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Dim Lights, Fatigue, and Student Cheating

Academic dishonesty is a phenomenon that knows no boundaries. For as long as the chance to cheat has been present, some have actively capitalized on it. In the context of schools, certain measures have been implemented to reduce the likelihood of cheating: From setting an institutional agenda of zero tolerance in academic dishonesty, to employing room monitors to proctor examinations. Educational institutions have sought out various and inventive approaches to curb the likelihood of cheating. 

online-test1With the onset of online education, a new set of challenges and opportunities emerged. Taking exams online seemed to have made it possible for cheaters to find new ways to beat the system. Technology, however, was not far behind in providing fairly sophisticated methods for remote oversight of examinations. Automated and remote proctoring services can now provide much more intent visibility of a test-taker than a human proctor ever could. Whereas a room monitor might proctor an exam for 15, 20, or 30 students at a time, remote proctoring software can focus a camera, a microphone, and a keyboard analysis algorithm on a single student, throughout the duration of an exam.

The advent of such technologies brings more visibility into student information than can be gleaned in a physical classroom setting. For this reason, many face-to-face instructors are incorporating the use of these technologies to augment, supplement, or replace the tasks incumbent in their didactic functions. 

Aside from tech tools designed to dissuade cheating, there are other measures to consider when reducing the likelihood of academic dishonesty. For instance, timing is a powerful tool. Timing the length of exams and gauging the amount of time allocated to each test question continues to be one of the most effective and instrumental tactics used to weed out cheaters. Even if a student looked up the answers to a test by using Google Search or their textbook or class notes, having an appropriately-timed test timer would make it impossible for them to cheat their way successfully through the examination.

online-test2More recently, studies indicate that factors such as dim lighting, feeling physically tired, or experiencing mental fatigue, can induce the right conditions for cheating. As our fatigue increases, our ability to exercise self-control decreases. Moreover, research also indicates that our commitment to a moral compass is diminished towards the end of the day, when our energy resources are depleted.

These findings make a strong case for altering one of the most common practices in test completion and assignment submission online. The default deadline for any sort of Blackboard activity is typically set to 11:59 p.m. Most instructors do not modify this default setting, even though the opportunity to change it is available. In fact, for years, we have regarded the default 11:59 p.m. deadline to be a compassionate benefit to the student, allowing them more time to submit an assignment or complete an exam. However, recent findings mentioned above may suggest that perhaps it is time to modify the standard 11:59 p.m. deadline in online course assignments and exams.

Using a remote proctoring service, such as ProctorFree, is also a strong deterrent of cheating because it reminds the students that someone is watching. So is the intentional use of the honor code, which, when placed inside the course environment, prompts a sort of cue for morality, making students less likely to cheat.

For more information about designing such elements in your online course, contact your instructional designer today!