It goes without saying that assessing student understanding in an online environment poses many challenges for educators. Given that students are at home and in environments with possible access to the internet, notes, textbooks, or other resources that can be used to cheat, the various precautions used by our teachers are understandable. At this point, almost every HKIS student has encountered some of the many different testing procedures used by different teachers. It is, however, only natural to feel curious as to why some teachers choose to employ different strategies than others.
Many of the procedures used during this virtual school period (e.g. the lockdown browser) were introduced to address issues identified by students after the first round of exams following Chinese New Year break.
Mrs. Mulligan was among the first teachers to receive student feedback, as her class had a test immediately after break. She said that, after the first test, “we got feedback from… students across the board who said that there was rampant cheating going on.” After receiving these reports, she and Mrs. Brown considered hiring a professional testing firm to conduct tests. After consulting the administration and ultimately deciding against it, however, they had to find an alternative. The science department drew inspiration from a virtual university exam that one of their students wrote last year and conceived what is colloquially known as “Zoom behind the screen”. This process requires students’ papers to be seen on-screen over the duration of the test.
Moreover, Mrs. Mulligan and Mrs. Brown learned that using a lockdown browser was an important online testing component after interviewing various companies, which is now a view widely shared by students and faculty alike.
According to Mr. Brayko, teachers are usually free to “validate their tests however they choose” with very few guidelines imposed by the administration, and the same rules apply for virtual school. There are a few exceptions, of course. For instance, Mr. Brayko mentioned that “teachers of the same course have to implement the same procedures’’ to ensure consistency and fairness for all students taking that course. In any case, while virtual tests are far different from the sit-down tests taken in the classroom, teachers are nonetheless granted the same amount of autonomy when choosing their testing conditions.
Every teacher will thus have their own way of monitoring the testing environments during these times. Mr. Kersten, for instance, believes that he can preserve the integrity of his assessments without the need for physical measures such as “zoom behind the screen”. He believes that he can combat cheating by simply modifying his tests to eliminate the need for factual recall. To do this, he has tried to make them more critical thinking based, to the point where cheating is redundant, or at least very difficult to do. He describes his choice as effective, and cites that the grades his students earned were in line with their past performance. However, he does plan on implementing the lockdown browser in the future to further reduce the possibility for academic dishonesty.
In contrast, Mrs. Mulligan is a teacher who feels the need to use procedures beyond altering the test format. She believes that the type of thinking assessed in her exams, which involves content synthesis and the transfer of ideas, make it necessary for these procedures in place, as access to study resources can heavily skew the playing field. She also believes that such is the case for subjects like modern languages, math, etc. As such, she uses the lockdown browser and “zoom behind the screen” to ensure that all students are being academically honest. Thus far, she is fairly confident in the system in place, and has received fewer complaints from students than in previous runs.
We’ve definitely come a long way since the beginning of virtual school when many teachers were charting unfamiliar waters. Nowadays, it seems that they have an abundance of methods to curtail academic dishonesty in this virtual environment, which is largely thanks to the early efforts of the science department, as well as the dedication of our administration and our committed teachers to making the best out of the situation at hand. This has, in fact, been effective to the point where HKIS is advising many other schools confronted with the same issues. The fact that we’ve been able to accomplish this is truly a testament to our success in navigating these trying times.