However, he can’t help feeling that the university is focusing on the wrong thing. “Most of the time, the discussion is about details – technical issues, should or shouldn’t we be using a two-camera set-up – even though the real issue at hand is students engaging in organised cheating when sitting exams. The discussion we should be having is how we, a community of students and lecturers, got into a situation in which this is happening in the first place.”

Eshuis is primarily referring to the stories of large-scale cheating at the Rotterdam School of Management last summer. It should be noted here that those stories involved take-home examinations that did not involve any online proctoring.

However, according to Eshuis, there is much more to this story. “Students are increasingly savvy about how to bypass online proctoring systems involving one camera. I’ve heard quite a few stories about it. If a university finds out that this is the case, it has the duty to do something about it.”

In March 2020, the exam for a subject he had taught himself, Qualitative Methods, was administered. The first lockdown had just begun, and EUR did not yet offer online proctoring. “So I sent my students a take-home examination with open-ended questions rather than multiple-choice questions. I couldn’t help noticing that the students got higher scores than in previous years, which worried me. It was hard to compare the two situations because they were two different types of exams, and we never found hard evidence of cheating. But I did wonder if something was going on, which was a very unpleasant feeling. I don’t want to feel that way again, so this year’s exam will come with online proctoring.”

Jasper Eshuis foto EUR (EM)
Jasper Eshuis Image credit: EUR

According to Eshuis, the question that needs answering is not what technical tools the university can use to prevent cheating. “We’ll end up using ten cameras if we go that way.” Rather what he wishes to determine is why students are willing to cheat. “What’s wrong with a university if its students are willing to engage in organised cheating?” he wonders. “Clearly there’s a certain group of students that lacks integrity and responsibility. But why? And how can we improve our culture in this regard?”

Eshuis does not have hard figures on hand, but the public administration specialist does believe that the number of cheating incidents has risen in the last ten years. “I’d like to remind students that they place their fellow students at a disadvantage when they cheat. It seems students don’t understand that. Students and lecturers should promote that standard, too, and dare to ask each other integrity-related questions.”

The culture change Eshuis seeks to establish does not sound like a short-term solution. “That’s right. We’ll have to keep working on building that culture. This will involve tackling things such as students saying they’re going to ‘school’. Sure, you can get away with a cheating every once in a while at school, but universities train people to become adult citizens with good jobs and a high degree of responsibility. This requires integrity and proper conduct.”

Eshuis suspects the university’s structure might be exacerbating cheating. “Perhaps our degree programmes have become too large and anonymous, causing students to have less of a sense of responsibility towards their fellow students and department. We do strongly emphasise exams as a way of measuring progress. Universities should be more about the overall development of young people.”

Changing the culture in that respect is not just the students’ responsibility. “I don’t think it should be uniquely the students’ responsibility. It’s the department and university’s responsibility, as well. They should discuss ethics with students more explicitly.”

Eshuis is willing to put his money where his mouth is. “I do discuss ethics and integrity during my seminars, but they are seldom the actual topic of those seminars.” For this reason, he wishes to propose an actual first step towards the necessary culture change. “I think it’s important that we tell each other our expectations with regard to our conduct – expectations as to how to behave as members of our Erasmian academic community.”

“More specifically, we could do so by drawing up some sort of ‘code of conduct’ that we could ask new students to sign when they embark on their degree programmes, or actually in the month before they embark on their degree programmes. By signing that code, they would explicitly declare that they will behave like Erasmians, that they will place a premium on integrity and that they will not cheat. Needless to say, this doesn’t guarantee that they will keep their word, but it does help. Several American universities are already doing things like this.”

Proctoring – Wagelmans denHartog (EM)

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