Texting using during exams: new ways of cheating during the crisis

The number of suspected cases of academic misconduct during online exams is on the rise. In recent weeks cheating occurred at various universities. And in Delft?

A group of Erasmus University students are suspected of working together using WhatsApp. (Photo edit: Marjolein van der Veldt)

Online exams on this scale are unprecedented. This situation brings a number of complex issues, such as how to prevent students from cheating in the comfort of their own rooms.

Maastricht University was presented with this problem after grading an online multiple choice exam in quantitative research methods taken on 12 June. The idea was that the order of the questions would be different for each student.

But due to an error in the examination software, the opposite occurred and students were given the exact same questions. As a result, students were able to use chatrooms to discuss possible answers. Maastricht University declared the exams of almost 1200 students invalid.

Solemnly swear
The same happened at the University of Twente, where 280 online video exams were declared invalid due to academic misconduct just last month. Lecturers noticed that some students began performing exceptionally well out of the blue, or gave exactly the same answers.

U-Today writes that the University of Twente made the conscious decision not to use online proctoring, because they believed their students would be smart enough to find ways to circumvent these systems. Instead, for each remote examination, students must “solemnly swear” that they will not cheat. Students were also informed that they might be selected for an additional oral exam after completing their written examination.

Last week, Erasmus Magazine reported on a group of international business administration students who were suspected of working together using WhatsApp. Nine students are known to have asked each other specific questions about the online exam.


Some cases TU Delft
The online survey that Delta is currently conducting among students and staff in order to gain insight into their wellbeing led to an (anonymous) response that TU students have been cheating on a large scale. For example, students are said to have telephone contact with fellow students or even take exams in the same room. 

Willem van Valkenburg, chairman of the exams taskforce, knows about a few cases being investigated by examination committees at TU Delft, “but there is no question (yet) that an entire exam has been declared invalid”. In order to combat fraud, the group has posted an overview of prevention measures on the support website for lecturers.

The subject was also discussed in the monthly meeting between the student council and the Executive Board. During the meeting, policy advisor Danko Roozemond called on students to be well aware of their actions. If a student is caught cheating, an entire exam can be declared invalid. ‘It has serious consequences, also for the students that didn’t cheat’.

Anonymous complaint
Vox reported that in Nijmegen, the Examination Board of the Bachelor’s degree programme in Economics launched an investigation this month into an oral examination after an anonymous complaint. Allegedly, those who were last were told about the exam questions by their predecessors.

However academic misconduct has not been proven for the oral exam. For another online exam of the same degree programme, a partial resit will probably be necessary. Students are suspected of having copied and pasted information from a PowerPoint presentation.

The question is whether or not academic misconduct has actually increased since the coronavirus crisis. After all, using mobile phones or smartwatches, anything is possible, even in actual exam halls. It should come as no surprise that in Rotterdam, back in 2014, the idea of detection equipment near toilets had already been floated.

Since last week, several exams have been held at physical locations of Avans University of Applied Sciences. Chairman of the Board, Paul Rüpp, says they were a great success. “Everyone is happy about the compliance with the safety measures.”

At the same time, approximately 80 per cent of all examinations are still taking place online. Due to the fact that in April Avans publicly renounced the use of this contentious form of examination, online proctoring, several exams were changed to a different format such as an open book exam or oral exams.

But the university of applied sciences is also holding a few online examinations based on trust. However, Rüpp says only progress exams were sat online; final exams were sat in other formats. Students can also be called on once the exam is over for an additional oral test.

The chairman of the board believes that during the coronavirus crisis, additional efforts should be made to detect academic misconduct. “This makes sense because online assessments are new and unusual. But students cheat under normal circumstances as well. Some students write large chunks of study books on their upper legs and go to the toilet during exams to find the right answer. Of course this type of cheating is impossible to prevent or check.”

Not naive
Until now the results of trust-based assessments show some fluctuation, says Rüpp. “This works well for most courses. Students know that this is a part of their study programme that requires them to demonstrate their professional skills. But some lecturers have reported that their exams were completed with some rather extraordinary results.”

As a result, Avans has decided to regroup and decide what to do next after the summer. “We trust our students, but we are not naive.”

HOP, Evelien Flink / Delta, Marjolein van der Veldt

HOP Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

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