Den Hertog: “Our second real exam with online proctoring for first-year Economics students didn’t go as planned.”
Wagelmans: “This was an awful experience for our students. These freshmen had already missed out on their graduation parties in secondary school. And then we put them through this. And we also feel extra anxiety: whether everything will work properly or not.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t: things went south in the final 30 minutes of the exam. How did you find out?
Den Hertog: “It wasn’t clear to me at first that something had gone wrong. There was a kind of pop-up message that students couldn’t click away. It said something about sharing your screen. We haven’t been able to establish exactly how many students were affected by the issue.”
Due to this problem, students had thirty minutes less to round off their exam. How was this resolved?
Den Hertog: “We ultimately offered a ‘free’ resit to all the examinees: anyone satisfied with his or her mark was allowed to keep it.”
Wagelmans: “We’ve heard that examination boards can be less than sympathetic, but I believe that in the case of Erasmus School of Economics, the board carefully considered the students’ interests. The members also explicitly involved us in their deliberations. For example, they asked whether a student may have benefited from a specific irregularity. But at the end of the day, we don’t make the call on these questions as lecturers: the examination board does.”
Why do you use proctoring then, if you think it’s so awful?
Wagelmans: “Students also wonder whether we couldn’t do without. But in some cases, this is out of the question. A few years ago, during an online exam – which wasn’t proctored – I found out that students were working together. We had posted the assignments online on Sunday evening, and everything needed to be handed in by noon Monday. You’d think that doesn’t give you a lot of time to confer, but things still didn’t go as intended. It was a personalised assignment, with different figures for each student. But by Monday morning, someone had already put an algorithm online that could be used for your calculations. Simply change the appropriate numbers and Bob’s your uncle.”
Den Hertog: “You can’t avoid proctoring. Our subject curriculum involves a lot of basic knowledge, which is tested during the exams. So you can’t rely on open-book tests. And even if we tested students’ ability to creatively apply this knowledge, students would still be able to work together. It would be easy for friends in a senior year or who deal more with mathematics in their own programme to help out with the calculations.”
Wagelmans: “And we simply want to know for sure who’s sitting the exam. Which quickly becomes a problem if you don’t have proctoring. Sure, you can do everything based on trust. But you don’t hear people saying that we can do away with invigilators during regular exams on campus either, do you?”
Erasmus University is afraid that the validity of its degrees will be called into doubt if exams aren’t proctored. Do you share these concerns?
Den Hertog: “Some students will be completing nearly the entire first year of their programme during the pandemic. And if you count along last year too, this adds up to two years. That’s a major part of your bachelor degree programme. How could you possibly justify to students who’ve played by the rules that there are others who have brazenly cheated their way through half the programme?”
Have you caught anyone cheating with single-camera proctoring?
Den Hertog: “We’ve had a situation, but we didn’t find that one out thanks to technology. We discovered remarkable similarities between different students’ answers when we were checking exams. It’s actually quite remarkable to discover something like that, because the exams are checked by multiple lecturers, who can hardly keep everything ‘top of mind’.”
Is the software reliable enough in your view?
Wagelmans: “What is clear is that you shouldn’t have technical issues of any kind. Perhaps once every thousand exams. In our case, it was the very first proctored exam, so that’s incredibly annoying. A fault like that is very distracting – it’s as if someone suddenly starts talking very loudly during an exam in the M Building.”
What do you think of EUR’s decision to introduce a second camera?
Wagelmans: “I see it as an extra risk – even though I believe the chances of it being abused are relatively slim. Apparently it’s necessary. There’s a fairly simple method to cheat with a single camera, so I do prefer to use a second one.”
Den Hertog: “I understand why the students are concerned. But you have to keep in mind that our students are required to do a lot of writing. So if you only rely on a webcam, a lot of the time you hardly see the examinee. In those cases, a second camera can be very useful to check what someone’s up to.”
Wagelmans: “There are no practical alternatives to proctoring, but it’s a constant struggle. What I do find important is that as a lecturer or examination board, you don’t simply assume that someone has cheated if something goes wrong. You need to take all the available information on board before making that call.”