Worried About Take Home Exams and Academic Misconduct?

There is more than one way of looking at the extended time period for open book exams when it comes to academic misconduct worries.   

You can see 24 hours of unsupervised time with an exam as more time for students to break your rules.   Some students may use the time that way and that is deeply frustrating.  

More encouraging is a view based in research about academic integrity in higher education (for a great review, see the 2013 book referenced below). The basic premise is this:  When students are more confident they can do what needs to be done on their own, they are less likely to cheat.  

Obvious?  

Perhaps less obvious is how this 24-hour, open book exam format may allow for this:  

  • Students are not being tested on how quickly they can answer questions.  Speedy students are always advantaged in short time frame exams and there can be many reasons some students aren’t fast at writing exams that are unrelated to what they know or can do.  If you are more interested in correct than fast, this format allows students to show you what they know and they may feel more confident as a result.
  • Students do not need to strategize about allocating their time to the same extent.  Effective traditional exam writers do this to maximize their scores given the time limits.  Under time constraints, areas of uncertainty could have been where the worried student had the cheat note, or looked at someone else’s exam, or called a friend. Now, students will have more time to work on the areas of uncertainty, and they may feel more confident as a result.
  • Students can concentrate better with breaks – mental and physical.  The human attention span is said to be 20 minutes, plus, humans should only sit for 30 minutes at a time.  Effective traditional exam writers probably pause and reset mentally at least, but many students think they just have to keep going as fast as possible.  Students will rightly think they can think better when breaks are more possible – and they may feel more confident as a result.

And, one bonus point to ponder about open book exams, unrelated to time frame:

  • Students do not become preoccupied with memorizing answers because it is not necessary to do so.  Memorized material doesn’t last in long term memory anyway (unless they use it 6 more times). Students recognize the exam will be more about how to use the information, or solve the problems, or apply the theory, or analyze or diagnose the case, or evaluate potential alternatives, and so on. These are higher order cognitive abilities and allow students to show greater depth of understanding.  If students work on these abilities to prepare for an exam, what they learn is much more likely to last. This is how the brain works.  When students know the exam does not require memorization, they may feel more confident as a result.

 These above points may not apply perfectly to all disciplines, teaching styles, or assessment philosophies.  However, if you watch to see if these advantages of this format arise, maybe you’ll opt for an exam something like this from now on? 

Lang, J. (2013).  Cheating Lessons:  Learning from Academic Dishonesty.  Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Land Acknowledgements – A Reflection 5-years After the TRC Report

By Stryker Calvez and Rose Roberts

Five years after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, Land Acknowledgements are still gaining strength as an important component of the University landscape. In fact, it is more common to notice when this statement has been missed at an event, meeting or in a course than when it is present. More often than not we have people tell us about how uncomfortable someone got when they didn’t hear the land acknowledgement at the beginning of a proceeding, and the lengths people have gone to right this wrong. These stories are a testament to the power of this protocol, its intended purpose, and the readiness of people and society to embark on the journey toward reconciliation  

Five years after the TRC report, the concerns for land acknowledgements are not about whether or not to use them, but how to use them with more purpose, conviction and integrity. Our colleagues are eager to be more prepared to meaningfully engage in supporting and carrying their part of reconciliation forward. This recognized responsibility is not just for themselves, but for their friends, family, students and close colleagues. And, they are doing it for the next generations, our children and grandchildren, who will benefit from a society that is whole and not afflicted by colonization. Lastly, many people are doing land acknowledgements because they care and love the land that provides so much for all of us; the same land that has shaped and nurtured the Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan for millennia.   

This last point is truly what the land acknowledgement is about, the recognition of place – the land, the sky, the water, the plants and the animals – and the people who are of this land. After thousands of years of intimate interaction and relationship, the land and its people have become immutably connected, which makes Indigenous Peoples of this land — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually

Before the TRC report, many non-Indigenous people struggled with this Indigenous spiritual notion of relationship to the land and to place (what the Cree people call wahkohtowin). Post-TRC, the land acknowledgement has become a doorway for many people to gain greater awareness and understanding about the role of place and its impact on people. With this emerging understanding they have begun to reflect on how this place they now call home is leaving an indelible mark on each one of us  

To this effect, by incorporating land acknowledgements in your work, you are contributing to the process of honouring and embracing the spirit of a place, with all of its wisdom, knowledge and compassionand invoking that spirit in support of doing things in a good way And nowhere is it said that you cannot personalize your land acknowledgement, in fact we highly recommend it. There is the risk that a formal land acknowledgement that everyone uses can become commonplace, and it is the personalized ones that people have repeatedly told us had an impact on them.   

We have been offering land acknowledgement workshops at GMCTL for a while now, and here are some examples of personalized land acknowledgements (we did receive permission from the individuals to share publicly):  

I live and work on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.  The Indigenous nations who entered into Treaty 6 are the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, and Nakota.  I also recognize the Dakota and Lakota, who too have lived here long before contact.  Let us pay our respect to the ancestors of this place.  May our relationships with the land teach us to live and work in good relationship with one another.  (Stephanie Frost, BC Member, Coordinator Online Support, GMCTL) 

 

I acknowledge that we are gathered on Treaty 6 Territory and Homeland of the Métis. I pay respects to the original caretakers and warriors of this place: the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, Anishinaabe, Blackfoot, the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Nations, and my people, the Métis. Spanning the past, present, and future, I affirm the relationships we have to each other, including our relations to the animals and insects that inhabit the water, land, and sky. I also recognize the relationship and responsibility we have to the lands of Treaty 6; the quiet creeks and rushing rivers, the rustling grasses and sprawling forests, the brilliant palettes of the skies, the roots that grip the soil, and the earth beneath our feet. (Jennifer Sedgewick, Research Assistant, College of Medicine) 

 

I come here as a visitor on the Treaty Six territory. I realize that this beautiful land is the homeland of the First Nation and Metis ancestors, and I respect their culture and rights fully and deeply with humbleness.  (Yanhua Liu, Visiting Scholar (China)College of Engineering) 

 

By engaging in personalizing the land acknowledgement, you are participating in a process of respecting the relationships between the land and all that live within it: all our relationsAcknowledging the Land is a timeless tradition that has been and will be around as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.  

 

 

It Helps To Be Transparent About Academic Integrity

You and your students will be out there wondering how fair final assessments can be when everyone is unsupervised.  Thankfully, there are some students, that no matter what, will follow the rules and maintain their academic integrity.   A small number, will seek to cheat no matter what we do.   The group to focus on right now is that large majority that wants the rules to be clear, to be enforced, and for there to be a level playing field for all.  The majority of students want to be honest, but at the same time, they do not want to feel at a disadvantage if they are.

 When students see their instructor making specific efforts to protect against academic misconduct, many become more committed to academic integrity as a result.   Here are example statements that might be helpful:   

 Designing the assessment:

  • “I have designed the final assessment to ask you to apply what you have learned, using more personalized examples, rather than questions that ask you to recall the facts or recognize correct answers.  This makes copying answers less relevant.” 
  •  “I have designed the assessment expecting you will access your course materials.  I have created variation in the questions that each student receives, so that exchanging answers does not work for students who would cheat in this way.”

 Reducing pressure students feel:   

  • “I have reduced the weighting of the final assessment to lower the stakes for you during this anxious time.  I know students under pressure sometimes take shortcuts or make blatant academic misconduct decisions and I do not want that to happen to you.”
  • “The university policy for take home finals has reduced the time pressure compared to traditional exams.  Also, if something goes wrong with your technology or you are feeling unwell,  you can take breaks and come back to the exam.  I know students under pressure sometimes take shortcuts or make blatant academic misconduct decisions and I do not want that to happen to you.”

 Creating more student agency and responsibility:  

  • “I have provided you with information about the questions in advance, so that you know more about how to prepare for the exam.  When there are fewer “mysteries” about the exam, usually students show more academic integrity, and that’s what I want.” 
  • “I have given you some choice in format/topic area for the final assessment.  When students get to choose, I expect you will show me your best work and feel more confident about doing it honestly, and that’s what I want.”  

 Expressing your and students’ commitment:   

  • “I have asked all students to sign and return this document (e.g., see declaration of secrecy, or Sample Open Book Exam Academic Integrity statement) as a further step in acknowledging the importance of individual commitment to academic integrity.  If I find students have engaged in academic misconduct, this form can also be used to question students further about their understanding of the rules”.
  • “I will follow up directly with students who have submitted work that raises suspicions of academic misconduct.  I will follow up, in part, out of respect for all the students who did their work with academic integrity under these unexpected conditions.  If your work concerns me,  you can expect me to require an online or phone meeting to discuss. I will follow my College’s procedures and University of Saskatchewan policy.”

The Benefits of Using OER For Remote Teaching

Open Educational Resources (OER) have experienced a growing popularity at the U of S during the past six years, with more than 6,500 students using open textbooks and other OER instead of commercial textbooks. They’re free to use, easy to access, and allow for adaptation to improve student engagement and learning, as well as instructor academic freedom (no commercial publisher telling you what you should teach).

With the move of all U of S courses to being offered remotely for at least the spring and summer terms, the use of OER makes a lot of sense, especially with the Bookstore being closed. OER materials are easily accessible for instructors and students, without having to order a book online or purchase an access code, and users never lose access.

Below are some quick facts about OER:

  • OER, including open textbooks have had most copyright restrictions removed allowing for free access by anyone on any devise connected to the Internet.
  • OER can be printed. The Bookstore normally offers a print-on-demand service, but materials can also be printed at home if students wish.
  • OER exists for most major first year courses, and a growing number of other courses. If you wish to find OER, start with the BCcampus catalogue or contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.
  • Most OER can be modified to meet local needs.
  • Instructors and students have created or adapted several open textbooks that can be found in our catalogue.
  • The U of S uses the Pressbooks platform for hosting, creating, and adapting open textbooks.
  • The U of S has funding to support the adaptation of existing OER and the creation of ancillary resources (test banks, slides, etc.)

If you would like more information about using OER or will be using OER in the coming terms, please contact Heather Ross.

Tips From Veterans of Remote / Online Teaching

As you prepare to create and teach courses remotely this spring and summer terms, we asked some U of S instructors experienced with this type of teaching to share some quick words of wisdom based on what they learned from their own experiences. Below are their tips related to design, teaching, and assessment for remote / online. Thank you to Jorden Cummings (Psychology), Allison Fairbairn (Music), Hayley Hesseln (Agriculture and Bio Resources), and Karla Panchuk (Geology) for sharing your experiences teaching remote / online courses.

Design

  • Keep it as simple as possible. Online learning difficult for many students for diverse reasons, and we cannot assume our students have access to all things technology or that they are fully comfortable using technology.
  • Make it as easy as possible for students to find what they need within the course. Karla Panchuk shared this screen shot with us to demonstrate an easy to use sidebar menu in Blackboard.


Teaching

  • Pre-record what you need to, but there are numerous existing resources you may find useful (e.g. YouTube videos)
  • Provide students with weekly checklists that highlight key items they need to look at
  • Post slides with voice-over. Post the notes page as well.
  • Use discussion groups to facilitate students connecting
  • Ask students to introduce themselves and say something that nobody knows about them
  • Ask students questions during the slide presentation/recording
    • Post those questions in a discussion forum to promote dialogue
    • Ask students to post a comment and reply to comments to encourage participation
    • Use the discussion forum with guided questions for readings
  • If you use outside services, avoid ones that require your students to create an account
  • Limit the number of tools that you and / or students will need to learn to use. Never assume that your students will all be tech-savvy

Assessment

  • Have clear rubrics and post them so students can see how you will assess their work ahead of time
  • If feasible, provide a peer review component that  allows students to receive additional feedback on their work
  • If students need to print materials off to fill out and then submit, they need to be allowed to take photos of these to submit since a scanner might not be available
  • Setting up the grading centre to do anything, but the basics is time consuming. Just download your grades and calculate offline
  • Hayley Hesseln also makes use of reflections on learning as assessments

How much help are students getting on their assignments?

You may be concerned with how much feedback or advice students are getting on their assignments or open exams.

Below are some options, reasons to try them, and some tools for implementing.

Option Reason Helpful tools for this
Require an acknowledgement of feedback, guidance or teachings received
  • Respectful of contributions of others
  • Common academic practice as seen in many published papers
  • Truthful

 

  • An example acknowledgement from a paper you have written,
  • An example where you have been acknowledged;
  • Another example that you find or create that could fit with the assessment
Distinguish types of feedback and their acceptability: e.g., proofreading, editing, error correction, peer teaching, conceptual changes…
  • Communicates differences that students may not see in what makes some help ok and other help not ok
  • Define e.g., proofreading vs. editing vs. re-writing for your students
  • Restate the rules for the assessment with respect to thi
  • Reiterate the follow up you will take re suspected academic misconduct
Make getting feedback a requirement  (from a classmate, or someone else)
  • Shows you know how valuable feedback is for learning
  • Points students to the criteria for the assessment
  • May mean you get better work overall (probably fewer little errors)
  • You can assign peer feedback partners
  • Provide a rubric or a checklist for the assignment that students use to give each other feedback
  • Sample acknowledgement as in the first option in this table

 

 

Creating Your Syllabus in The Context of COVID-19

As instructors prepare to teach during the spring and summer terms, one consideration is how to prepare their syllabi in the context of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U of S considers course syllabi to be contracts between instructors and students. As such, there are normally significant restrictions on what can be changed in a syllabus once it’s been distributed to students, but as you prepare to teach in the upcoming terms some greater flexibility is needed from all of us.

With that in mind, the Office of the University Secretary and Chief Governance Office issued a briefing note stating:

University Council, as approved by the Coordinating Committee: “Grants authority to instructors to alter syllabi for their classes for the duration (timeframe as determined by the President) of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for alternate modes of course delivery and examinations.”

This will help provide instructors with needed flexibility while teaching through the pandemic. Given this added flexibility, plus the unexpected change in how instructors are teaching and students are learning, there are some considerations to keep in mind while preparing your syllabi and teaching those courses:

  • While your department or college may have its own syllabus template, the U of S has one that can be used either as a template or checklist to make sure you have all elements required under the Academic Courses Policy, as well as those recommended.
  • If you plan to make changes to the syllabus once students have access, give students as much notice as possible about these changes.
  • While syllabi often at least start with a formal tone about rules and regulations, start with a message to your students about the need for flexibility, and recognition that this is likely not the format that the students registered for. Acknowledge that this is a challenging situation for everyone. You may find some ideas in the principles an instructor at UNC – Chapel Hill created for sharing with his students.
  • You final exam / assessment will likely be different than it would have otherwise been. The U of S has new requirements on what you can and cannot do for final exams. Provide as much information for your students about your assessments, including the final exam within the syllabus. See the page on Final Exams and Course Assessments on the Teaching and Learning website.
  • Include times and methods of communication for office hours.
  • Include information of any required resources. Consider the cost and accessibility of materials as students worry even more than usual about their financial situation and can’t simply walk into the campus Bookstore. If you would like to discuss the use of open educational resources for your course, please contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.
  • If you will be giving any marks for participation, be explicit about what participation will look like in the class (ie. participation on discussion forums)
  • In addition to the information about Access and Equity Services (AES) currently in the syllabus template, add a link to the AES webpage (PDF) specifically related to supports accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you have any additional questions about constructing your course syllabi, please contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.

How to Support Students Who Have Multiple Final Exams In 24 Hours

Giving students 24 hours to complete a final assessment might make a lot of sense in a time of emergency, but it can also cause anxiety for students if they are unclear on expectations. You can help by clarifying expectations and stating clear limits in advance. To assist all of your students, but particularly students facing this additional challenge, please include the following in your exam information to students:

  • Put all instructions about the exam into the introduction of the exam to ensure that your students have easy and clear access to any instructions, including logistics and what they should do if they have trouble submitting the exam. If you have already provided these instructions elsewhere, repeat them within the introduction to the exam.
  • Provide students with an estimate of how much time the exam will likely take (i.e. I expect it will take you about three hours to write this exam)
  • Provide students with clear requirements related to their answers to short answer and essay questions, such as minimum and/or maximum word counts for answers. This will also help you manage the time needed for marking.

Be aware of and provide students with needed supports and accommodations required from Access and Equity Services (AES). You can find information about meeting these requirements during the COVID-19  pandemic on the AES website.

If you know of specific students in your classes who are scheduled to have two exams within a 24 hour period you could:

  • Email deu.exams@usask.ca to verify if a conflict exists for a student requesting a change. For more information on this see the FAQ on our Final Exams and Course Assessments page.
  • Discuss with those individual students what specific additional needs they may have, if any.
  • Negotiate an earlier 24 hour period of time for the release of the open book exam
  • Offer those students a bit of extra time, such as a 48 hour window

Ways To Limit Concerns About Non-permitted Collaboration

Are you worried about non-permitted collaboration?

It’s true, students can seek each other out for help, examples, interpretations, translations, feedback, and peer teaching when unsupervised. In fact, we often encourage students to do so as part of the learning process.  Blatant “copying” is a real problem because then the submitted work does not represent what that individual student knows or can do “without the support of resources or colleagues.”  Most students want assessment to be fair and are likely to appreciate your effort to have everyone play by the same rules.

Below are two options you may want to consider for addressing concerns about students collaborating.

Option 1:   Limit collusion by design.

  • Make collusion more difficult.  Develop more than one version of the exam recognizing you will need to deal with some administrative implications.  The variation of exams will make it more cumbersome for students to work together.
  • Make collusion less applicable.  Design the questions on the exam to require unique answers relevant to the student.  Ask questions that cannot be answered the same way by several students.
  • Articulate a process to verify students’ answers. For an example approach see, Learn how to use an oral exam (5-10 minutes per student).
  • Request students submit a signed document attesting to their honesty.  A recent post includes a sample (at bottom of post) that may cause students to think more carefully about their actions.
  • For more information on design, Download an explanation of how to transform your current exam questions into open-book questions

Option 2:  Permit collaboration and build it into your assessments.

  • Have students describe their process for consulting resources or people.
  • Provide a rubric that shows the criteria for levels of use of resources and feedback.
  • See this example of a worksheet (bottom of the post) or student pairs who provided each other with feedback as part of an individual paper assignment, this could be adapted for finalizing an open book exam.

 

Assessment Equity and Alignment with Experiential Learning

When I met with Sandy and Harold I was stressed. I was worried that I was falling behind. After coming from a very busy workplace with many competing deadlines and defined work hours, starting a PhD program and having to manage my time independently is a huge challenge. Most days feel chaotic and I’m often overwhelmed. Being a student has given me space, mentally and emotionally, to think and to focus on my health. But this “room to think” can also be a dangerous thing. Sometimes hours, even days, slip by in an unfocused haze of meandering reading if I’m not careful. This skill of balancing time and energy is the true test of graduate school.

The chaos is exacerbated by the scope of my SOTL research. I often feel that I’m lost in a forest and blind to the connections, discourses, and secret paths within the literature. What has helped is staying in the meadow of multiple-choice questions. As I read more, I am beginning to create a complex picture of this learning and assessment modality. But before I made this decision, I wandered, as you’ll see.

I was getting tired of assessment, so I experimented with other search terms to see what I could find. I found Brunig’s article which brings together experiential education and critical pedagogy, both of which are challenging to implement in practice. Their discussion of their own practice is very helpful for those interested in using experiential learning and developing a student-directed classroom. Brunig makes a claim in their article that one of the aims of experiential education is the development of a more just world (p. 107). I was intrigued by this because I didn’t necessarily agree (although I believe this should be the goal of education in general). They referenced another paper when making this assertion which brought me to Itin. Itin’s article attempts to differentiate between experiential learning and experiential education. This paper is a good foundation for instructors who want to explore the philosophy of experiential education.

After this foray into more theoretical papers I decided to hold off on reading any more until I had spoken to Sandy and Harold. I wasn’t sure how far the group wanted me to go when it came to philosophy and theory. This was a good decision because the group agreed that they want to see more practical research and studies than theory.

The other articles can be summarized:

  • Bowen, C. discusses a college mathematics program at Haskell Indian Nations University. Of interest to mathematics educators are the handful of experiential activities provided by Bowen. Most of the activities are not suitable for large or mega class sizes (although there is the possibility of adaptation). Others such as narrative word problems or the Problem of the Week may be useful with larger classes.
  • Butler, A. C., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. 3rd clearly describe the methodology used. Results of this study indicate that “delayed feedback produced better long-term retention than immediate feedback” (p. 279). What is interesting is that “there was no difference between the two types of feedback” (answer-until-correct and standard – correct or incorrect) (p. 279).
  • Clandinin, D. J. & Connelly, F. M. are two of the originators of narrative inquiry and their book offers researchers new to the methodology a guide to follow. From epistemological concerns to the nuts and bolts of how to actually do a narrative inquiry, this handbook is a wonderful starting point for those interested in this methodology.
  • Ernst, B., & Steinhauser, M. suggest that the P300 and early frontal positivity “are related to two different stages of learning. The P300 reflects a fast learning process based on working memory processes. In contrast, the frontal positivity reflects an attentional orienting response that precedes slower learning of correct response information” (p. 334).
  • Koretsky, M. D., Brooks, B. J., & Higgins, A. Z. very clearly outline their research design and methodology. Their findings “suggest that asking students for written explanations helps their thinking and learning, and we encourage instructors to solicit written explanations when they use multiple-choice concept questions”, p. 1761.

 

References

Bowen, C. (2010). Indians can do math. In P. Boyer (Ed.), Ancient wisdom, modern science: The integration of Native knowledge in math and science at tribally controlled colleges and universities (pp. 43-62). Salish Kootenai College Press.

Breunig, M. (2005). Turning experiential education and critical pedagogy theory into praxis. Journal of Experiential Education, 28(2), pp. 106-122.

Butler, A. C., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. 3rd. (2007). The effect of type and timing of feedback on learning from multiple-choice tests. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 13(4), pp. 273-281.

Clandinin, D. J. & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. Jossey-Bass.

Ernst, B., & Steinhauser, M. (2012). Feedback-related brain activity predicts learning from feedback in multiple-choice testing. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 12(2), 323-336. doi:10.3758/s13415-012-0087-9

Itin, C. M. (1999). Reasserting the philosophy of experiential education as a vehicle for change in the 21st century. The Journal of Experiential Education 22(2), pp. 91-98.

Koretsky, M. D., Brooks, B. J., & Higgins, A. Z. (2016). Written justifications to multiple-choice concept questions during active learning in class, 38(11), pp. 1747-1765. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2016.1214303

This is part of a series of blog posts by Lindsay Tarnowetzki. Their research assistantship is funded by and reports to the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Aligning assessment and experiential learning cluster at USask.

Lindsay Tarnowetzki is a PhD student in the College of Education. They completed their Master’s degree at Concordia University in Communication (Media) Studies and Undergraduate degree in English at the University of Saskatchewan. They worked at the Clinical Learning Resource Centre at the University of Saskatchewan for three years as a Simulated Patient Educator. They are interested in narrative and as it relates to social power structures. Lindsay shares a home with their brother and their cats Peachy Keen and MacKenzie.

Image provided by Lindsay.