Integrity and Enforcement

The New York Times article, To Stop Cheats, Colleges Learn Their Trickery highlighted the University of Central Florida’s use of video cameras monitoring test-takers at the business school testing center as one of many ways schools are using technology to prevent cheating. The piece brought to the main stream many issues being debated inside academic institutions throughout the country. Issues that I have been working on with school administrators, faculty and students ever since founding Software Secure ten years ago to provide tools that facilitated use of computer-based testing while eliminating the use of computers to cheat.

I wish to briefly comment on how two particular issues, described independently and unrelated in the article, should in practice be considered together: integrity and enforcement. Describing a service that checks student work for evidence of plagiarism, New York Times journalist Trip Gabriel wrote, “Some educators have rejected the service and other anti-cheating technologies on the grounds that they presume students are guilty, undermining the trust that instructors seek with students.”

Such logic would indicate that Universities shouldn’t check student ID’s when serving alcohol at school functions. While we know underage kids drink, is checking their IDs a violation of trust? Just as schools have to protect the student’s safety on campus, so too should they protect their programs’ academic integrity and educational brand.

The article goes on to state that during a recent round of final exams in Central Florida’s video monitored testing center, there were very few complaints from students. Describing why she didn’t object to the “eye-in-the-sky” exam surveillance, one student was quoted as saying “This is college. There is the possibility for people to cheat.” These themes: administrators concern for policies that students would consider to indicate a presumption that cheating happens, and students acknowledgement that cheating is happening — should be considered together.

Software Secure provides a solution that authenticates the identity of a test-taker using fingerprint biometrics, and provides real-time video and audio monitoring, enabling students to take exams on their own computers at their own convenience with the same academic integrity as if they were taking an exam sitting before a human proctor in a classroom. Students love it because it makes taking exams convenient, obviously. But, they also love it because its use means their classmates are not cheating, and their degree means something.

Last year more than 50% of the institutions we talked with about our Securexam Remote Proctor System asked us about “Privacy Concerns” and whether students thought the program was too much like “Big-Brother.” In the same year, we administered close to 500,000 exams and had approximately 20,000 individual student test-takers, and TWO (2) students contacted us to discuss privacy issues.

In the last ten years, technology has drastically improved teaching and learning. As described in the New York Times piece, technology has also provided a new and easier way for some students to cheat. Using technology tools to detect and prevent cheating can protect the benefits of academic technology and the advances in learning. The mission to prevent cheating should be considered by school administrators to be a function of protecting the school’s academic integrity and brand for the benefit of their excellent students, rather than an acknowledgement that every student may cheat.

Schools should not focus on how they think students will perceive school efforts to prohibit cheating. Students “get it”. It’s just very difficult to promote and protect integrity without enforcement.

-Doug Winneg, CEO

Software Secure

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