Since the beginning of the pandemic, the final evaluations of Cégep à distance courses have been taken at home by the students, without supervision. To limit plagiarism, the Cégep à distance team relies on an oral interview via videoconference after the written exam. Students are asked to talk to their tutor about their exam, as part of a metacognitive process that allows the tutor to certify that the student is indeed the author of their answers to the exam. (At the Cégep à distance, tutors are the people who answer students’ questions and grade the assessments).
In order to learn more about videoconference evaluation interviews, I spoke with Marie-Michèle Rhéaume and Martin Roy, academic advisors at Cégep à distance, in January 2022. I had learned about the project by watching the video they had created for the ROC2021 conference [in French].
Final evaluations at Cégep à distance and the pandemic
For 30 years, Cégep à distance has been offering fully self-contained asynchronous distance courses. It is a formula that distinguishes itself by the flexibility it offers to students: they can take courses wherever they live, register at any time and progress at their own pace.
The least flexible element of the formula was the final exam. The final exam had to be taken in person (under supervision) at a designated testing site (an educational institution near the student’s place of residence).
The pandemic made access to the testing sites impossible for a while. Cégep à distance took advantage of this to renew its practices… and will not go back!
A first temporary solution, in the urgency of the moment
In the spring of 2020, the Cégep à distance team urgently sought an alternative option following the closure of the testing sites. The preliminary solution included 2 steps:
- the student completed the exam at home
- the tutor would call the student before releasing the grade to discuss the exam and attempt to validate that the student was the author of the answers on the exam
The disadvantage of this preliminary solution was that some of the exams were ill-suited to open-book testing. Some of the questions were too similar to the questions students had been asked in their homework, for example. In addition, tutors were left somewhat on their own as to how to conduct the telephone interviews and it could even be difficult for them to know over the phone whether they were actually talking to the student they were to assess.
An optimal long-term solution
The entire Cégep à distance team worked very hard to remedy the problems and make the distance exams genuinely credible. Marie-Michèle Rhéaume and Martin Roy believe that Cégep à distance has found an optimal solution:
- some written exams have been revised to ensure that they are suitable for open-book home study (non-Googleable questions, authentic scenarios, etc.)
- a new standard was added for all courses at Cégep à distance: the student’s ability to demonstrate metacognition, through the explanation of their learning process in the course.This has allowed for 5% of the grade of all courses to be reserved for a video-conference evaluation interview, which is mandatory for all students after their final exam.
The student takes charge of the beginning of the interview, delivering a presentation. Questions from the tutor are then aimed at completing the student’s explanation.
The student is asked to talk about:
- their preparation for the exam
- their approach to answering the questions on the exam
- the resources they used
- the challenges they faced
- their most significant learnings
The evaluation criteria are:
- the completeness of the student’s answers
- the relevance of the student’s answers
To pass the course, the student must have at least a 50% grade for this interview. (They must also, as has always been the case at Cégep à distance, get at least 50% on the other parts of the final evaluation (sometimes there is only a written exam; sometimes there may be an oral evaluation as well).
Students are informed in advance of the nature of the interview. They are provided with materials to help them prepare for the interview (e.g., a list of questions to ask themselves to reflect on the exam).
From the outset, it was clear to the administrators of Cégep à distance that the move away from testing sites would be a lasting change. Allowing students to take an exam without having to book several days in advance and travel is the removal of the last remaining barrier to making studying at Cégep at distance as flexible as possible.
An opportunity for feedback
The videoconference meetings take place after the tutor has graded the exam. This is an opportunity for the tutor to explain to the student the reasons for the grade they received.
Strengthening the relationship between the tutor and the student
For the past few years, Cégep à distance has focused on strengthening the relationship between tutors and students to encourage student motivation and perseverance. The interviews take time for the tutors (about 10 minutes per student), but the students nevertheless appreciate them (beyond their obvious contribution to the credibility of the final exams).
Interviews allow tutors to:
- “tie up any loose ends” with the students they have accompanied throughout the session
The interview excerpts contained in the video created by Marie-Michèle and Martin for the ROC2021 conference (like the excerpt at 10:42 [in French]), are really touching!
- meet those whose work they have corrected without having further contact with them
- encourage students who have performed poorly; help failing students to put the situation into perspective
Not a panacea, but very interesting
Marie-Michèle and Martin have no illusions and know that their solution is not perfect.
In some disciplines (e.g., mathematics), designing non-Googleable questions is very difficult. Contextualization in an authentic situation is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is not a panacea.
The interview is not foolproof either, to detect plagiarism. A very ill-intentioned person can undoubtedly get away with it under certain circumstances. But many of the cases of plagiarism that occurred in the college system during the pandemic were related to apprehensive students who were unaware of the seriousness of their actions and were confused by the evaluation context they were experiencing. Educating them about the rules and advising them that they will have a meeting to discuss their process of preparing for and taking the exam is probably enough to keep the vast majority of them “in line”!
A solution that can be applied to other contexts
An oral interview in the form of reflective feedback on an exam is not only relevant in the context of Cégep à distance (self-contained asynchronous distance learning).
This strategy is particularly useful in all cases where a summative assessment activity takes place in an unsupervised setting, whether it is a distance exam, or an assignment completed outside of class time.
In fact, taking the time to have a one-on-one meeting with each student has benefits that reach far beyond plagiarism prevention. During the semester, it is an opportunity to build relationships with students and improve the pedagogical relationship that is at the heart of teaching and learning.
Marie-Michèle told me that she used to meet with each of her students when she was teaching face-to-face classes, to follow up on their projects (in a project-based learning approach).
Martin does the same as a lecturer at university. He explained to me that getting to know each student individually in a course helped him to accompany them in a relevant way and to better understand what they write in their papers (in which they refer to their individual professional experiences).
I too love one-on-one meetings in my teaching practice. I have already organized such meetings to follow up on students in a project-based learning context, but also to offer feedback to each student on a given assignment. Regardless, when I see in my calendar the week when I will have to meet all my students one after the other, I feel a certain anxiety related to the management of my time. On the other hand, when I think back to courses I taught many years ago, those meetings are the first memories that come back to me. They are the moments I remember most vividly. They contribute immensely to the satisfaction I get from my work.