What Is Academic Integrity?
Academic integrity refers to the way in which students carry out assigned activities within their training, based on a series of rules that require their honesty and regulate their conduct. Its pillars are honesty, trust, respect, and responsibility.
For learning to be genuine, students must behave ethically, honestly, and diligently during the learning process. Cheating during exams isn’t the only symptom of compromised academic integrity. Other examples include plagiarism, forgery, and identity theft, to name a few.
So as institutions are forced to shift to online learning modalities or offer more flexible access to traditionally in-person learning, many people may wonder how institutions can verify if a student was actually the one who took the online exam or acquired the required skills in their online course?
According to a study published in “Academic Integrity in the Age of Online Learning,” 93% of teachers—now forced to migrate online because of COVID-19—believe students are more likely to cheat during online assessments.1
Keeping Online Learning Honest
Traditionally, exams were proctored (i.e. supervised) in person to confirm test takers’ identities, prevent cheating, and ensure the overall integrity of the environment. So how will institutions maintain that level of control and confidence when these same assessments are conducted online? How might this work when students are far from the reach of a teacher who can supervise them during tests?
Thanks to evolving technology, we have the ability to focus on the development of tools that allow us to be prepared for future generations of learners, quality learning experiences, and, above all, accessibility that respects the right of all students to be evaluated based on their knowledge.
These supervision tools generate valuable evidence for evaluators and teachers that allow them to not only know the level of knowledge acquired by students and evaluate the quality of the content, but also verify the effectiveness of the teacher’s methodology. As a result, this provides the opportunity to personalize, focus, and improve the learning method—truly adapting it to the needs of the students.
But should we invest in online learning and proctoring if the pandemic may be over soon and we can go back to school as usual?
Yes. Online learning is not just a response to the global pandemic—it’s a strategic imperative.
According to UNESCO data, the shift to online learning predates the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, Asia has increased its online schools by approximately 18% (mainly in China and India). This same percentage represents Australia’s online institutions, followed by Russia with 17%, and both Africa and South America with 15%. And eLearning in general is expected to continue to grow between 7.6% and 9.6% annually, according to data from the OBS Business School eLearning report.
The main factors contributing to the growth of eLearning are:
- A result of the exponential growth of open-source digital resources (i.e. Moodle, xAPI, etc.).
- The innovation afforded by pedagogical methods that not only incorporate information and communication technologies, but also break the barriers that have previously prevented students from traveling to educational institutions.
And, investing in more flexible learning modalities benefits the learners, institutions, and teachers. Without geographic and time restrictions posed by in-person courses, institutions can now open their candidate pool to new audiences. Further, if the age of social media has taught us anything, it’s that even the most introverted people have courage to voice their opinion, collaborate with others, and express themselves when done behind the safety of a screen. That means teachers could have more engaged, productive classes, and students will be more empowered to participate and contribute.
So we come back to the question of maintaining integrity and keeping online learning sustainable as delivery and assessments become virtual. And a key component of maintaining quality and academic integrity online is to always have the user experience at the center—thus, making the entire training process satisfactory and providing better opportunities to all participants. Luckily, it seems that the supervision vendors from the educational space are committed to creating a fair and equitable environment, trying to offer the same evaluation opportunities for everyone. Let’s take a look.
How Online Proctoring Affects Learners, Teachers & Institutions
It seems clear that academic integrity is relevant to training, but not everyone considers the obsolescence of the methods applied to instill it.
Currently, it seems that it’s not enough for students to read and sign in accordance with the regulations provided by the institutions at the time of enrollment. In fact, according to a survey of students at Purdue University in Indiana, 37% of students themselves consider academic dishonesty to be a serious problem.3
The importance of acquiring a supervisory solution within these new pedagogical models lies in the fact that institutions must ensure the academic integrity of their methodologies, regardless of the modality in which the lessons are taught. This maintains their prestige and provides credibility support for their graduates when they face the world of work—demonstrating that the knowledge was indeed acquired by students, among other aspects that will be beneficial for the institution and attractive to the demand generated by the students.
Need it spelled out? Here you go:
Benefits for the Institution
- Assurance of the identity of the online user to verify that the knowledge was acquired and demonstrated by the indicated person.
- Maintenance of academic integrity by providing evidence for a more objective evaluation (thus, taking care of prestige and recognition).
- Cost reduction by not requiring a physical space with teachers for supervision during the evaluation.
- Possibility of expanding the offer of official training, as well as the number of places since there is no physical limitation of space, time, or geographical location.
Benefits for Teachers
- Assurance of the identity of the online user to avoid identity theft.
- Possibility of obtaining evidence of the real performance of the students during the evaluations, in order to detect areas of opportunity in the teaching model.
- Evaluation in a more objective way thanks to the physical evidence automatically generated by the system.
Benefits for Students
- Credibility by providing real evidence proving attendance and certification during any training.
- Increase the number of options to be able to receive quality training from various entities in a more accessible way, maintaining prestige and integrity, without having to travel or give up other activities, such as work or spending time with the family.
- Greater flexibility by reducing time, geographic, and economic barriers.
- Participation in an environment with evaluation conditions similar to those of the rest of the students, allowing the recognition of those who prepared and carried out the training correctly and sanctioning those who tried or completed the training.
Assessing Your Technology Options for Monitoring Students
Thanks to technological advances, the growth of online learning, and the constant feedback that is obtained after the use of these tools, there are now different options in addition to monitoring students in real time.
The best is to identify the type of evaluation you want to carry out to determine the type of solution you’re going to implement, based on your needs as well as the characteristics of your user.
Ricardo Vea PhD, CEO of Smowltech—developers of an automated online proctoring solution called SMOWL—recommends starting with assessing and selecting the vendor that best aligns with your institutional values and mission, so that you can work with them to enable the systems that will fit your needs.
Every day, [Smowltech] works on the development of tools that allow us to achieve a world with access to an integral and quality education, increasingly reducing the barriers that prevent it. We are sure that solutions like ours really have a positive impact on users’ lives. Sharing these types of values, which are the basis of our business at Smowltech, allows us to continue innovating and improving the quality of our service along the same lines.
—Ricardo Vea PhD, CEO of Smowltech
The literal meaning of proctoring comes from the act of supervising someone during the performance of any type of evaluation to avoid inappropriate behaviors or actions that corrupt academic integrity. So if we transfer them to the online world, we can currently find various solutions and tools that offer different alternatives and levels of security that adjust to the needs of each institution.
For example, there is live proctoring, which consists of a proctor located in another part of the world, observing and evaluating students simultaneously via webcam.
There are also other more automatic and less intrusive alternatives, which are based on algorithms with artificial intelligence and generate reports to later be reviewed by the person responsible for evaluating the student.
Depending on the needs of the institution, as well as the level of security you want for your evaluations, there are various adaptive tools that may include more or fewer elements. Examples include:
- audio recording to listen to everything that happened during the activity.
- voice detection to know if there was somebody else in the room.
- keyboard typing pattern analysis to reinforce identity validation.
- IP address analysis to detect if there are more than two people conducting the assessment in the same location.
- use of secure exam browsers, which block the rest of the windows preventing the student from visiting other websites.
- anti-plagiarism tools that analyze the student’s texts to find out if the student obtained that content from other sources.
- additional cameras in other angles for better supervision.
- computer monitoring to detect other programs or documents opened, or commands done such as copy-paste.
- peripheral monitoring, to know if the student had another keyboard, webcam, or screen connected during the activity.
There are already robust services suppliers that include all these solutions integrated in the same product.
Regardless of the regulations to maintain the academic integrity of your institution, control tools can help you prevent behaviors that are considered inappropriate. They also can help provide greater flexibility to students—not only when it comes to being able to take online exams regardless of their location, but also being able to take those exams when it’s convenient for them.
Education for the future must be able to adapt to the learner’s lifestyle and provide tools to make it more accessible to all. The better we prepare future generations, the better the world will be.
Academic integrity can be understood as the ethical code of academia. As moral and ethical perceptions may vary amongst different cultures and generations - in an increasingly collaborative, globalized, and information-based world - it is imperative for educational institutions, educators, teachers and instructional designers to consider different perceptions of academic integrity in their practice and strategies.
 Wiley. Academic Integrity In the Age of Online Learning. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from http://read.uberflip.com/i/1272071-academic-integrity-in-the-age-of-online-learning/0?.
 OBS Business School. e-learning Report 2017. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from http://observatory.obs-edu.com/en/reports.
 Gina Londino-Smolar. Do students understand academic integrity?. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from