01 October 2020

Student cheating does not justify every step taken to stop it

Consider the following scenario.

You are a young person. Let’s say a woman, for the sake of argument. Like many others, you are mostly working at home. You may not have a lot of your own space at home, if you’re living with family or roommates.

As part of your professional obligations, you are working with a more senior person. Let’s say a man, for the sake of argument.

Your supervisor informs you that you have to install software on your computer that allows him to turn on the camera so he can watch you.

If you are interrupted by anyone, there will be serious professional repercussions. So you may have to do this work someplace private, like your bedroom.

You’re informed that the room has to be well lit and you have to dress a certain way while you’re doing the work.

If you don’t do this, there will be serious professional repercussions.

So you have older man demanding a young woman let him take video of her in her home or he’ll retaliate.

Tell me that’s not creepy.  

Yet that’s exactly what is happening at universities all over North America. Professors are requiring students install some sort of “proctoring software” for exams and tests.

Of course, unlike my hypothetical scenario above, either the student or professor could be a different gender than the one I described. I picked the genders I did because I think it makes the potential for creepiness clearer. 

But the intrusiveness is a problem regardless. 

I wasn’t exaggerating about dictating what you can wear. This example shows professors dictating what students can have on their heads. That’s religious issue for some students, is it not?

That’s on top of issues like this one making the rounds on Twitter. A student got a zero on an exam because she read questions out loud. The software flagged this. 

It’s not clear if the software or the instructor decided that this constituted cheating, but someone, somewhere decided that the only possible reason a student might talk during an exam was to speak to a confederate to cheat. That’s stupid.

There seems to be only one counter to pointing out these concerns.

“But they’ll cheat.”

And many professors will be quick to detail all the times they caught students cheating in one way or another.

Academic integrity is important. I get that. The degree has value because people trust that it represents a fair assessment of a student’s internalized knowledge and abilities.

But the presence of cheating alone doe not justify any and all actions that professors might take in the name of “academic integrity.”

There is such a thing as “proportionate response.”

If you are worried about someone walking on your property, you put up a sign and put locks on your doors. You do not install a minefield to blow up people. Because that would not be a proportionate response to the problem.

Trusting students is hard. Some students will abuse that trust. But there is a line between thoughtful use of measures designed to say, “Cheating is not okay, so don’t do it” and an overblown invasion of students’ lives.

Anyone more worried about students cheating than they are about how to get students excited about the material and learn has already lost the battle. - Amelia Lindsay

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