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Published February 8, 2021 | Multidisciplinary

Academic Integrity in Assessment at a Distance or Outside the Classroom — Part 2: Moving Away from the Traditional Written Exam

This article is a translation of a text published in Profweb’s French edition.

Plagiarism is on many teachers’ minds, especially in the context of distance learning. While there is no silver bullet against academic dishonesty, I offer you different strategies so that you can be confident that your students did write the answers or assignments that you are evaluating.

In my first article, I offered strategies to prevent plagiarism and cheating by, among others, minimizing the temptation to cheat for students.

In the present article, I suggest ways to move away from traditional written exams or essays, during which it is more difficult to be sure of the students’ honesty. There are many cases where it is not easy to find an alternative that works perfectly for the competency targeted by a course… But it is always worth considering the other options!

The Oral Interview

The oral interview can be used as a validation in the context of a double evaluation: the student must write a text or an essay in an non-controlled context, then do an oral evaluation on the same subject, during which they explain what they have written in their assignment.

However, the oral interview can also be used on its own! Indeed, it is a full and more than interesting assessment method, especially if trying to prevent plagiarism and cheating. The oral evaluation ensures the teacher that the person evaluated is the one to come up with the answers.

The students can still find ways to discreetly consult their course notes or other paper or electronic documents: the integrity insurance is then lesser if we ask memorisation questions. Worse, we have already seen students use off-camera “prompters”. The expression “integrity insurance” is then to be taken with a grain of salt, but this aspect remains nonetheless one of the strengths of the individual oral interview assessment method.

Each student is asked questions they do not know ahead of time, so that they cannot have their text “prepared” by someone else. One of the biggest advantages of this assessment method is that we can interact with the student: we can ask them to add to an answer, to give more detail. If we see that a student is getting lost, we can put them back on the right track to possibly manage to evaluate their competency without giving them a straight zero.

The oral interview is very flexible. It can replace a mini-test, an exam, an essay, a lab report, a dissertation, etc. The interview can be used equally for formative as for summative assessment. However, the one-on-one interview is time-consuming.

Chemistry teachers at Cégep André-Laurendeau have published on Profweb a series of tips for the realization of one-on-one interviews based on their own experiences.

Questions that appeal to the students’ individual experience

A great strategy to reduce the possibilities of plagiarism and cheating during written evaluations is to use questions or statements of work that call upon the personal experience of the students:

  • This is especially relevant in continuing education where the students already have professional experience in their field.
  • This also works very well when students have done an internship.
  • Finally, in some cases (for example in second languages or in philosophy), it might be relatively easy to ask students to discuss:
    • their day-to-day life
    • their personal experiences
    • their personal interests
    • etc.

Assignments that call upon the students’ creativity

Another option is to have students complete evaluations that call upon their creativity, either in the form, or in the choice of topic. For example, the teacher could ask each student to:

  • create a mindmap centered around different concepts of the course
  • create a scientific poster or an infographic [in French] on a topic of their choice linked to the course
  • invent a story based on one of the concepts of the course

There are certainly fewer mindmaps than essays lying around the web!

Evaluating the process as much as the final product

Another excellent strategy to make plagiarism and cheating more difficult is to continuously evaluate the processes behind the productions of the students, as in a portfolio. (Profweb published, in 2015, a featured report on the digital portfolio.)

The portfolio is a potent tool to help prevent plagiarism. If it allows to follow the progression of an assignment, and, even better, if the teacher’s feedback regarding the different steps must be taken into account by the student for them to improve their production, plagiarism becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.

Without going for a portfolio, it is possible to:

  • ask for an assignment to be submitted in many steps
  • use cloud computing to follow the progression of an assignment or project

In 2013, Jules Massé, then a Philosophy teacher, published a real-life story [in French] on Profweb where he explained how he used those 2 strategies to prevent plagiarism during an essay written outside of the classroom.

During a webinar on remote evaluation (available online [in French]), Louise Arsenault, academic advisor at Laval University, presented a scenario putting forward staggered submission and formative evaluation. A similar approach was the topic of a scenario detailed in Laval University's Banque d'activités d'enseignement-apprentissage [in French]. In summary:

  1. About 1 month before the deadline for the final version of their assignment, the students record a first version of an oral presentation (either as an audio or video file) and submit it on the course’s forum (Flipgrid, Moodle, Teams…).
  2. The students watch a minimum of 2 or 3 peer presentations, evaluate them using a formative evaluation grid and write constructive comments on the forum. In parallel, the teacher evaluates all of the presentations formatively.
  3. The students improve their projects based on the comments of their peers and their teacher. They have to justify why they went with the main suggestions made to them or not.
  4. The students upload the final version of their presentation on the forum for summative assessment.

Going back to the basics

No evaluation method perfectly responds to the needs of all the courses. To guide your choice, think of the competency targeted by your course. How is it demonstrated, in an authentic context? By keeping your evaluations as close as possible to an authentic manifestation of the competency, you will naturally be led to conceive evaluations during which the risk of plagiarism or cheating is limited. Easier said than done, but the reflection is worth it to put in place evaluations that are valid, fair, significant and motivating for your students!

To continue your reflection, you can watch the recording of a roundtable discussion organised by the FADIO in February 2020 about managing assessment at a distance [in French].

About the Author

Catherine Rhéaume She has been an editor and writer for Profweb since 2013. She also teaches physics at Cégep Limoilou and is a sessional lecturer for qualifying courses at University Laval. Her work for Profweb fosters her interest for technopedagogy and encourages her to try innovative teaching practices.

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