Cheating is nothing new. It’s probably been happening since the first time someone had to demonstrate their knowledge and simply weren’t ready to do so. And there’s always been a bit of an arms race between those who want to cheat and those tasked with stopping it (typically the teachers). But with the pandemic, it’s being noticed that cheating is on the rise.
It’s easy for some to blame online learning for this. Being able to be in an unsupervised environment, goes the thinking, means that potential cheaters will feel emboldened and so more likely to cheat. But the reality is something different, as multiple academic studies have found that there is little difference in the amount of cheating between online and face to face courses.
However, what these studies have also found is that students themselves often believe it’s easier to cheat in an online environment, and that they also are quick to believe that their fellow students are likely cheating. To address this, universities have signed up with various exam monitoring services, such as ProctorU, at AU, or others such as Examus, Verificient, MeritTrac, Honorlock, and a variety of other companies all with names that try to portmanteau from a very limited set of terms.
But these companies have their own problems, as many AU students are finding out. Try to run an exam without your internet connection dropping when you live in a rural area with spotty phone lines at the best of times and a winter storm rolls in. Go ahead, find a place somewhere in your 400 square foot bachelor’s apartment that isn’t covered by various study papers from one course or another. Moving exams into the students’ homes often places a burden on students that they didn’t know they’d have to accommodating for when they signed their lease, and some students’ unions have started making their concerns known to their universities. At AU, we’ve had some extra time to sort some of these issues out, but a lot of students are finding out that they’re not all solved, not by a long shot.
And it’s bad enough when the problems are at your end, what happens when the problem is at their end, and you end up having to wait well beyond your appointed time to start the exam, or the connection is lost from their end as the companies, too, are trying to increase their capacity rapidly to deal with the influx of students from the pandemic.
AU is currently running a committee looking at assessment overall, but anybody familiar with AU knows how long it takes anything to get from initial committee to concrete action for the students, assuming it ever does (hey, it only took ten years or more to get athabascau email addresses for students).
In the meantime, the best way for us as students to deal with the software is to demonstrate that it isn’t really needed. When you see or hear of someone cheating, looking to cheat, or offering to help others cheat, report it. No mercy, no hesitation, no shrugging of the shoulders and leaving it for someone else to do. Show AU that the AU community itself is the biggest threat to cheaters. After all, all they do is devalue our degrees, and I don’t think any of us want that.