Universities use tech to deter cheating in online exams

Students told to adopt extra steps such as filming themselves before and during exams

At least two universities here are turning to technology to send students into a "lockdown" when they take online examinations - to prevent them from cheating.

At the Singapore Management University (SMU) and Singapore Institute of Technology, students' browsers are locked such that they are not able to access other websites or capture screenshots until they have completed the exam.

Before the exam, students also have to take short videos of their locations, such as the room and study table. During the exam, they use a webcam to record themselves. An artificial intelligence algorithm tracks their eye movements to determine where and what they are looking at, to deter cheating.

Only the course instructor can review video recordings and the results of the proctoring - or invigilating - session and video segments, after the exam. Potential violations, if any, are flagged.

At the National University of Singapore, a spokesman said it has put in place measures, such as online proctoring, to preserve the integrity of online assessments.

Universities have moved lessons and exams online because of the coronavirus outbreak and circuit breaker measures.

Online exams at SMU have been running since Monday last week, and will end today.

An SMU spokesman told The Straits Times the university has been using such an assessment tool since two years ago, but on a much smaller scale. It was mainly to support students who were unable to take their tests on campus because of illnesses, for example.

"We have scaled it up this round to facilitate online undergraduate and postgraduate closed-book exams. More than 100 instructors have used the tool in the past week," said the spokesman.

Associate Professor Lieven Demeester, who teaches business modules at SMU, said he used the tool for the first time at the start of the month to conduct a 2½-hour exam for 40 students.

"I gave them instructions in advance on what I wanted to see in their videos - my own view of a secure work environment. I asked them to show the underside of their tables and chairs, and to film their pockets so I could make sure they didn't have anything in them," Prof Demeester told ST.

He later scrolled through the videos of all 40 students, which took him about 1½ hours. There was a set of thumbnails of students taken at various intervals, he added.

"I don't watch every second of every video. The program identifies major changes and highlights parts where someone is moving or someone else comes into the frame, but these are rare occurrences."

He noted that the tool was an effective deterrent against cheating that also provides a mechanism to follow up on potential breaches.

"When the camera is on you, if you're looking away from the screen, its very visible. In a classroom, there's usually only one invigilator, and you can't be looking at every student all the time. But here, we can, even though it's after the fact," Prof Demeester said.

He noted that students looking away from their screens may not necessarily be trying to cheat.

"You'll have to look a bit closer at the video to see if it reoccurs or if there's a pattern. But I've been lucky, none of my students have shown such behaviour."

The SMU spokesman said the tool is not a guarantee against cheating.

"Typically, instructors are mindful of this and will take special care to set questions that can minimise cheating and to spot suspicious similarities in answers for further investigation."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2020, with the headline Universities use tech to deter cheating in online exams. Subscribe