AT the university of technology where I teach physical education, the semester began in mid-February due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the school has now entered summer vacation.
While assigning students their grades this week, I found a number of them failed the course with poor scores or even earning a zero on the written tests. Deliberating whether to give some students a chance to retake the course, I could not help but wonder how this could have happened.
After careful consideration, I am certain that the culprit is online exams.
By the end of the semester, my university had adopted a policy similar to that of other colleges and universities, in which the faculty can conduct distance learning and in-person classes at the same time.
However, it is difficult to test students on physical performance with an online exam. Without the venue and necessary equipment, it is difficult to assess a student’s performance by asking them to perform exercises in front of a camera.
Three weeks before the end of the semester, I began asking students to come to the school to take their physical education tests at their convenience. As for the written test on sports regulations and rules, I conducted the test in the final week of the semester.
On the day of the test, several unexpected things happened. Even though I had clearly written “no switching to other windows” on the test instructions, many students did so anyway. I did not want to jump to any conclusions by labeling them as “cheating,” and would think of them instead as intending to use other software to look up information in a moment of forgetfulness.
The way the system had been set up, if the student changed windows, the test would automatically be submitted, and when it did, it was understandable that the examinees would panic.
The e-learning software used by colleges is useful in that it allows teachers to post course notices, upload teaching materials, and set up assignments and quizzes. Although user-friendly, the system is not up to the task of differentiating genuine errors from cheating, leaving it wide open for behavior such as having some students hand in identical reports.
Students have been using this kind of technology since they were young, and they have a million ways of beating the system if they set their mind to it. Given the necessary equipment and seamless “teamwork” on different computers, students would not have much difficulty in scoring high marks in an online test.
With central and southern Taiwan still experiencing spikes of COVID-19 cases, many colleges have extended virtual courses until the end of the semester.
Nonetheless, while many schools have asked students to return to campuses in person to attend the final exams, some students have petitioned against it. Many object to the policy on grounds of “a risk of cluster infection,” with the most notable example occurring at Taichung Municipal Taichung First Senior High School.
However, if the exams were all changed to online tests, could they still remain impartial and objective?
Maybe some people would criticize me for not trusting the students, but is this not a little naive? Even with the multiple mechanisms to prevent cheating on computers, in a test-oriented society and without teacher supervision, it is at least arguable that many students could succumb to the temptation of cheating.
Li Cheng-ta teaches physical education at the Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology.
Translated by Rita Wang
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