For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Academic Dishonesty-The Assault on Personal Integrity

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education [MSCHE], as a federally recognized accreditor, is obligated to ensure that its candidate and member institutions comply with accreditation-relevant federal [U.S. Department of Education] regulations. As a member institution of the Middle States Accreditation Commission, Drexel University acknowledges its obligation to be fully compliant with all DOE regulations administered by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education [MSCHE] in order to maintain its accreditation status.

This article has as its focus the Commission’s need to verify, in AY 2016-2017, Drexel’s compliance in the area of student identity verification in distance and correspondence education. It is understood that Drexel’s adherence to this requirement will be reviewed as part of the self-study or periodic review process, especially as it relates to the MSCHE Standards. It is further noted that as additional guidance is received by MSCHE from the U.S. Department of Education, this guideline may be modified.

Statement of Need

In the Journal of Educators On-line, Patricia McGee of The University of Texas at San Antonio’s work, Supporting Academic Honesty in Online Courses, notes that while academic dishonesty is a priority for all educational environments, it is particularly of concern in courses offered at a distance [on-line] where students work independently and with less direct monitoring of their actions by an instructor. With more and more institutions offering programs in on-line learning modalities, academic dishonesty and integrity has become a high stakes issue as requirements to provide assurances of both integrity and student identity become more rigorous, as noted in MSCHE’s Verification of Compliance with Accreditation-Relevant Federal Regulations Implementation for 2016 document that states:

“In accordance with 34 CFR 602.17(g), the Commission must verify that institutions have effective procedures in place to ensure that the students who register in a distance or correspondence education course are the same students who participate in and complete the course, and receive the academic credit.”

Specifically, MSCHE member Institutions are now required and must provide the following documentation:

  • Written description of the method(s) used to ensure student identity verification in distance or correspondence education courses. Include information related to the Learning Management System (LMS) and integration with college-wide systems.
  • Written procedure(s) regarding the protection of student privacy in the implementation of such methods. Include information related to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), student record access, and the process for resetting student passwords.
  • Written procedure(s) for notifying students about any projected additional charges associated with student identity verification such as proctoring fees.
  • Written procedure(s) indicating the office(s) responsible for the consistent application of student identity verification procedures. 

With the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) requirement that online course providers reduce opportunities to cheat and verify student identity, all involved with course delivery must be informed about and involved in issues related to academic dishonesty. While issues of academic dishonesty and integrity are not limited solely to misrepresentation [see Gallant’s five categories of academic dishonesty listed below], it is nonetheless the primary focus of both the current US DOE’s compliance and regulatory challenges, as well as this article’s intent to inform.

As described earlier, T.B. Gallant, in his, “Moral Panic: The Contemporary Context of Academic Integrity”, describes five categories of academic dishonesty, stating that these “terms transcend group boundaries and roles”. They are:

1.  Plagiarism—using another’s words or ideas without appropriate attribution or without following citation conventions;

2.  Fabrication—making up data, results, information, or numbers, and recording and reporting them;

3. Falsification—manipulating research, data, or results to inaccurately portray information in reports (research, financial, or other) or academic assignments;

4.  Misrepresentation—falsely representing oneself, efforts, or abilities; and,

5.  Misbehavior—acting in ways that are not overtly misconduct but are counter to prevailing

behavioral expectations.”

This article focuses on - #4 Misrepresentation - as mandated by the US Department of Education and its regional accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education [MSCHE]. While acknowledging the focus of this article, the author also acknowledges the other relevant dimensions in Gallant’s position paper and submit that all five (5) dimensions are irrevocably entwined regardless of the testing environment or the method of instructional delivery.

Context – Definitions of Terms

To assist in the reader’s understanding of all related issues in this article it is necessary to define accepted terminology. For the purpose of this article, we are defining remote proctoring as an approach that records the exam session for review after the test is completed. In this solution, technology is used to record the student and their computer screen space [facial perimeter] without a live proctor present. Identity is authenticated when the software matches the student to his/her recorded information through a previous on-boarding event in which demographic information is stored. The software flags incidents of possible academic integrity concerns, and makes those incidents available for later faculty review. Remote proctoring is an ‘on-demand’ test environment where scheduling a time for the exam is essentially unnecessary. The faculty define a “range of time” in which the exam may be taken in a 24/7 availability cycle.

Similarly, we define live online proctoring as an approach which dedicates a live proctor to closely monitor and record a candidate’s behavior, in real-time, as they take their exam, or other high stakes assessment. In “live” proctoring, the proctors fully authenticate candidate identity and view via webcam the testing environment [environmental scan] thoroughly. Because “live” proctors are typically only available in defined times, this solution requires a student to schedule their exam time in advance.  During a typical live online proctoring test session, all computer activity is monitored by a live proctor and recorded. Usually, proctors are empowered to end an exam at any time, if aberrant behavior is detected. Since a candidate’s audio, video, computer screen, and keystroke information is also recorded in addition to being observed in real time, if post-test conduct questions arise, the data can be reviewed.

Products Evaluated, Tested and In-Use

Consistent with the need to insure MSCHE compliance, and to go beyond the minimum in terms of student authentication, several online proctoring services were evaluated at Drexel in AY 2015-16 and in terms prior, including the following:

  • Respondus Lockdown Browser with Respondus Monitor add-on
  • ProctorU
  • ProctorTrack

Description of the Spring ProctorTrack Pilot

Of the systems tested to date, only ProctorTrack uses an automated system to algorithmically identify [facial scan, knuckle scan and picture ID] the student and evaluate student behavior (i.e. no live proctor).  Potential integrity violations such as looking down at notes can be flagged as per the policies set for the exam session by the instructor. This particular software was piloted by seven Drexel online courses in Spring Term of the 2015-16 academic year.  Typical costs are about 50% or less as compared with the live proctor option such as ProctorU.  The colleges included:

  • College of Nursing and Health Professions
  • College of Engineering
  • LeBow College of Business