Academic Integrity in the 21st century – Part II

Academic Integrity in the 21st Century – Part II: 5 Practical Approaches to Ensuring Exam Integrity Online

In Part I, we took a look at the trends in online exam integrity that I predict will be important in the upcoming year and beyond. I’ve had some time to review recent data and reflect upon the feedback we got from our Edubrief Webinar to come up with pragmatic approach to ensuring online exam integrity. If you missed it, check it out here on-demand.

The Disconnect

We’ve concurred that the state of academic integrity in higher education is in peril. There is ample evidence that students leave high school and enter into our colleges and universities carrying with them a culture of academic dishonesty. In 2010, the Josephson Institute of Ethics published a survey in which 80% of high school students self-reported sharing answers to homework assignments, and 64% having cheated on an exam. Yet this same survey found that 92% of high school students are satisfied with their ethical and moral behavior. Clearly there exists a disconnection between educators and students in what we perceive as acts of dishonesty. This disparity between belief and behavior is not new; Dr. Donald McCabe, Professor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers University and co-founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, has reported similar findings in higher education since the 1990’s. Cheating on exams in higher education is also a pervasive problem, with, depending upon the study, 65%-80% of students having cheated at least once on an exam in a given academic year. These statistics are likely underestimated, since they rely on students self-reporting about their dishonesty.

Challenges to Integrity in Online Learning

Online learning adds another layer of complexity to the issue of academic integrity. In 2011 the Sloan Consortium published a report on the status of online education in the United States. The rapid growth of online learning over the last eight years has forced us to re-examine our approach to cheating. As a result, policy at the federal level has undergone revision to require student identity verification in online exams. Furthermore, many institutions are adapting their existing academic integrity policy to address the unique needs of online learning. The goal is to equalize, as much as possible, the testing environments in traditional and online learning. Not only is this a best practice for ensuring academic integrity, the HEOA legislation requires that online and traditional learning be of equal rigor. Although not stated explicitly, this implies a need ensure parity in exam integrity in both environments.

We Need A Practical, Proactive Approach

So what can we do to protect exam integrity? One way is to shift from a reactive to a proactive approach. When it comes to exam integrity, to be proactive is to remove from the table the opportunity to cheat. Human nature, being what it is, does not easily resist temptation. In fact, research shows that we are better at making moral decisions in the absence of temptation, rather than when faced with the decision to resist temptation. Thus, proactive approaches that create a temptation-free testing environment are likely to be more successful than those that attempt to deter cheating with the threat of punitive action.

There are several effective, practical steps we can take to proactively protect integrity online, some of which are unique to online learning; others are modified from what we have learned about exam environments in traditional settings.

Five Practical Steps to establishing exam integrity online include elements of the following:

1. Situational factors
2. Social Influence
3. Assessment Design
4. Exam Policy
5. Proctoring Technology

EduBrief Webinar: Academic Integrity in the 21st Century – 5 Practical Steps to Establish Online Exam Integrity

I’ll be talking about 5 Practical Steps that we can employ to establish exam integrity online in an EduBrief (mini-webinar), on May 10th, where I’ll present Part II of this segment. Hope to see you there! Register here.

April Cognato, Ph.D., Senior Academic Officer
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