When lock down browsers are not enough: Increasing Academic Integrity Online

In a previous post, I pointed out that, due to the increase of mobile internet-connected devices and multiple computers in student homes, lockdown browsers are a security blanket at best when it comes to academic integrity in online learning. And I promised to share my thoughts on what you could and probably should do beyond the lock down browser.  So here’s my list:

Use Deep Question Banks
Kids share the questions that were on the online and offline tests they’ve taken, and their answers to those tests.  And they don’t just share this information with their friends and classmates.  They share them online and make them publicly available on sites like answers.yahoo.com and others. If you are using the same tests and questions over several years, you are putting the integrity of your test severely at risk. Develop deep question banks, as well as banks of distractors for multiple-choice questions.

Use Open-ended Questions
Well-crafted open-ended questions not only assess students’ higher-level thinking skills, but are harder for students to cheat on, especially when paired with…

Use Plagiarism Checkers
Plagiarism checkers take the electronic text-based assignment your students submit and compare them to indexes of web pages and against the every other submission ever sent to the service. The result is typically a score indicating how much of the submission is likely plagiarized and a report showing the sources in which a match was found. Just knowing that their submissions are being checked for originality can be enough to prevent plagiarism by students.

Make it Okay to Fail
Students cheat because there is some value to the assessment they are taking that, if they do not attain, is felt to be damaging to them in some way. But what if failing the assessment wasn’t just okay, but expected? This is how video games work. They expect you to fail and try over and over until you get it right. You might try giving grades for effort rather than results on formative assessments.

Stop Using Tests
I’m not saying you don’t assess students. I’m saying you stop testing them. Move to a project-based assessment system in which students have to create original works and to show you their evolution along the way. That last part is important: if you just accept a final polished PowerPoint as the project, there’s a higher chance that it was “borrowed” from someone else. Oh, and plagiarism checkers only work with text-based files.

Use Proctoring Services
When you must use tests, consider using online proctoring services. They run the gamut of cost, technology and methods. Some simply watch the student’s desktop and face on webcam, others record both and watch the recordings several times, reporting issues after the test has ended.

Use Identity Verification
Several online services confirm student identities before and during tests in both manual (showing their school ID on webcam) and automatically (analyzing keystrokes patterns while typing pre-set phrases)

Have any other ideas? Post them in the comments, or continue the conversation with me on Twitter and Google+ @robletcher.

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Your students are prepared for the test…but not for life.

Kudo’s to A. J. Juliani’s guest blog post on Edutopia about employing the smart “20% time” concept to schools. Innovated originally by Google (heard of them, right?) it is the practice of allowing people 20% of their work time (read school time) working on anything they want to that is related to their passions and interest.
Did you catch that? Their interests – not the employer’s or, in this case, the teacher’s or school’s.
Your students are probably doing great. They’re learning what the state and district say they must. They’re scoring well on tests and quizzes. They may even be doing well on the tests you and your colleagues have been so intent on preparing them to take.
But would they do any of this if they didn’t have to? What will they do when they leave school and there’s no one there to tell them what to think about, care about and do to make them feel the bliss of following their passions?
I suggest that you can help them to develop this sense of passion – and at the same time improve interest, engagement and performance in your courses if you gave them 20% of their time to work on a project – related to your course – that they defined and were interested in pursuing.
Have you tried it already?
If so, how’d it go?
If not – why not?
I challenge you to give it a shot. Heck, do it for a month and see what your kids come up with.
But be sure to come back here and share what you experienced.

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Science teachers at Loxahatchee middle school strike back against hands-on labs

Science teachers at Loxahatchee middle school strike back against hands-on labs.

Science is messy a lot of the time. And it should be. I can say that confidently as a trained earth science teacher and having spent several years in a bricks and mortar classroom cleaning up after that mess. But in a Palm Beach area middle school, things are a lot more tidy. Teachers there have completely abandoned hands-on science labs in favor of “videos and Powerpoint lectures” and – as a result – teachers have seen a rise in standardized test scores. Sounds good, right?

Wrong. Jay Mermelstein is quoted in this article as saying “If we take a day to do a lab, (the student) don’t see it as a learning day. They see it as a free day to mess around”. Classic move – blame the students when you’re own classroom management and motivation techniques are really at fault. Just as children value what their parents demonstrate that they value, I’ve found the same to be true in the classroom. If I devalued science labs, so would they.

But Mermelstein and his colleagues aren’t tossing labs out for pedagogical or philosophical reasons. Instead, they are seeking “efficiency”. What does that mean? It means that hands-on learning takes too long to do and leaves little time to ‘get to the content” (read that as “teaching stuff that will be on the test”). Sure, the test results of these kids might show growth…but what about the permanence of this learning?

Once again, our focus on teaching to beat the test and adherence to contrived school calendars. Learning should drive our pedagogy. Not time and tests.

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