After more than two months without face-to-face classes, Daniel González has completely assimilated his virtual academic routines. The contact with the teachers of this second-year Baccalaureate student from Madrid has been constant and now, during exam time, he divides the mornings for two daily exams. The mechanics are always the same: they connect to a video call through Microsoft Teams, with the video and microphone open, and strict rules: the camera must focus on both face and paper, hands and the table in which they are working; They print the exam that the teachers send them, fill it out by hand and then scan or photograph it, with the help of an app, create a PDF file that they will send to their teachers through Teams, in a maximum of 10 minutes after finishing the proof.

Daniel is one of the more than 8,200,000 non-university students who will culminate a totally extraordinary academic year at the end of these weeks. Along with them, around 1,600,000 university students, and all having completed, to a greater or lesser degree, a digitization process that in the best of cases was planned for three or four years from now. Beyond online classes, remote assessment tests have necessitated new technology-based formulas that take advantage of the means available to all students; and always guaranteeing the integrity of the entire process. Something that is not easy.

Exams at a distance, and without cheating

The headline is that there is nothing infallible: just as in a face-to-face test, students can manage to copy, and therefore teachers and centers resort to all kinds of methods, tools and resources. The language teacher of Daniel, for example, avoided this Monday the danger that her students would change a sheet of the exam by asking them to write, in the middle of each page, their name in large letters and occupying the entire width of the sheet . But ensuring the inviolability of assessment in higher education requires many other precautions.

“Regarding tests, what we are doing is evaluating different types, such as individual development tests (which would be an essay): I send you a job, and you have to do it and then defend, so the student You have to argue the reason for your presentation ”, explains José Manuel Mas, academic director of the university area of ​​ESIC Business & Marketing School. “Another possibility is the oral test, one by one; which is the best way to check authorship and avoid copying. What happens with these systems is that they are unfeasible with groups of many students ”. And that forces changes to the test that they will have to face.

The security measures of the universities will be structured on several levels, from the type and number of questions to the time available to answer them and the software to prevent cases of plagiarism or third-party interventions. “Teachers have been asked not to take rote exams, but rather to be tests where students have to reason and prove what they know,” says José Luis Aznarte, deputy vice-chancellor for intelligent management at the National University of Distance Education (UNED) .

Its Virtual Examination Classroom (AvEx) also plays, like other academic institutions, with essential variables such as having a large bank of questions so that each student receives a unique test, with questions assigned randomly, and a very tight time the number of questions to answer, which makes it very difficult to find time to seek outside help. This platform will serve, in turn, to carry out on July 4 the examination for access to the legal profession that was canceled on March 28.

“The essential idea is that the tests in AvEx are as similar as possible to the usual face-to-face tests in the associated centers,” says Aznarte. In the case of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), three different statements are prepared, one for each of the three days offered for each call and subject: “In face-to-face exams, one of the days is in order to week, because many students work or have family responsibilities, so with the virtual ones we do the same ”, adds Emili Rubió, vice-manager of Operations. The student verifies his identity on the platform through his ID and his access credentials, and the random taking of photographs during the test serves to avoid possible irregularities.

Facial recognition, a not so obvious answer

When asked how to do the exams remotely, an obvious answer would seem to be to resort to facial recognition technologies that are in charge of monitoring them. “The problem is that we have come to the conclusion that these technologies are far from mature, and we do not know if they will be one day,” says Aznarte, who also refers to legal, technical and ethical problems: ” It is not just a data protection problem. The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) has concluded that, to automatically process people’s faces, you need their consent. The problem is that, in this context, it is not very clear that consent is free, because you do not offer them any alternative. Therefore, you are imposing it. ”

The problem is also of a legal nature, since neither the General Data Protection Regulation (RGDP), nor the equivalent European law, make an explicit mention of facial recognition technologies, which causes a certain legislative vacuum. ; and also lack jurisprudence in this regard. Then there are the technical problems, since in these exceptional circumstances students cannot be asked the necessary conditions for these tools to work properly; and those of an ethical nature, “because this technology is the victim of worrying biases that have to do, for example, with its difficulty in recognizing people with darker skin,” adds Aznarte.

Support software

To verify the authorship and the correct development of the exams, educational institutions have programs that make any type of irregularity difficult. Products such as Turnitin or Urkund are used to prevent plagiarism both in assessment tests and academic papers, and others such as TestWe are used to temporarily take control of the computer and prevent third parties from remotely impersonating the seated student in front of the screen. In Milanuncios, without going any further, there are advertisements from people who offer to take the exams in exchange for a certain amount of money. The need for these systems therefore seems clear, but how effective are they really?

Offers to take exams ‘online’ by other people in Milanauncios.

Universities, business schools and other educational institutions have been using programs like Turnitin for years; systems that detect possible plagiarism using their own database and the Internet. “We use two different types of software, one of our own technology and the other external. The first is used to compare exams with one another in the case of evaluations, while the second is done with sources accessible on the Internet, ”says Rubió. They are systems that detect copying possibilities; Thus, Turnitin not only tells you the percentage, but identifies exactly what the copied texts are and where they come from.

The threshold between what is acceptable and what does not vary much from case to case. While an opinion text with 50% copied is not acceptable, another legal text with a lot of jurisprudence and 30% copy can be: “I, for example, suspended a job with only 5% copy, because it coincided exactly with the conclusions. And if you copy the conclusions, it is as if you had not done so, ”says Mas. That is: the process is not automatic, since it will always be necessary for teachers to interpret the results.

In these circumstances, it is clear that controlling the environment in which the exam is taking place, and it is here that tools such as TestWe, which institutions such as ESIC are evaluating, play a very relevant role. They are used to take control of the computer and block it, so that you can only access the test content, without browsing the Internet, avoiding access from remote locations and monitoring students individually, using cameras that take into account numerous factors: if someone enters the room, if the student is alone or where they are looking, in addition to locating items on the screen, such as the student’s mobile. However, it does not make decisions, “but simply sends alerts; It does not suspend: that prerogative, if necessary, is the competence of the teacher ”, adds Mas.

Invasive programs … and not infallible

Despite their advantages, these systems are not failsafe, Aznarte says: “You can block someone from using Zoom in Windows, at the same time as they do the exam; But what happens if you do it on a Linux system? Or if you have a virtual machine running at the same time on your computer? You can’t control that at all. ” No software, he says, is capable of controlling that, for example, you have two keyboards and two monitors connected to the same computer. “There is a pretty fun website, a type that gives you tricks in English to violate this type of security measures. The list is very long, and they are all feasible, from a computer point of view. ” These are also invasive technologies that force you to download software to the computer; “With the problem that many students may be using a family or business computer, so they may not have the necessary administration rights” to install anything, Mas reflects.

Digitization, a challenge for the future

The great challenge that this sudden technologicalization brings to teaching is to take advantage of the numerous educational possibilities that ICTs provide us: “Until now they are only being used as a means to search for information, and this is producing what is already called the Google effect: Why should I learn it if I can find it ”, explains José Antonio Marina, philosopher, pedagogue and lecturer of Thinking Heads. “This is nonsense, because it is useless for me to have information if I do not understand it. I have been working on the Centauro Project for a long time, which seeks a greater integration of intelligence in neural format and artificial intelligence. The arrival of expanded or augmented reality forces us to develop an expanded intelligence. “

Learning to use technology ethically (which includes not spreading rumors, not plagiarizing or harassing peers) should, in Marina’s opinion, be introduced to school soon, in the last cycle of Primary, and points to the close relationship between ethical values ​​and creativity: “Ethics, that is, the invention of human ways of living, that respect human dignity, that allow solving the inevitable conflicts that arise from coexistence, is the great creation of human intelligence. It is the great effort we have made to get away from the jungle, where the strong eat the weak. Ethics is not an ornament, it is our lifebelt. When he retires, what appears is horror. ”

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