May 2022

Is the person asking to be admitted to an exam the person who is supposed to be taking the exam? How do you prove this person should have access to exam items?

One of the first steps in admitting a person to sit for an exam is checking their identification (ID). Typically, people present a driver license, state issued ID, military ID, or passport for vendor exams, and student IDs for academic exams. The topic of vetting student IDs requires a volume of its own. This post is focused on the ID types used for vendor testing.

The topic of fake IDs became an issue for me many years ago when I was new to the testing world. A test-taker presented me with a passport from a country I knew by name, could come reasonably close to locating on a world map, but had no idea what their passports should look like. In his passport photo, the test-taker was wearing authentic clothing appropriate to that country’s customs. Very few facial features could be seen. His hair was completely covered. He was clean-shaven. The person standing before me was in jean shorts, a polo, full beard, and flip flops. I had little to determine if the passport was authentic and if the person standing before me was the person who was supposed to test. Fortunately, he was able to provide a matching signature, a secondary form of ID, and it was a low-stakes admissions exam for our university where I could verify his enrollment. But the moment caught me off guard and I promised myself I was going to learn about IDs.

It seems that I am not alone in the struggle to authenticate IDs.

Between Operation Varsity Blues and the sudden need to provide at-home testing options for millions worldwide, test security has been thrust into the spotlight over the past few years. Ringers taking tests for others in both live and virtual settings has been reported for large-scale standardized exams and college classes alike. Recently, Derek Newton in The Cheat Sheet reported two high school cheating scandals (Issue 120), one of which was involved impersonation.

Over the last two years of emergency remote instruction, there has been much debate as to where the lines between privacy and security, user authentication and discrimination, convenience and requirements should be drawn. It was important to keep colleges, universities, and certification programs moving forward to provide people opportunities to finish degrees and receive employment credentials. At the same time, it was important to remember the struggle many people had to find private spaces, renew identifications, and have technology compatible with a variety of platforms. Those of us in the testing profession care deeply about both integrity and students' challenges. While academic integrity is the goal of test security, we must also remember that human beings take the tests.

Authenticating test taker identification surfaced as one of many challenges during this time of emergency remote instruction. Colleges and universities struggled with verifying that the person sitting on the other side of the camera was the student enrolled in the course without causing undue stress to the student. Test centers reviewed ID policies looking for ways to increase verification efforts in remote settings. We have always known we do not catch all impersonators or fake IDs at our testing centers, but we now found ourselves wondering if we are doing a decent job of identifying impersonators in remote settings.

Through a grant from the National College Testing Association, Jarret Dyer (College of DuPage) and I have begun investigating the frequency with which live proctors compared to remote proctors accurately detect fraudulent identifications. Using a set of identifications, we are asking proctors to view each ID and determine whether they believe the ID is valid or fake. For proctors participating in a live setting, they may handle the IDs as they would at their testing site. For proctors participating in a remote setting via webcam, they may ask the researcher to turn, tilt, move the ID closer or farther from the camera, or other requests to help determine authenticity. Each proctor is asked to work independently and draw their own conclusions.

This project focuses solely on the identification card itself. At a test site, proctors can use other metrics to help determine test-taker authenticity. Does the photo on the ID match the person presenting the ID? Do the demographics on the ID match the test registration? If the ID says a person is 5’9” and the person standing before you is 5’2” can the difference be explained? Does the signature on the ID match the signature on the sign-in log? Remote proctoring has its own set of checks and balances such as requiring a photo to be submitted by the test-taker prior to testing for matching purposes and keystroke analysis. We chose to start with one variable for this project, hoping our findings will lead to more projects in the future.

One of our goals is to find ways to improve academic integrity efforts for both vendor testing and classroom testing by establishing best practices for ID checking. Correctly identifying test takers is a critical first step. Gone are the days of poorly crafted fake IDs. Modern fakes are plentiful, cheap, and extremely convincing. Most of the sites offer buy-one-get-one-free just in case one gets confiscated. How detectable are these IDs? Can in-person proctors spot fake IDs more frequently than remote proctors? We eagerly await the outcome. If you are planning to attend the NCTA conference in August, please stop by the research room and participate. If you did, do you think you would be able to detect the fakes?

I have been thinking a lot about the title of my most recent book, co-edited with Dr. David Rettinger: Cheating Academic Integrity: Lessons Learned from 30 Years of Research. Cheating academic integrity. I had to sell others on the title. It wasn’t an immediate hit. It caused people to pause. Hesitate. Wonder. But that’s exactly why I loved it. We have been cheating academic integrity for decades and that should certainly give us pause.

And by we, I mean all of us. The royal we. Parents, students, teachers at all educational levels, education administrators and leaders, journalists, our governments, and the larger society. To be sure, during two years of emergency remote instruction, attention to cheating spiked. More journalists covered the increase in reported cheating. More educators and educational leaders were talking about cheating. But we were still cheating academic integrity, giving it short shrift compared to the attention we were giving cheating, its arch nemesis. 

Take, for example, the very public debate about online proctoring that occurred during the pandemic. The debate centered on a typical old refrain - students are cheating and we need to stop them. That framing of the problem pitted pro-student and anti-cheating allies against one another. We can’t do online proctoring, said the pro-student side, because it is an affront to student privacy and undermines equity. Whereas those emphasizing anti-cheating doubled down on the “we have no choice” argument if the integrity of our assessments is to be trusted and assured. In general, at least in public opinion, the pro-student side was louder and online proctoring tools became suspect. But this entire debate cheated academic integrity because it was a false dichotomy, it artificially pitted anti-cheating and pro-students as adversaries when they are actually allies. It is pro-student to be against cheating. It is pro-integrity to be for privacy (aka respect) and equity (aka fairness). We cheated academic integrity by not having a thoughtful and informed conversation to answer this question - how do we best uphold integrity, privacy and equity?

Engaging in that thoughtful conversation would have highlighted that we were facing what Rushworth Kidder calls an ethical trilemma. In an ethical dilemma, we see two values clashing and feel the need to choose between them - to sacrifice one value for the other. However, this is a false dichotomy because often there is a third solution that could uphold all of the values at stake: the trilemma. To be sure, educational leaders and even some academic integrity experts (me included) advocated for a third solution that would uphold all 3 values, for example, the use of “authentic assessments” or redesigning classes to be mastery- (rather than performance-) oriented. However, there was little tangible support behind implementing such solutions. There was no time for faculty to redesign their assessments, let alone their courses. There was also likely little training or support to help them do so. So, while well-intended, the advice to "teach better" may not have been an actual feasible solution for most faculty. To be fair, we were in a hurry. It was a stressful time and many of us were stretched thin physically and emotionally. It was an untenable situation. I am not writing now as a Monday morning quarterback, but merely to call attention to the fact that we were cheating, and continue to cheat, academic integrity.

By and large, we cheat academic integrity by failing to teach students how to make good ethical decisions even when under stress and pressure. We fail to help students develop the courage to act ethically, even when it is difficult to do so. We fail to call attention to and celebrate people who are integrous and ethical, focusing instead on noticing and even sometimes glorifying the bad actors. We fail to teach students the connections between academic integrity, personal integrity, and professional integrity. We fail to appropriately respond to cheating when it does occur so that we may create a teachable moment. We fail to recognize that the ways in which we teach and assess learning is no longer sufficient for the realities of the twenty-first century (and haven’t been for quite some time). We fail to reorganize our priorities and what we reward within the education system, continuing to reward deliverables (e.g., grades, degrees, published works) that serve as false, or at least inadequate, proxies for good teaching and learning. We fail to emphasize academic integrity within quality assurance and accreditation requirements, as if a university or a degree without integrity is still worthy of such assurance. 

To be sure, lessons learned from the last thirty years of research tell us that there are pockets of hope and good practices implementation. There are many laudable efforts by those of us within the academic integrity field. The European Network for Academic Integrity and the International Center for Academic Integrity, among other associations and organizations, continue to advance research and practice. Even some governments - like those in the UK and Ireland - are fighting the good fight, as are some quality assurance agencies like QAA and TESQA.

Yet, to me, it still seems that we are trying to save our proverbial house that is on fire with a mere garden hose. Am I being too dramatic? Perhaps. I hope I am wrong and that our entire house - the educational system - isn't on fire. I hope that there exists only little fires here and there that can easily be put out with our current strategies. And I would welcome receiving evidence that this is true. After all, if we want to stop cheating academic integrity over the next 30 years, we must address the causes of the fire rather than continuing to operate in ways that light the fire of cheating and then wonder why we're getting burned.

Low angle view of four skyscrapers

            This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a graduation ceremony on campus.  I was excited to be there to support some of my former students and to see them walk across the stage.  The importance of this ceremony as a major transition point was highlighted by the pageantry of the event and the words of the speakers.  Students were recognized for their accomplishments and were also reminded that a bright future awaits them. 

            As a faculty member, seeing the pride (and relief!) on the faces of graduating students was very motivating.  I will even admit that there is a possibility that I became a little misty-eyed when some of the students who had started in my class as freshmen took the stage.   It is truly an honor to get to play a small part in the development of these students.  It really makes you think about the impact that faculty members can have. 

            We, of course, want to help students to understand and be able to apply the content of our courses.  However, we are also helping to prepare these students to “leave the nest” and find their place in the world.  We want our students to think for themselves, to make decisions, and to use their own knowledge and skills to pursue their passions.  We want our students to grow into educated professionals who act ethically and with integrity.

            Studies have shown that there is a negative correlation between ethical behavior and the frequency in which an individual has participated in academic dishonesty.  In 2010, a study involving students from 6 different campuses showed an increase in the likelihood that students would engage in dishonest behaviors when they believed that these behaviors were acceptable.  These students were also found to be “more likely to engage in dishonest acts in the workplace” (Nonis & Swift, 2010).  A 2020 study involving undergraduate and graduate students at a private university in Mexico found that “the extent to which students perceived the committing of any kind of cheating within the university as severe, their behavior, both inside and outside the workplace, was more ethical” (Guerrero-Dib, Portales, & Heredia-Escorza, 2020).  This would suggest that making students aware of the importance of academic integrity as well as the consequences of dishonest behavior can have an impact on student behavior in our classes as well as in their future workplaces.  When we discuss the importance of academic integrity in our syllabus, in class on the first day, and throughout the semester, it is about more than just discouraging cheating in our classes.  It is a golden opportunity to help foster integrous and ethical behaviors that students will carry with them as the build their careers and their lives.

References

Guerrero-Dib, J. G., Portales, L., & Heredia-Escorza, Y. (2020, February). Impact of Academic Integrity on Workplace Ethical Behavior. International Journal for Educational Integrity. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-020-0051-3

Nonis, S., & Swift, C. O. (2010, March). An Examination of the Relationship Between Academic Dishonesty and Workplace Dishonesty: A Multicampus Investigation. Journal of Education for Business, 77(2), 69-77. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/08832320109599052

Stack of rocks in order of size with water in background

It’s no secret that students face a lot of pressure to do well in college – from parents, from friends, from a theoretical future employer or grad school, and from themselves. For freshman, they’re also experiencing a new environment, facing the challenge of finding new friends, and learning how to be successful in a much more challenging setting than in high school. In the dozens of academic integrity cases I have been involved in, the cause is typically not because the student is lazy. Rather, it is because they felt pressure to do well and didn’t feel like that was possible without the actions that brought them to me.

              As teachers, we often take a “holier-than-thou” stance in regards to academic integrity, though doing so ignores the basic economics of decision-making. “The traditional economic theory behind decision-making involves a cost-benefit analysis in which an individual measures what they stand to gain from a particular action—even if this action is morally wrong—as well as the probability and cost of being caught” (Adnani, M). This applies to the reader and author as much as it applies to students. Do you ever speed? Have you exaggerated on your taxes? Have you told a lie recently? If you have, the likelihood is that the reason why is because you believed that it would provide some sort of a benefit to you and the probability of being caught was low. Maybe you were late for dinner with friends and you blamed your poor time management on traffic. The benefit – being seen as someone who is timely – is minimal, but it’s unlikely anyone would question that lie, so the likelihood of being caught is very low. Our students put a very high value on doing well in college. Therefore, if they believe there is a benefit to a dishonest action and that they are unlikely to be caught, it is in their economic, though not moral, interest to do so. When the perceived alternative is failure, the moral obligation becomes easier to overlook.

              The solution to the economic conundrum is education and transparency. In a study of freshman students, Hossain (2022) found that merely 1 in 10 students received instruction in academic integrity literacy in middle school and only 1 in 5 did in high school. Regardless of whether it should be the responsibility of the college instructor to teach academic integrity literacy, it is essential for us to do so if we wish to prevent academic dishonesty. The retroactive approach of catching a student and punishing them provides a far less effective approach than preventing the dishonesty in the first place. To fully prepare students, instructors must make clear what constitutes academic dishonesty. For example, some instructors allow formula sheets on tests; others allow collaboration. While some issues, like plagiarism, are more universal, many others vary from instructor to instructor. Violations must be clear, written out, easily accessible, and discussed in class. This solves the knowledge piece, but that in and of itself is not enough. Students must know the consequences and the methods the instructor uses to ensure academic integrity. For example, in my classes, I use a response device for in-class quizzes. Students bringing an absent classmate’s response device is a common issue. To deter such behavior, I start class by posting a question and counting the number of students in the class. As they’re responding, a response counter is displayed on the screen. I announce the number of students in the class and the number left to respond. By doing this, I am demonstrating that I am paying attention to the number of students present and the number who are responding. I also explain to them how I will know who is not present if I find that there are more responses than students present. This grade represents 10% of their total course grade – which I remind them of frequently. If they’re caught sending their clicker with a friend when they are not present, they lose all 10%. The simple economics of this decision is an easy one. The benefit of one day’s points is not worth the risk of an entire letter grade when the teacher is transparent and closely monitoring the situation. This unfortunately does not deter all students. Some, unfortunately, overestimate the perceived benefit and/or underestimate the likelihood of being caught. Instructors cannot prevent all acts of dishonesty, but with education, transparency, and setting expectations, we can demonstrate that the economics are on the side of honesty.

Hossain,Z. (2022). University freshmen recollect their academic integrity literacy experience during their K-12 years: Results of an empirical study. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 18(1) doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-021-00096-4

Adnani, M. (2016). Why Do We Cheat? The Economics Review. https://theeconreview.com/2016/08/17/why-do-we-cheat/***

 

 

***Please note: This article does reference Dan Ariely's work on integrity, thought it discusses a different experiment than the discredited insurance study found fraudulent in 2020.

Top-down view of a desk with a laptop, cup of coffee, and person writing on a notepad

Approximately 8 years ago, I built and launched an online College Algebra course for undergraduate students at a regional SEC University.  As I’ve continued to teach, modify, re-write, and re-design the course over the past 8 years, I’ve come to realize that promoting and maintaining high standards of academic integrity in online courses is a bit different than in my traditional in-person courses.

While it has been stated that academic integrity violations are probabilistically higher for student with lower GPA’s,  this is not absolute, and ‘good students’ cheat too (Cullen).  A 2019 study found that primarily adult students were no more likely to engage in most forms of cheating than traditional-age students in residential institutions (Harris, et al.).  For me, this evidence suggests that the single most important factor impacting my course is not the audience to which it will be addressed, but the content and design of the course itself.

For a mathematics course, students are expected to competently describe the mathematical concepts using proper vocabulary, solve problems using graphical and algebraic techniques, and be able to sufficiently defend their answers.  I have come to realize that the only time I am really interested in assessing student ability to do the aforementioned solely and completely on their own, is on exams.

First, and most importantly in my course design process, I wrote the final exam.  It contains a selection of what my state, college, department, colleagues, and myself deem to be the most essential concepts for which students should demonstrate mastery.   I, then, wrote smaller, more focused exams that pieced those final exam questions into groupings by concept.  Then I created a set of quizzes and homework assignments.  These demarked the ‘lessons’ for the course.  Lastly, I worked on how to ‘teach’ each lesson.  If you’re interested in learning more about backward design, check out Understanding By Design.

Exams serve as my focus for assessing student abilities, and my focus for maintaining academic integrity.  Everything else in the course is grouped into the ‘learning is messy’ category.  Students are encouraged to work together on everything else.  They are allowed multiple attempts on homework problems and quizzes.  These activities are where the learning happens.

In my course, there are three unit exams and then a comprehensive final exam.  The first exam in the course is completely open-book, open-notes.  I tell my students that the first exam is their opportunity to “see” and “feel” what an exam “is” in this course, with the safety net of having their notes available to them.  This releases some fear, and gives a bit of confidence heading into that first exam.  Subsequent exams and the final are not open-book, open-notes; so I encourage them to reflect upon that first testing experience and develop plans for how to continue (or start) being successful on future exams.  I should also mention, it is mathematically impossible to pass the course with only the homework, quizzes, and first exam.  Students are required to demonstrate their abilities on the more heavily weighted exams 2, 3, and final…which are proctored.

Deciding to proctor exam 2, 3, and final was an easy decision.  Teclehaimanot, You, Franz, Xiao, and Hochberg  Ensuring Academic Integrity in Online Courses (2018) studied 3 non-proctored testing scenarios to determine their effectiveness.  Their research concluded no statistical differences between the methods, while noting that these testing environments function as a substitute “if human proctored testing is not feasible”(p.52).  In my case, human proctored testing is feasible: ProctorU.  While not a perfect solution, it’s the closest thing to proctoring in an online class that I have been able to find. 

The final piece of my course design focused on academic integrity, is as simple as telling students about academic integrity.  They need to know where the ‘line’ is in order to stay on the correct side of said line.  A previous blog post Lesson From TikTok on Academic Integrity (Nov 2021) encouraged “creating academic communities where students are responsible for and take pride in [that community] while also holding others to a standard of accountability is the goal of academic integrity”.  To this end, documentation about academic integrity at my institution is included in my course.  It’s in the syllabus (my contract with students), it’s hyperlinked in my LMS, I mention it in my “welcome to the course” video and email, and it’s in a low-stakes course entry quiz that students complete on the opening day of the course. 

We all want our students to learn, that’s why we [and they] are here!  I want my students to know that learning is messy, and very often not an individual endeavor.  My course design reinforces that while individual demonstration of mastery is expected on exams, collaboration is allowed, and encouraged. 

References

Bowen, R. S.  (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [todaysdate] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/understanding-by-design/

Cullen, C. (2022, January 11). Good Students Cheat, Too. ICAI. https://academicintegrity.org/resources/blog/95-2022/january-2022/336-good-students-cheat-too

Harris, L., Harrison, D., McNally, D., & Ford, C. (2019). Academic integrity in an online culture: Do McCabe’s findings hold true for online, adult learners? Journal of Academic Ethics, , 1-16. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10805-019-09335-3

Parnther, C. (2021, November 8). Lessons from TikTok on Academic Integrity. ICAI. https://academicintegrity.org/resources/blog/73-2021/november-2021/321-lessons-from-tiktok-on-academic-integrity

Teclehaimanot, B., You, J., Franz, D. R., Xiao, M., & Hochberg, S. A. (2018). ENSURING ACADEMIC INTEGRITY IN ONLINE COURSES: A case analysis in three testing environments. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 19(1), 47-52,56-57. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/ensuring-academic-integrity-online-courses-case/docview/2100336459/se-2?accountid=8361