The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a decrease in physical interactions to ensure that everyone was as safe as possible. Despite this, the maintenance of everyday activities was still necessary to ensure that life did not come to a complete standstill. The best solution for various activities was to shift to an online platform, especially for the working class and students. In the case of a student, these everyday activities are mostly made up of attending lectures, completing assignments, and studying.
The shift from face-to-face learning to online learning was necessary to ensure that students were able to progress academically or complete their studies. Online learning meant that most of these activities were to be done virtually, which was completely different to what many students were used to. To this day we still have technical difficulties in live lectures, or watching recorded lecture videos, but the process was, for the most part, simple and easy enough. Online assessments were completely different as prior assessments were conducted under strict supervision to maintain ethical behaviour during assessments and to ensure accurate results reflecting a student’s knowledge.
Since online assessments have been conducted remotely, there has been a lack of supervision, which created opportunities for students to behave unethically. Ethical behaviour during assessments is a concept every student is familiar with, along with the knowledge that cheating is not tolerated at any level of education – especially not at tertiary level. According to “Psychology of Academic Cheating” by Eric Anderman and Tamera Murdock, academic cheating involves learning, development, and motivation. In terms of learning and development, cheating serves as a shortcut that could result in a student incorrectly developing skills and not acquiring enough knowledge in a specific course.
The Department of Institutional Advancement at the University of Pretoria (DIA UP) stated that online teaching and learning increased some risks – including the risk of academic misconduct and dishonesty through digital plagiarism and the unauthorised sharing of work by students. They also highlighted that the brand value of the degree the student aims to obtain weakens with every instance of attempted fraud and dishonesty. There is also a possibility of long-lasting repercussions for all graduates in terms of employability, not just those who participated in cheating. In the case of current students who are found guilty of academic misconduct, there is a risk of losing all credits for the affected module and expulsion. Students who have already graduated risk their degree being revoked and being reported to the South African Police Services and relevant professional bodies.
To enhance the integrity during assessments, UP lecturers were encouraged to apply specific measures and rethink assessments. Some of the general measures recommended by the DIA UP included creating several versions of an examination and linking it to randomly distributed groups of students; dividing long papers into separate parts that are no longer than 45 minutes; setting higher cognitive level questions that do not rely on recall (Google search questions); putting a watermark on questions papers that indicates it is copyrighted to UP; using Turnitin to check for originality in submissions; using a system where students write exams after receiving a password-protected PDF and, after answering the assessment by hand, students would upload their scanned and PDF scripts to ClickUP.
These measures helped decrease the chances of students consulting different sources such as fellow students, the internet, or study material to discuss the questions. Students were also required to sign a code of honour and integrity statement in the affirmative to be morally responsible and accountable, and to undertake not to cheat or collaborate with other students.
UP prides itself in the quality of its degrees. The above measures reflect the necessary steps taken to ensure the integrity of its programmes, thus rendering the question of whether a degree obtained online during this period would be recognised and valued in the job market redundant. It should also be noted that, according to an article regarding distance learning by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS), employers accept degrees achieved through distance learning and view them as identical to those achieved through studying on campus.
Image: Cassandra Eardley