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The issue of 'secure' assessments in online mode

With the widespread, and in many cases, impulsive adoption of tools for implementing virtual courses, we find ourselves facing new instances of old problems. Specifically, the issue of ‘secure’ or fraud-proof assessments.

During our adolescence, many of us witnessed the boundless creativity that some peers applied when it came to creating their ‘cheat sheets’ (as referring to hidden notes that are discreetly used during an exam): from microscopic handwriting to complex camouflage systems. Beyond the didactic value that might result from creating these aids, it is an illegal and fraudulent practice.

In online courses, all of this is exacerbated primarily due to the lack of in-person supervision during the exam.

In the case of a highly significant assessment (such as job entrance exams or postgraduate accreditation), the chosen system should aim to ensure:

  • Authentication: in other words, confirming that the person taking the exam is indeed the corresponding student. Some form of identity verification should be used to establish that the student taking the exam is the legitimate one.

  • Fraud prevention (‘copying’ on the exam): by implementing evaluation and technological strategies that prevent, or at the very least, greatly complicate, potential student cheating.

Clearly, no system (physical or digital) is entirely foolproof. We will work to establish a process that makes it difficult for students to obtain illegal assistance, encouraging them to complete the exam on their own.

Let’s explore some strategies and tools used to address the aforementioned points.

For Authentication:

  • In addition to the login credentials for the Virtual Campus, the instructor can send a code to enter the exam just before it begins, via WhatsApp, Zoom chat, or internal messaging within the Virtual Campus.
  • E-proctoring or remote exam supervision: Keep a video conferencing platform like Zoom, Meet, or Webex running in the background, with the attendees’ cameras and microphones on, allowing the proctor to view their screen content when necessary. Over the past year, private platforms designed specifically for this purpose have proliferated, integrated with various Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle. For example, the Argentinean Klarway.
  • Program the Virtual Campus to prevent two people from logging in with the same username simultaneously.

To Prevent Fraud:

  • The previously mentioned e-proctoring strategy is also useful for hindering illicit assistance.
  • Program the Virtual Campus to require the student to take the exam using secure environments that prevent internet browsing, block key combinations (such as “copy” and “paste,” and window switching), and do not allow the execution of other software on the student’s computer, such as PDF readers. The free software Safe Exam Browser (fully compatible with Moodle) is a good strategy to use.
    Phrase the questions in a way that requires the student to reflect, construct, and synthesize the material studied to arrive at an answer.
  • Avoid using questions directly copied from the study material.
  • Randomize the question order in the quiz and, if the questions are multiple-choice, vary the sequence of the answers. This prevents students from easily sharing correct answers.
  • Carefully plan the test duration. The time should be sufficient to complete it after studying the provided material, yet insufficient for looking up answers in printed materials or on a cell phone.
  • Students should turn off their cell phones (unless required for a specific task in the exam) when entering the course. The instructor could explain that random phone calls may be made during the quiz, and students with ringtones will be penalized.

Each of these strategies should be carefully planned so as not to hinder students from comfortably completing their exams or feeling that their privacy is being violated.

Recognizing that no tool is 100% foolproof, we suggest creating multiple instances of examination, varying assessment tools and techniques to achieve a multidimensional evaluation of each student’s knowledge.

Lic. Ricardo Acosta García

E-learning Developer

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