Mitigation of Cheating in Online Exams: Strengths and Limitations of Biometric Authentication

Mitigation of Cheating in Online Exams: Strengths and Limitations of Biometric Authentication

Aparna Vegendla, Guttorm Sindre
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7724-9.ch003
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E-exams have different cheating opportunities and mitigations than paper exams, and remote exams also have different cheating risks that on-site exams. It is important to understand these differences in risk and possible mitigations against them. Authenticating the candidate may be a bigger challenge for remote exams, and biometric authentication has emerged as a key solution. This chapter delivers a categorization of different types of high-stakes assessments, different ways of cheating, and what types of cheating are most relevant for what types of assessments. It further presents an analysis of which threats biometric authentication can be effective against and what types of threats biometric authentication is less effective against. Insecure aspects of various biometric authentication approaches also indicate that biometric authentication and surveillance should be combined with other types of approaches (e.g., how questions are asked, timing of the exam) to mitigate cheating.
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Cheating is a significant threat against high-stakes university exams (McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001), whether the exams are conducted on-campus (Cizek, 1999) or online (Nixon, 2004; Rowe, 2004). Successful cheating may reduce the credibility of universities and their diploma, create unfair advantages for cheaters over the honest, hard-working students, and ultimately be detrimental to the university’s learning culture (Davis, Drinan, & Gallant, 2011).

Impersonation (e.g., having somebody else sit a test for you) is not the most frequent way of cheating at university. Sheard et al. (Sheard, Dick, Markham, Macdonald, & Walsh, 2002) in a questionnaire survey of two Australian universities, found that only around 2% of students reported ever having hired a stand-in for an exam, and there were also a few who had hired somebody else to do graded homework assignments for them, while there were much higher percentages for various other types cheating. McCabe (McCabe, 2005), based on surveys with 80,000 North American students, indicated that the most common cheats for examinations were acquiring test questions ahead of time and copying answers among students during the test. For written assignments (e.g., take-home work), the most common cheats were collaboration (or Collusion) and usage of assistance on work supposed to be individual, as well as small fragment plagiarism.

Even if impersonation is not the most common way of cheating, it is important to protect against. Whereas the actual grade gain of some other cheating approaches is often limited, impersonation can boost somebody’s grade all the way from F to A, given a sufficiently competent stand-in. Moreover, impersonation is difficult in a small class context where the staff administering the test knows the students personally, the chance of successful impersonation increases in large class settings, and even more so for distance education with remote exams.

This is further accentuated in online courses due to the availability of technology and internet in exams conducted in un-controlled remote environment (Agulla, Rifón, Alba Castro, & Mateo, 2008). Indeed, in the early days of online exams, distance education there were many arguments that students would have to travel to proctored locations for high-stakes tests, since it was just too easy to cheat if allowed to take the exam at home.

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