February 13, 2006

I'M(ac) Watching You

Writing about web page http://www.apple.com/uk/imac/isight.html

How serious is the risk of cheating when computer-aided assessment (CAA) is used in summative mode (i.e. for module credit)? Attitudes within the Warwick Science Faculty vary widely: The Chemists are laid back, in Biological Sciences there are some strong individual concerns, the Statistics Dept is united in enforcing a strict 'zero tolerance' policy.

Although I believe the safeguards against cheating I discussed here are proportionate and reasonably robust, yet tighter measures are needed to keep everyone on side. Here are a couple of further ideas:

  • My suggestion of CCTV cameras in computer workrooms reserved for summative assessment evoked an unenthusiastic response from those that hold the purse strings. So how about dummy cameras instead (real cameras, I mean, just not wired up to any monitoring system — surely cheap to install if recycled from an upgrade elsewhere in the system)?

  • iMacWhat about an all-seeing eye in each monitor that attaches a set of random mug-shots to the file a student submits when completing a piece of summative assessment — a dozen or so compressed snaps taken at random intervals during a 50-minute test should provide ample evidence of any cheating. If Apple can build iSight into their latest iMac design, it shouldn't be too many years before Windows PCs follow suit.

I'd welcome readers' suggestions for practical and effective CAA security.

- 5 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I'd love to see some of the expressions on the faces of students as they were taking the tests, they'd be great!

    13 Feb 2006, 13:44

  2. Dummy cameras wouldn't work, especially when you've just made it public knowledge that any cameras installed would be dummies and can therefore be ignored as a risk to those cheating. Student's can't be fooled so easily; those who want to cheat will do so irrespective of deterrents.

    I like the idea of the monitor eye; that's a really foolproof one; though I imagine costs would be high (and probably beyond this institution…)

    13 Feb 2006, 16:06

  3. "Dummy cameras wouldn't work, especially when you've just made it public knowledge that any cameras installed would be dummies…"

    Good one Amit! I certainly didn't mean to suggest that ALL the cameras would be dummies. I still slow down when I see "Mobile Speed Cameras in Operation" even though it's several years since I actually saw one moving.

    13 Feb 2006, 16:48

  4. David Wood

    You can buy a cheap webcam that plugs into a usb port very cheaply, it wouldn't take much to attach them to monitors in such a way that they could not be removed and then link it in to whatever software is being used.

    01 Mar 2006, 17:28

  5. Sharon Curtis

    A couple of random visits by an invigilator to the computer room during a 50-minute exam is a good deterrent

    I was surprised at this one. To me it seems obvious that having an invigilator in the room during the exam was crucial. The invigilator can make sure students are not browsing the internet for answers, or talking with other students, or pursuing any one of a large range of cheating methods.

    I don't like the mugshots idea. It would seem very offputting if taking a test, if a camera was looking at you the entire test. Even the big formal exams aren't as scary as that! Plus, how much evidence would it really show? Suppose you see some student removing notes from under a pencil case. You find the snapshot that shows them looking at the paper, student looks at the picture and claims that the white paper was a hankie, or a blank piece of paper for some rough work. I can't see the detail being recorded in sufficient quantity to prove cheating (necessary for deterrence, I think) unless it is video and very very detailed (enough to record precisely handwriting).

    Oops I seem to be being all negative. Let me try and be more constructive. We run some CAA where we do assume that students can see the screen next to them. So all the screens look exactly the same. That's because the screens only display the answer forms. The questions are on separate papers, all randomized. The resolution of screens is sufficiently low that text has to be presented larger on screen to be more readable, so printing questions on paper should mean it's more difficult for a student to see the neighbour's questions (in the unlikely event that they happen to be answering the same random question). This also prevents screen-sniffing types of cheating.

    01 Mar 2006, 17:37

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