Using technology to prevent and detect cheating

Technology tools alone cannot foster a culture of academic integrity, nor can they prevent misconduct.

However, used appropriately and in conjunction with other approaches, they may help prevent and/or detect academic misconduct, and they may support academic integrity.

Technology is always changing. On this page, find the main types of technology tools available, along with other resources that give step-by-step instructions for specific solutions. 


Cheating deterrents

As explained on UBC’s Keep Teaching website, breaches in academic integrity are often the result of feelings of desperation plus opportunity. Using cheating deterrent techniques can help minimize the latter.

Question randomization

How can students copy from each other on an exam if everyone has their own version of the exam? While most online testing software solutions (e.g., Canvas Quiz tool) don’t provide this level of randomization, instructors like you can discourage students from working together by providing different versions of questions. A simple type of randomization involves having multiple choice questions display the options in a random order. For quantitative questions, another type of randomization involves having the software choose random parameters and computing the correct answer with a formula you must define. 

Why use question randomization

Having multiple versions of a question will discourage collaboration, and doing this on a number of key questions in a timed exam will make it basically impossible for students to help each other. Three of four versions of a question may be sufficient. Question randomization can be used with in-person and remote exams. 

What to watch out for

Test design/creation takes more time, and requires more careful editing and planning. 

Question banks

Similar to question randomization, question banks involve creating more questions than any individual student will see on their exam, and having the software randomly choose a subset of them. This can be set up in question groups, so you have considerable control over how many questions are presented from each topic. 

Why use question banks

As with question randomization, having different questions will make collaboration more difficult.

What to watch out for

Test creation takes more time. Additionally, questions in a bank must be of a similar difficulty level, otherwise students may feel that the test is unfair if they happen to get more challenging questions. 

Designing questions

In some situations, questions can be designed to deter cheating. For online exams that are not open Internet, consider including words that are commonly found on the Internet to make searches less useful. 

Remote online proctoring

For students taking exams remotely (i.e., not on campus in a proctored environment), there are ways to reduce the opportunities for academic misconduct. Examples of solutions include Lockdown Browser, Proctorio (no longer in widespread use at UBC), and Zoom invigilation. 

Why use remote online proctoring

Whenever a traditional exam format is chosen and students have an option to take the exam remotely, they may feel that they are less likely to be caught if they cheat. They may also feel that their classmates are more likely to cheat. Having tools in place that reduce opportunities for misconduct may make all students feel better about the assessment. 

What to watch out for

Any software solution will require extra computing resources and additional bandwidth, and might therefore disadvantage students with older equipment and/or slower internet connections. These tools consume IT or instructor resources because they often require more people to support an exam in order to help with technology challenges students may face. 

Cheating detection

When using deterrent techniques is not enough, you can also rely on technology to detect and analyze submitted work to make an informed decision.

Plagiarism detection

Computers are very good at comparing large strings of text. Tools like Turnitin.com and Grammarly can take a document and compare it against a large database of sources to identify strings of text (phrases, sentences, paragraphs) that match existing sources. 

Why use plagiarism detection

It is an easy way to detect some cases of plagiarism — both copying from existing sources and from other students. Furthermore, if students know you will be using such tools, they may be more likely to submit original work. 

What to watch out for

Students may also use these tools to make sure their work “passes” as original, even if it really isn’t. Also make sure you submit material to Turnitin.com without student names or identifying data, because Turnitin’s servers reside in the US and therefore are not FIPPA compliant.

Analytics

As with plagiarism detection, computers are good at finding patterns. Analytics options are starting to get sophisticated enough to help flag suspicious activity. 

Why use analytics

To find possible instances of academic misconduct in exams or other similar assessments. For example… 

What to watch out for

A flag does not mean a student has committed misconduct, so anything that is flagged must be further investigated. As well, the software (e.g., in Canvas) is still in development and thus may not behave exactly how you want to. 


Resources