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Online assessment and cheating

By Murray Bourne, 20 Jun 2007

An article on CNN, Web cam exam proctors are latest cheating deterrent (link no longer available), describes a device that students of online courses would have to buy for $125.

The device [...] is similar in many respects to other test-taking software. It locks down a computer while the test is being taken, preventing students from searching files or the Internet. The latest version also includes fingerprint authentication, to help ensure the person taking the test isn't a ringer.

But the new development is a small Web cam and microphone that is set up where a student takes the exam. The camera points into a reflective ball, which allows it to capture a full 360-degree image. (The first prototype was made with a Christmas ornament.)

When the exam begins, the device records audio and video. Software detects significant noises and motions and flags them in the recording. An instructor can go back and watch only the portions flagged by the software to see if anything untoward is going on -- a student making a phone call, leaving the room -- and if there is a sudden surge in performance afterward.

It won't work, because it is missing the point. Students who want to beat a system will always find a way. Besides, find me a teacher who has time to go back over hours (possibly) of video, trying to see what students are doing.

Compare this to the approach taken by U21 Global, where students' abilities and potential are well known before they undertake the "open book, open web" assessment. Sure, at U21 Global we are talking about mature students who actually genuinely want to learn the stuff, but there is much to be learned from their experience.

If learning tasks are authentic and genuine, there is less need to police online assessments. Maybe we need to think of better assessments than examinations, especially for online courses.

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