Written by Lasse Nielsen, IB Continuum Coordinator & Academic at The Ostrava International School
The question I get the most these days when it comes to Academic Honesty is “should I change my assessment style now that I am teaching online?” I would love to give an easy, Yes or No answer to this question. We could all use some easy answers these days. Unfortunately, this is not the reality of the situation. The answer, like most things dealing with online learning, is more complex. Below, I will try my best to give you a way to start thinking about online assessments.
I had the great pleasure of being a part of a panel discussion for Faria Educational Group, some months ago which really opened my eyes to how online teaching can work for me. The two other people on the panel had me in awe at the ease of which they used pedagogical techniques and technology within their online classroom. It made me realize how much academic honesty goes hand in hand with everything else. If your students are not comfortable in their online environment they are more likely to get lost. If they get lost they are more likely to cheat. A thing that really struck me during the webinar was the sentence “One of the things that was mentioned in the UNESCO document that I found particularly powerful was remembering that we’re not supposed to mimic the in-person classroom experience.” ( Vacirca, 10:28 – 10:47) This is certainly true, not just for teaching, but also for academic honesty. We cannot just mimic online, the approach we used to minimize academic misconduct in the physical classroom. We are forced to think differently for a different world with different challenges. If you would like to view the webinar, here is the link.
Should you change your assessment style?
Probably.. But it really depends on the assessment. Are you using an assessment style that would require you to be in the classroom with the students to ensure academic integrity? If the answer is yes, then you should definitely change your assessment style now that you are online. It is almost impossible to assure academic integrity if you flip the classical in-class test or quiz to an online teaching environment. There are ways to minimize risk. Having the cameras on and the students writing in view of the camera could help. The problem here is that you will miss something. Imagine having to monitor your students by watching the little squares on Zoom. You are going to end up feeling like a mall security guard watching the CCTV cameras at 16 different stores at the same time. But unlike a security guard, you cannot run to the site to check for suspicious activity. You are stuck where you are and should you have a suspicion that a student is using a phone under the table to google results, it will be almost impossible to prove. Another option is to have a parent or guardian sit in on the test. This is fine and may work for most cases. The question you need to ask yourself before doing this however is this…” Do you trust the parents to be honest?” Some parents may not even be conscious of the help they give their kids, or they might just not be vigilant enough. Another issue that springs from this approach; is it even fair for us to put such a role on the parents. They are not teachers. They may not be able to see what we can see in a classroom setting. They may not be familiar with the type of assessment we are using and will not know the rules for it.
So… what can we do?
Change the format
The first step is to ask the question; “what am I assessing?” Once you are sure of that, think about the ways you can gain that information in different ways than the usual assessment form. Imagine, for example, that you normally use a test to assess the students reading of a chapter in the textbook. This could be done orally within the online classroom. This also makes the assessment more interactive, and it allows you as a teacher to control the assessment by asking questions directly to the student. Furthermore, this format makes it very difficult for the student to cheat. An example could be an assignment where students are given a choice between 3 topics to study. The teacher and student will then have a conversation about the topic chosen. The student will not know exactly what questions the teacher will ask beforehand making it difficult to cheat. As a teacher, this format makes it easy to assess students on their argumentation skills or on the general knowledge of the topic as a whole, depending on what you are assessing of course. It takes a bit of time to speak to each student but for a more important assessment, it is worth it. For those times where a quick review of homework is needed but there is limited time, consider using some quiz software such as Kahoot or the like. These are great because the time limit set on them makes it almost impossible for students to copy-paste the question into google before the time is up.
Another option is to give the students a more project-based task. Portfolios or design briefs come to mind. These are great because they involve long-term planning and curation information, which is harder to plagiarize and should a student try, it can be detected easily.
Make the assessment personal
A great way to engage students and minimize cheating in general, not just for online learning, is to make the assignments as personal as possible. Generic assessments are easy to rip straight from the internet. A more personal assessment is harder to plagiarize. For example; instead of students making an analysis about a piece of music in a standard fashion, have the students analyse the piece by linking it to stages of their own life, i.e which moments of your life fits with the piece of music and why. You can probably make a much better assignment than the one I have just tried to make here, but I hope the point comes across. I am fully aware that for some subjects it is difficult to personalize assessments but I think even a little modification will help the students feel more motivated to tackle the assignment without resorting to cheating.
Innovate with Technology
Sometimes it can seem daunting to switch up the assessment format, mostly because it is hard to imagine how students could communicate their knowledge to us without using the same old tropes we normally use. I love having my students make presentations. I find it helps them organize their research and it allows me to assess their verbal communication skills. However, there are only so many presentations a student can make before the format becomes dull. If students are making presentations in most of their classes, it is not hard to imagine them becoming bored with the assessment style. This is where educational apps and other technical innovations are a great help. You may be asking yourself “what does this have to do with academic honesty?” A lot, as it turns out. What I have found over the years is that almost every aspect of education influences the students academic honesty, and something like motivation is a big factor. If a student is bored they are, in my experience more likely to resort to, less than honorable, ways of getting the work done.
The panel discussion I mentioned earlier also featured a wonderful speaker named Constance Bahn who made a presentation on the way we can use technology in our remote learning classroom. Her presentation, and her blog, linked here, is full of great ideas and ways that you can make your online classroom more fitting to this new style of teaching. Using some of the technology available makes it easier to personalize assessments to fit the students new reality.
One of my favorites is Flip Grid. It offers both video and voice recording and it allows the students to show you what they have learned in a new fun way. I myself am partial to the Miro board. This program lets you watch students work in real time and it is great for curating resources and project based learning.
It is extremely difficult to be in education right now. We can help our students and ourselves by limiting confusion within our assignments. Make sure you are describing clearly what is being assessed and the parameters of the assessment; is it a group task or an individual one? Are you going to allow help from parents or are you expecting students to do the task completely independently?
This is not an end all be all guide to Academic Honesty. Such a thing does not exist, unfortunately but putting all this together will hopefully make your online assessments less nerve racking. I wish you luck in this endeavour.
See Lasse’s previous blog: Academic Honesty in a Digital World
Vacirca Natalie. Teachers Helping Teachers: A Conversation about Shifts in Teaching for Remote Learning. Faria Education Group
Lasse Nielsen is the Academic Honesty Coordinator at The Ostrava International School in the Czech Republic. He has taught all levels of the IB program from Early Years to the DP. He currently teaches Civics & Humanities and Digital Design for MYP and TOK for the DP.