opinion

OPINION: All remaining exams should be open-note



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A stack of notebooks sits on a desk. Photo Illustration by Izzy Myszak

With the abrupt switch to online classes for the rest of the semester, professors need to determine new testing policies. This transition from in-person proctoring to online testing will be one of the largest changes students and instructors will experience. 

There is simply no way to remotely ensure the secure testing environment that in-person exams create. To remedy this, the following measures should be taken to ensure a fair testing process for all students.

All remaining exams should be open-note. If an exam cannot be done through Canvas quizzes, it should be untimed and unproctored, with more complex questions. No exams should be timed and proctored over video.

Some students have mused that classes should be pass-fail, and others have argued that final exams should be optional. I believe that the goal of not hurting students' grades is better achieved by encouraging instructors to make exams unproctored, untimed and open-note. 

The main issue with online exams is cheating. One 2010 Marshall University study involving more than 600 undergraduates found that students were more likely in an online exam to cheat — and to get away with it. Nearly half of the students surveyed said they would be more likely to cheat in an online format as opposed to an in-person format. Students cheating in online classes reported being caught less than half as often those in live classes.

To help ensure fairness, all classes should allow open notes on their exams. With open notes, every student can use the same resources that are easy to hide with online proctoring. 

Exams involving multiple-choice, short answer and essay questions can be easily administered online using Canvas, which IU recommends on its Keep Teaching website

Closed-note Canvas exams, however, will not be secure. Even if Canvas limits or tracks clicking outside of the exam window, a student could easily use a phone or another computer to search the answers or view their notes. 

Some professors may be tempted to avoid Canvas altogether and use other testing software to administer proctored exams. Unfortunately, the software available to instructors is simply not enough to prevent cheating.  

Examity is a secure testing software IU has available that allows tests to be recorded and reviewed by outside proctors. Unusual behavior found in the recordings by proctors is flagged for the professor to address.

It is impossible to catch all incidents of academic dishonesty this way. Discreet methods, such as having a sheet of notes or tablet out of the frame near the screen, can still be used relatively easily. Additionally, the service is only available for final exams and may require a fee, according to IU's Keep Teaching website.

A specific format that should be avoided is proctoring exams live with Zoom video conferencing. Streaming may be unreliable, and there is no way to accurately watch a large number of students take an exam and catch cheating as well as with in-person exams.

The flaws of digital proctoring for closed-note exams are difficult to overcome. Though cheating is also attempted during in-person tests, the success rate is likely to be higher for online tests. This isn’t fair.

For instructors who cannot adapt their exams for Canvas quizzes, untimed and unproctored exams would best. Having open-note and untimed exams would also encourage professors to create exams with more complex questions that require critical thinking and application of concepts, rather than just memorizing and recalling facts. 

Some classes, such as math-based classes, might argue that the speed component of a timed exam is part of what they are assessing. But even these exams should be adapted to assess a deeper understanding of the material independent of speed.

I believe this move toward open notes will be an equitable solution for the rest of the semester. If implemented, it would reward students who put in the effort to learn the content and alleviate the disadvantages of shifting to an unfamiliar instruction format.

Brett Abbott (he/him) is a freshman studying finance and is the press secretary for College Republicans at IU. He plans to pursue a career in business or politics.

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