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With so many first-world universities upgrading their academic buildings with state-of-the-art classrooms that have advanced technology, eg, capability to record lectures and post them on websites shortly after, why don't these universities consider utilizing similar technology to catch in-class cheating on exams?

Implementing a procedure where the classroom exams are videotaped and audiotaped could reduce cheating dramatically, in turn reducing any huge headache cases that department chairs and university deans would have to deal with.

If appropriate notice is given beforehand, I don't see that such procedures violate any privacy laws for students.

Or is utilizing technology to catch cheating a really impractical idea?

ETS, the organization that administers the GRE exams, already videotape and audiotape their exams, at least in American test centers.

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    If I was a betting man (which I'm not), I'd say that the cost of adding anti-cheating features to a building is waaaaay too expensive for the average university. Especially compared to hiring another TA to help watch over the exam students. – tonysdg Feb 21 '17 at 1:20
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    The equipment needed to do "lecture capture" recordings (think one camera pointed at the podium and a screen capture of instructor's computer) is much less than the equipment needed to videotape a lecture hall full of students taking an exam. Since exam taking is a relatively small percentage of the time that students spend in the classroom it would make more sense to set aside separate spaces for exam taking with this special equipment. – Brian Borchers Feb 21 '17 at 3:19
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    Hmmm. Will someone do something. Is speculation on future events on topic for any stack? – NZKshatriya Feb 21 '17 at 5:24
  • "Doesn't violate privacy laws" is a very low bar in the US. Even if it's legal, it can still make a lot of tuition-paying students very angry. – Nate Eldredge Feb 21 '17 at 6:33
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    @aparente001 nope - I'm afraid what Nate said (please see above) could be the reason why schools wouldn't launch any such programs to detect cheating. If so, mitigating the risk of cheating will always be a reactive and ineffective process. The message from the dept. chair to us was basically: "please don't cheat, if you see someone cheat, please tell us and do not remain silent because it is not a victimless act, and you will remain anonymous." A very reactive approach, yet all of our classrooms have state-of-the-art technology. – User001 Feb 21 '17 at 8:07
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This is one of those problems which may seem like they can be relatively easily alleviated, but in practice they face many challenges.

For example:

  • properly videotaping and audiotaping a classroom would require the careful placement of many cameras and microphones; you also have to consider the testing and maintenance of all the equipment

  • signal processing is not yet at the level where it can catch all the inventive ways students cheat, so your system would still need substantial human involvement

  • many legal/ethical/moral considerations

  • students will always find ways to circumvent anti-cheating systems

Given that typically only a small percent of students cheat and that examinations are held just a few times a year, it seems unreasonable to sink so much time, money, and effort to catch some, not even all, of the cheaters.

Also, there are many easy "tricks" which can be used to discourage cheating, e.g.

  • make exams challenging enough so that students don't actually have time to cheat
  • include problems which require working out and which cannot be readily copied (or whatever)

But most importantly, instead of trying to catch cheaters, it's much better to actively try to educate your students why cheating is never a good idea and why cheaters only cheat themselves.

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I think generally cheating, while certainly despicable, is a sufficiently marginal activity that it's difficult to argue for investing much money and efforts to fight it. Much of it can be detected or prevented with very low-tech strategies. It seems much more important to focus on teaching honest students in the best way possible.

A few more detailed points:

  1. Budget allocation: Universities typically have many other things that consume their budget which have a much higher priority. Just because some buy fancy presenting tools and audio systems doesn't mean they have a blank check to buy all the other gizmos one could think of for a classroom.

    If I were in charge of deciding where the budget should go, I'll be voting for equipment to allow visually or hearing impaired people to better understand lectures, better demonstration material, funding for field trips and labs, etc. instead of a CCTV system to catch cheaters.

  2. Unclear educational value: (cf. point 1 above) Assuming good faith is the soundest basis for teacher-students relationships and scrutinizing students with high tech surveillance is the antithesis of trust. Also, a well-designed exam should be relatively robust to cheating.

  3. Legal issues you dismiss the idea that it could be illegal but in fact I think it would be in many jurisdictions. Also, the existence of such a system might lead to dismissal of actual cheating claims made on the basis of other evidence in the absence of video/audio evidence to back them up.

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Overarching Idea: In every university I attended and worked at in America, the idea that was shared by faculty and students was that students were there to learn from professors who are subject matter experts, whether those classes are general education classes or classes in their major. And that graduating from that university reflected not just having majored in a single field but being well rounded and having achieved a standard of learning to make one worthy of the degree.

Corollary 1: for most fields, if someone can cheat on your exam easily, then you're doing something wrong in terms of teaching university-level material.

Corollary 2: a university should not be a war between students trying to cheat and faculty trying to catch them.

Consequence 1: Try to attract students who actually want to learn to the maximal degree of selectivity your university can handle.

Consequence 2: When cheating might have happened, once it's been confirmed it did, then severe consequences follow.

In nearly all the universities I worked in, the consequences for plagiarism and other forms of cheating were severe. I think the most lenient was a two-strikes policy (as in get caught cheating twice and get kicked out of the university with one or two academic misconduct marks on your transcript).


Based on this idea of the university, it doesn't make much sense to do a lot of video surveillance to ferret out cheaters. (Who would watch it? Who pays for installing it?) Moreover, the stakes of a very small percentage of people effectively cheating are high for the individuals but low for the instructors and the university's reputation.

In the case of ETS, there are other reasons why it makes some sense for them to do so. First off, they are in the business of assessing particular individuals' abilities both with the GRE and TOEFL, and they have little contact with the people outside of the tests. If cheating scandals occur, the stakes are high for both the individuals and ETS, because the security of their tests is a big piece of their business.

To put that another way, University X's reputation as a good place to go is largely a function of the sort of faculty it has and the research and teaching they do. Minutely, it also includes that you can't buy your way to a degree there. Conversely, ETS's reputation is all staked on them being able to help universities figure out whether students can succeed on the tests they offer (regardless of the validity of those tests).

  • I think everyone wants to achieve Consequence 1, but it's far easier said than done. – Nate Eldredge Feb 22 '17 at 3:13

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