While there is an understandable tendency to want to replicate classroom assessment practices in the online environment using tools such as online proctoring, instructors should always consider alternatives to tightly timed, proctored exams wherever possible. These tools pose significant challenges and risks to many in our student body, especially when applied at scale and where students have limited or no choice. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, research and scholarship around the potential impact of these surveillance approaches have rapidly accelerated, with issues of inequity, racial bias, gender bias, ableness, magnified stress, technical issues, bandwidth issues, security breaches, and privacy invasions all being raised and experienced. Some of the issues captured in the media and scholarly publications have been tracked by colleagues in this online spreadsheet.
Remote proctoring is not currently available at UWindsor, and the impacts of these tools are being closely monitored in other institutions in an attempt to avoid the same significant impacts on our own students. The university is currently investigating a proctoring tool that is less prone to some of the issues seen in other tools, and which integrates with BetterExaminations, but a full and thorough vetting for privacy and risk concerns, including FIPPA and AODA accessibility compliance, must be undertaken before it can be adopted.
We also strongly discourage instructors from trying to proctor exams themselves using tools such as Zoom, Teams, or Collaborate, which are not designed or fit for this purpose. This approach has significant privacy and security risks, as well as equity and accessibility issues, and does not provide any improvement to the integrity of the exam. This practice increases risk and anxiety for students, with no tangible benefit. Indeed, there is some evidence that such carceral or surveillance pedagogies may in fact increase the likelihood that students will attempt to cheat, as the process of surveillance damages the trust relationship between instructor and student, the direct opposite of what they are intended to achieve. It will also open instructors up to potential appeals for unfair assessment practices, as well as FIPPA and AODA risks.
You may be approached by vendors offering proctoring and exam solutions, some of which are integrated with other tools you are already using like textbooks or student engagement tools. Most third-party tools, are not supported by the university and so any issues with them must be resolved between the instructor and the vendor. There is no guarantee that those tools not vetted by the University meet legal requirements for accessibility, privacy, and data security, so instructors should use caution and seek advice from our campus experts in Open Learning, CTL, and ITS by contacting one of us or putting in a TeamDynamix ticket. There is also generally a requirement to provide an alternative option for students who cannot use or purchase access to these third-party tools, or who need accommodations.
One of the concerns most frequently raised by faculty is that of managing assessment in the online environment. Designing effective assessment for online courses requires some creativity and re-examination of the learning outcomes of the course. Often this will take the form of alternative assessment approaches that do not use tightly timed or high stakes exams, using a more authentic approach that considers where students are likely to apply their knowledge in the future. Blackboard has a suite of tools to help manage this digitally, but there is a learning curve to fully understand how these tools work.
CTL and OOL provide a wide range of resources to help faculty navigate these tools, including self-paced resources and workshops, and the Bb Cafe. They can also provide one-on-one or group consultations as necessary to help faculty redesign their assessment for an online environment. The university is also investing in implementing the BetterExaminations tool, which will be available for broad use in the winter term, to extend capabilities in online assessment (particularly for exams). Find out more about that project here. Additionally, a new position in OOL starting in January will focus on supporting online and technology-enabled assessment to provide greater support to faculty in this area.
CTL, OOL and ITS would like to remind faculty of some best practices when using online tests in Blackboard. These include making sure you are available to students during the exam, not using the Force Complete option, providing a window of time for exams (including a flexible start time and additional grace period at the end of an exam if there are any documents or images that need to be uploaded as part of the exam). This approach was recently endorsed by the Student Senate Caucus and Deans Council. Allowing backtracking during an exam so students can check their answers before submitting is important as students have been trained to approach exams by completing the questions they know first, and then returning to the questions they are unsure of, as well as checking their work before submitting it. These recommendations help to reduce stress for both students and instructors.
Also be aware that there is a daily maintenance window for Blackboard from 5-6am and students may face disruptions to their exams if they are trying to sit them at that time. This is likely to be a challenge for international students in different timezones.
Above all, we should approach assessment with compassion, a focus on learning, and with our students’ best interests in mind. We must understand that there will likely be technical and other challenges faced by students (and potentially instructors) that are beyond their control, and that each set of circumstances will be unique.
The integrity of our programs is an important consideration for all of us, and building and upholding a culture of academic honesty and ethical practice is the responsibility of the entire UWindsor community. Maintaining the integrity of evaluative procedures can be approached in many ways, and there is a whole sub-discipline of research in this area (find some useful resources compiled by CTL here). Three pillars of activity should work in concert to achieve these goals: Engineering (building better assessment strategies that are likely to discourage academic dishonesty), Education (having a conversation with students about expectations, defining academic integrity/dishonesty, potential consequences, and trying to understand why students may attempt misconduct), Engagement (developing an engaging learning environment where students feel supported, and that they will be treated fairly), and Enforcement (if after all these other design features are employed there are still issues, they need to be followed through with tangible consequences).
Research shows that there are a number of factors that are more likely to lead to students attempting to cheat, but the belief that cheating is more prevalent in online courses is generally not supported in the literature. Conditions that do lead to more cheating include when they are anxious, a perception of the assessment as unfair or irrelevant, when under severe time pressure, where expectations are not clear, where they perceive others as cheating and having an advantage over them, ignorance of what constitutes academic misconduct, and when there are no perceived consequences if caught. Even something as simple as providing access to past exams or exemplars of assignments is likely to reduce a number of these factors.
During this difficult time, it is important that we work together as a community of educators and learners to address the challenges we all face. We must do this with grace, empathy, and care for each other.