An assessment design that promotes learning and academic integrity

Identity-verified assessment can be used alongside online tasks to check students’ understanding and foster collaborative learning, writes Carl Sherwood

Carl Sherwood's avatar
22 May 2024
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The rise in online contract cheating services and advances in artificial intelligence have increased pressures on designing assessment tasks that maintain academic integrity. Supervised exams are a traditional form of identity-verified assessment (IVA) to help combat cheating and ensure that students’ submitted work is their own. An alternative IVA design incorporates an oral component to combine the gains from online learning during Covid-19 with the benefits of in-person classroom interactions.

Identity-verified assessment with an oral component

Institutional reputations in higher education are at risk as technology advances make it easier for students to cheat and more difficult to maintain academic integrity. Supervised exams are a traditional form of IVA. However, “there is substantial evidence for pedagogical drawbacks in using high-stakes summative examinations” with “relatively few of the perceived academic benefits of high-stakes examinations” being strongly evidence based, wrote Sarah French, Ashton Dickerson and Raoul A. Mulder in 2023. Designing low-stakes authentic assessment activities, on the other hand, are suggested as one way to encourage students to demonstrate their knowledge. Authentic assessments involving oral interviews can also allow students’ problem-solving processes to become visible, although they can be time consuming. 

Drawing on these ideas, an IVA activity with an oral component was implemented in an undergraduate first-year introductory statistics course in the second half of 2023 involving about 400 students.

IVA tutorial activity 

During Covid-19, a large test bank of online questions was created for each lecture in the 12-week introductory statistics course. Using these questions, students completed unique online problem sets called lecture review block tasks (LRBTs). Each LRBT consisted of content from four lectures, with three LRBTs used in the course. Students had 1.5 hours to complete each LRBT during a 31-hour period when it was available.

On return to in-person tutorials after Covid-19, LRBT problem sets continued to be used. However, after submitting their first two LRBTs, the students’ marks now became provisional. That is, to enhance academic integrity, each student’s actual performance (online LRBT) would now be compared with their observed performance during an in-person 50-minute IVA tutorial activity during the course. About 40 students participate in an IVA activity, where three tutors are present, each having a roll of all students’ names and LRBT marks. During the IVA activity, the tutors facilitated:

  1. Explaining the rules of the IVA activity (5 minutes)
  2. Students working silently to write down their solutions to randomly allocated problems on a question sheet. Tutors noted if students’ solutions were correct or not, without revealing any answers to students (10 minutes)
  3. Students swapping their question sheets with a peer next to them (pairs of students had different questions), marking a peer’s solution in silence and adding feedback (5 minutes)
  4. Students giving verbal feedback and discussing their answers. Tutors observed each student’s explanations (10 minutes)
  5. Students swapping their question sheets back, with students required to write individual reflections about what they had learned (5 minutes)
  6. Peers at a table discussing their reflections and approaches to learning (10 minutes)
  7. Collecting all tutorial activity question sheets
  8. Evaluating if a student’s observed performance (IVA grade) matched their actual LRBT performance (online grade) to determine if a student passed or failed the IVA activity. 

A student’s provisional LRBT mark at the end of the IVA activity was then:

  • confirmed if they passed
  • reduced by 50 per cent if they failed 
  • reduced to zero if they did not attend the IVA activity.

A student could challenge a failed result and complete an oral interview with the lecturer for a second chance to pass. However, if they failed the oral interview, their mark was reduced to zero.

Advantages of the IVA with oral assessment

The IVA tutorial activity offers several advantages. First, if students are required to verbally discuss their solution processes, it allows them to articulate what they have learned in the presence of tutors. It eliminates the need for time-consuming individual oral interviews, while at the same time making it clear to the tutors what a student does or does not know.

Second, students have tended to be more relaxed during the IVA activity compared with a traditional exam. The IVA allows students to mark a peer’s work, discuss their solutions and compare learning approaches, which creates an informal, collegial learning environment.

Third, unlike traditional exams, the IVA activity draws on authentic learning practices. It replicates the workplace, where colleagues collaborate and learn from each other. In other words, the IVA activity is designed for learning, as opposed to an exam as an assessment of learning. 

Disadvantages of the IVA with oral assessment

Yet the IVA tutorial activity has disadvantages, too. Several aspects of running the activity can be time-consuming. First, all tutors need to be familiar with the IVA activity requirements. This requires tutor training, particularly for evaluating a student’s actual online LRBT performance to see if it matches observed performance. 

Second, sufficient variability in the pairs of questions is needed in each IVA activity. It can be time-consuming to write enough questions and solutions with large enrolments.

Third, it requires time to create the rolls for each tutorial that show students’ names and their online LRBT grades.

IVA activity uses authentic, collegial, peer-based, reflective practices 

In summary, traditional exams test what students are supposed to have learned. In contrast, the IVA activity draws on authentic, collegial, peer-based, reflective practices where students’ thinking processes become visible as they arrive at a solution. Students become motivated to be sure they can demonstrate their learning processes during the activity, thereby helping them recognise the value of submitting their own work online for the LRBT, which in turn helps enhance academic integrity.

Carl Sherwood is a senior lecturer in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland.

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