How to prevent academic cheating in a digital age?

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In the wake of the global COVID 19 pandemic, learning institutions all over the world have to deal with an age-old academic problem; cheating. For them, this is in itself a pandemic brought on by the rise of online learning, teaching, research and the attendant assessments.

The value of any academic certificate is premised on the fact that, the holder actually took the prescribed hours of lessons, undertook relevant practical work and passed a prescribed examination. If the integrity of this process cannot be guaranteed, then one can rightly question the validity of such an academic certificate.

There a number of ways learners can cheat; plagiarism, fabrication, falsification, hacking into exams systems to obtain solution manuals or examination questions or answers in advance, delegating taking examinations or authoring of an assignment through a third party (outsourcing), having access to unauthorized materials online or transmitting them through messaging systems such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal during exams and unauthorized collaboration such as working on exams as a network instead of prescribed individual work.

This is why it is crucial that educators and educational institutions look more carefully at ways to mitigate this phenomenon. That said, digital technologies are rising to the task by providing tools and solutions to detect, prevent and minimize cheating during academic work performed online.

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How to minimize digital academic cheating
Plagiarism or the ability for students to copy and paste someone’s online work and submit it as their own is now easier than before. The starting point in terms of dealing with this problem is to ensure students are aware of what constitutes plagiarism and penalties for plagiarising. A second step is procuring online plagiarism detection services, such as SafeAssign, Turnitin, iThenticate, Dupli Checker, Viper, Copyleaks, Unicheck, PaperRater, Plagiarisma, Plagium, PlagScan etc. These tools work by comparing work submitted by students to existing databases to check for originality. If the student copied wholly from a source or sources and submits as their own work, the system will assign a 100% copy rating. On the other hand, a low score is assigned where there are only a few matches between student’s submitted work and existing sources of work.

How to prevent academic cheating in a digital age? 1

The report from the detection service is reviewed by the instructor to check if the student properly attributed the copied content or not. This manual review of the plagiarism report is important since there may be detection errors due to how work is presented and ciliation criteria in use by the said institution. Although some of these tools are free of charge, it is recommended that institutions obtain paid for services since it gives them all the options needed to make the anti-plagiarism tool work effectively.

In order to maintain academic integrity, a number of Online Exam Control Procedures (OECPS) using digital technological solutions are available for institutions such as proctor supervision of online examination which work through a remote proctor (machine such proctorU, remote proctor etc.) or approved proctor (person) which works by verifying the student’s identity sometimes through biometric.

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Secondly examiners can integrate Respondus Lockdown Browser (RLB) https://web.respondus.com in their Online Learning Management System (OLMS) which is a special Internet browser which “locks” during exams so that the exams taker cannot manipulate the system nor exit/return or cut/paste.

Other online exams control measures institutions can rely on include a set up that shows one question at a time, taking out return or backtrack buttons on assessment sites, keeping online exams open for a short period of time not the whole day and randomization of online exams questions so same questions are not shown to students at the same time.

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Further, adopting non-technological solutions such as setting questions which require higher-order thinking and in-depth analysis so students cannot find answers easily by undertaking online searches, variation of question types, reminding students of academic integrity policies at the start of the exams, and getting them to sign their respective institution’s academic integrity contract.

In conclusion, students at all levels these days are very tech savvy and their ability to cheat during online assessments is legendary and yet some institutions cannot afford the technological solutions needed to reduce cheating nor the skills set. However, it is imperative for institutions offering online education and training to be fully aware of the dangers to academic integrity that online learning enables in order to put in place both technological and non-technological based internal controls to minimize digital academic cheating.

The writer is a Technology Innovations Consultant,
WhatsApp : 024 199 5737‬
E-mail: kwami@mangokope.com

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