state that you should have a statement about NDSU Policy 335, the Code of Academic Responsibility and Conduct, in your syllabi.

Reminding students of this expectation and the seriousness with which you take issues of academic dishonesty can make a difference. The current literature is showing that students who are reminded of these kinds of policies tend to cheat a lot less frequently. Clearly define cheating and set the expectations for your course, and don’t just write them out, but talk about them, too. Even a brief video about the expectations can go a long way to reinforce the expectations.

Along these lines, you could have students sign an academic integrity statement/contract at the start of the semester or first exam. This can be done electronically in Blackboard, and can include a link to the policies on the NDSU website. A Blackboard survey could also be used to achieve this.

Looking at Your Test Style

Often times we lean toward creating tests with multiple choice and true/false questions.  While these are easy to grade (because Blackboard will automatically grade them), they’re also easier to cheat on. Consider using different question types like short answer, hot spots, or others.

Not only does using a variety of question types help deter cheating, but certain question types will also usually engage higher order thinking in students, which of course is more beneficial to their learning and retention.

A short answer or question could also be used in a creative way: you could have the student answer their multiple choice or true/false question as normal, and then make the next question an essay or short answer question and ask them to explain why they chose the answer they chose.

There are 17 question types in Blackboard Tests, so it would be a good idea to look into what kinds of questions would work for the classes you teach.

Test Options within Blackboard

When you look at the “Test Options” in Blackboard, you’ll find several that can help you deter cheating. Of these, the “Force Completion” option is one that faculty should be wary of. While it can serve as a deterrence to cheating, it also means that a student who loses internet connection or accidentally close their browser window will not be able to finish their test.

You can obviously reset a test if this happens to a student, but given how many students are using WiFi right now to accomplish all sorts of school related and personal activities, it’s important to consider how common connectivity issues are and the kinds of problems that can come from that..

 

Test Timers
Test timers can be helpful, especially if you’re having the test outside of the class period. If you’re holding the exam during your regularly scheduled class time, and all students (whether face-to-face in the classroom or online synchronously) are taking the test at the same time, this might not be as necessary, but could still be helpful.

When students have less time to look things up or text a friend for an answer, they’re less likely to try and do it. A minute a question is recommended, unless you’ve got several essay questions. Less time might be better if the questions don’t require a lot of thinking and are mostly recall-based questions. A good way to determine test timing is by taking the test yourself after it’s all set up.

When setting a timer, you can choose to turn on the “auto-submit” function. What this does is force the submission of the test, regardless of whether they have finished the exam or not, when the timer expires.

At first glance this may seem like a good thing, but you should consider that if you leave this function off, you will still be able to see if the student submitted the test late. With “auto-submit” off, the test won’t automatically submit at the end of the time, meaning the student can still finish up questions. The test will, however, be marked as “late” when you view it, so you know it wasn’t finished in the required timeframe.

There is a lot of debate about if this is a good deterrent to keep students from cheating. Use your best judgement, but know that if a student is having internet connectivity issues, having the “auto-submit” on could cause a significant problem for them.

Test Availability
Consider also setting an availability for the test. The availability (shown as two checkboxes marked “display after” and “display until”) is the time frame students will be able to see the exam on Blackboard. Once the “display until” date and time are reached students will no longer see the exam.

If you’re taking the test in class, you’ll likely be setting the availability for the day of the exam and the start time of the class. Your end time will be the day of the exam and the end time of the class. If the exam is being offered outside of the class period, you have some more considering to do.

If you’re using the timer function (discussed above), students will still only have that amount of time to complete the exam once they’ve clicked into it and started it, after it’s become visible to them. That said, if they start the exam even just a moment before the exam is no longer visible, they will still be able to finish the exam (It doesn’t auto-submit or kick them out if they’re still in the process of taking the exam after the “display until” date and time have passed.).

The “Test Availability Exceptions” section is one to be aware of if you’re working with students through disability services who have accommodations, and may or may not be necessary depending on what other features you’ve decided to use (such as a timed test). This allows you to adjust the parameters for specific students, such as students who may need more time to take the test.

Due dates are helpful to set. Choosing to not allow students to take the test after the due date has passed can be helpful so those who have not yet taken the test aren’t able to find classmates who have completed it and get answers from them.

Test Feedback
In our previous post on creating online exams, we discuss the ability to provide feedback after the test on specific questions. There are several times and ways this can be made available to the students, such as right after the test is submitted or after the due date has passed (which of course is the better option for preventing cheating). The best way to see how this all works is to set up the test and take it as a preview user so you can see what the students will see.

Showing Questions
There is a lot of discussion among faculty about whether or not to show all of the test questions at once. It’s argued that cheating is deterred by having students see each question only one at a time, which makes sense. This means that they see one question, hit “save” and then see the next question. Prohibiting backtracking means they can’t go back and look at previous answered questions (or change their answers).

The downside to showing the questions one at a time instead of all at once, is that the entire test is lost if the internet fails. Answers are saved as a student answers each questions when the “all at once” feature is selected, so if they lose their internet connection, they are just picking up right where they left off once the connection has been restored.

You can, of course, go in and reset the test for any students that this may happen to if you’ve opted for them to get the questions one at a time, so it isn’t the end of the world, but just know that you may have this issue should you choose to have the questions presented one at a time.

Randomizing questions can be helpful in that it gives all the same questions, just in a different order.  So, if a student maybe texts another asking “what’s the answer to number 1,” they won’t have the same question for number 1. In addition to just randomizing the questions, you can use random pools of questions.

Creating a Random Test

Question pools are probably one of the best ways to maximize randomization and deter cheating. To create a completely randomized test, one where students may have several different questions than another student, you’ll want to go to the control panel on the left, go down to the option “Course Tools”, and click on “Tests, Surveys, and Pools.” “Pools” is where you’ll be able to set this kind of test up.

You’ll build a pool the same way you create a test. For more information on this, see our previous post about creating exams in Blackboard. You are also able to import test questions provided by publishers, though it’s recommended that you use any questions provided by publishers as a template, and that you build your own questions. If you stick with what the publisher sends, then you’re providing your students with questions that have been given to countless students at a lot of other universities, which of course increases the odds they could find those answers online.

In the “Pool” tab you’ll create your questions, and when you go to set up the test, instead of going to “Create Question” in the test canvas, you’re going to select “Reuse Question” and choose “Create Random Block.” From there a window will open with all of the pools you’ve created.

Once you select the pool you want, you’ll choose what types of questions from that pool you want to see. You can then hit “submit” and you’ll have a box appear in the test canvas with the total questions included in the pool, a box that you can edit with the number of questions to display, the name of the pool of questions you selected, and what types of questions they are.

You will edit the “number of questions to display” and that will be how many questions the students are presented with. That number of questions will be randomly selected from the total in the pool for each student to see. If you’d like to watch the walkthrough for this, click on the video link at the top of the page and go to 21:36.

You can create more than one random block in a test, though you don’t want to draw from the same pool of questions, because there is a chance that students will get the same question twice.

Additional Tools for Faculty

There are a few tools available to faculty at NDSU, outside of but integrated with Blackboard, that may also help deter cheating.

Respondus Lockdown Browser
One of these tools is Respondus Lockdown Browser. Students and faculty can install this for free on their Mac or PC (not Chromebooks, though), and faculty can require students use this browser when they take their exams.

quotation markThere are a few tools available to faculty at NDSU, outside of but integrated with Blackboard, that may also help deter cheating.

This browser locks everything down. It will prevent them from opening up a different browser, opening multiple tabs, copying, printing, and other things, as well. It still can’t prevent them from taking out their phone, of course, but if you’re using a timed test and the lockdown browser, it definitely makes it more difficult to cheat.

To require students to use this browser, you’ll want to go to the control panel on the bottom left hand side, go to “Course Tools,” and click on “Respondus Lockdown Browser.”

Once inside you’ll see tutorials on how to use the browser, and a button that says “Continue to Lockdown Browser,” which will take you to a list of your tests. Next to the test you want to use the browser for, you click the little downward facing arrow next to the test name and choose “Settings.”

From there you just change the radio button to “Require Respondus Lockdown Browser for this exam,” and click “Save and Close” and you’re all set! You’ll be able to include a password if you’d like, and if you choose to do this, don’t set a password in the regular test options; do it here. Make sure that if you do this, that you send the password to your students.

After clicking “Save and Close,” the name of the test is modified so it now reads “Requires Respondus Lockdown Browser” after the title, and students won’t be able to access the test if they try to open it in any other browser. The browser is already installed on all campus computer cluster machines. Students and instructors can find the lockdown browers by going to the IT Knowledge Base and typing in “respondus lockdown brower” in the search bar that appears.

Studies are showing that if these types of tools are being used, students are less likely to cheat than they would be if these requirements weren’t in place.

YuJa Proctoring
YuJa is another tool that can be used. YuJa is a video recording tool that many instructors use to record lectures, however students can also record videos, and as an instructor you can require the use of a YuJa proctored exam when they take a test. Once you turn this on for your course, it applies to all exams.

To use this, students will need a desktop or laptop computer with a camera, microphone, and speakers on it and a good internet connection. Mobile devices and Chromebooks, unfortunately, will not work.

Let students know this ahead of time if you plan to use this feature so they can make arrangements to find computers on campus that they can use if they don’t have the required hardware.

They also will be asked to hold up their NDSU student ID, for identification purposes, so they should have that handy, and the recording is going to be monitoring them and any noises in their surroundings. Just having the exam proctored makes it less likely the students will attempt to cheat, and it gives you a video recording if they do cheat.

This is not to say that you’re going to have time to go back and look at every student’s video, but if you find during grading that you have concerns, you are able to go back and see what was going on while they were taking the test.

To use this feature you’d go into YuJa on the left hand tool bar, and once inside you would need to go to the little grid in the upper right hand corner and select “Courses and Groups.” Your courses will appear in a list on the left-hand side, and you’ll choose the course you want to enable YuJa proctoring.

Once selected, you’ll click “edit” and change the “Enable Proctoring” radio button from “No” to “Yes.” If you have multiple instructors for the course, know that you can only send it to one instructor, so make sure you know where you want the videos to go before you set this up.

Students, now, would need to go to YuJa when it’s time to take the test and choose “Create Recording” on the top bar. If this is their first time, they’ll need to download the YuJa software before it’ll work. They will also need to change the dropdown option to “Start an Exam Proctoring Session.” They will then get another drop down where they will select the course. Once they have those things done, they can click “Start Proctoring.”

There are some great walkthroughs on the IT Knowledge Base. You can just search “YuJa” on the IT Knowledge Base search bar, and you’ll be able to find video walk throughs for yourself and for students.

Academic honesty is of course what we prefer to see in our students, but we all know that in reality, some are going to be tempted to cheat. Hopefully, you’ve found some of these tips and tricks helpful to deter cheating in your classroom.

 


 

About the Authors:

Lorna Olsen holds a B.S in psychology from NDSU and has earned Microsoft Office Specialist Master (MOS) and Certified Faculty Developer (CFD) certifications. She has more than 20 years of experience supporting faculty, students and staff on all aspects of Blackboard, and specifically with helping faculty make the Grade Center work correctly. Lorna also supports Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, the YuJa video recording platform, Respondus 4.0 and Respondus LockDown Browser, SafeAssign, Microsoft Office applications, and other teaching tools and technologies the Learning and Applied Innovation team supports. She is working with the campus community on universal design for learning and accessibility initiatives for course materials and other electronic documents. Lorna facilitates workshops covering a variety of applications, including the Content Management System (TYPO3), Blackboard, and the Microsoft Office applications.

Amy Tichy is pursuing her M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at NDSU.  She graduated with a Master of Arts in Theatre with a concentration in Drama Therapy from Kansas State University (2014), where she was a Graduate Teaching Assistant, lecturing 6 credits of Public Speaking per semester, and with a Bachelor of Science in History Education and Theatre Education from Dickinson State University (2010).  Amy is a licensed teacher and a Registered Drama Therapist.  She works in the Office of Teaching and Learning as a Graduate Assistant.

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