Faculty Prepare to Give Online Finals

by, Maria Thomas & Jilleen Barrett, News Editor & Asst. A&E Editor

As the transition to college-wide remote learning quickly approaches, faculty continue preparing to give their finals to students online.

A group of faculty members from all five schools chosen by Provost Steven Schreiner came together during the summer to begin planning for the shift to remote learning for the fall semester. As part of the planning process, the faculty members discussed how professors from different departments could go about giving exams online. 

The way online finals are taken vary by department; for humanities-related subjects which rely heavily on writing as a part of test taking, the transition to online finals is not as drastic.

Rosemary Farley, Ph.D, a professor in the mathematics department, coordinated the group with Schreiner and oversaw a lot of the testing reports coming in from different professors and departments. 

“[Liberal arts] departments reported that there’s no proctoring at all, there’s no need for a lot of proctoring because most of their assessment is done with writing,” Farley said. “And most of their assessment, even if it’s a term paper, that’s just feedback individually anyway so that was one whole issue.”

On the contrary, departments where test-taking relies more heavily on concrete answers, such as math and engineering, will likely be using a software purchased by the college called Respondus Lockdown Browser.

The college has purchased Respondus Lockdown Browser to combat the potential of cheating on finals, a challenge anticipated by the group. When students take exams online, they have the ability to look up answers; in this way, it is more difficult to proctor students online than it is in the classroom.

Respondus Lockdown Browser acts as an extension of Moodle and prohibits students from leaving their webpage once they have begun taking a test. 

Additionally, the software has a camera function where students are videotaped while taking their exam. If the program senses any abnormalities in the student’s movements, such as the opening of a book or talking to someone else in the room, the student will be flagged and the professor will be notified. The professor can then replay the video of the student to see what was occurring. 

Farley believes the lockdown browser will be widely used at the college to prevent cheating. Farrukh Fattoyev, Ph.D, the chair of the faculty technology committee, wrote in an email to The Quadrangle that he feels the same way.

“Proctoring students’ final exam is the main issue for many of the faculty members,” Fattoyev wrote. “Ensuring that students follow the Academic Integrity Policy is a difficult task when it comes to online examinations. Some students may try to seek external help on their final exam. To avoid cheating and to minimize outside interaction, we plan to implement a lockdown browser with a camera that proctors students’ work. We find it very efficient.”

Fattoyev anticipates the freshman could have a difficult time adapting to the technology, as this will be their first time experiencing online finals at Manhattan College. He does not want this to interfere with their test-taking ability.

“For Freshmen, they should get training on the use of the lockdown browser software weeks before the final examination,” he wrote. “For example, right now is a good time. They should ensure that all technology would be available for the smooth conduct of an exam. I trust, if everyone is trained, the exam should go very smoothly. Perhaps even better when it was in person. Mainly because the students would not be in a “stressful” environment of the presence of other students and instructors.”

Arno Kolz, a psychology professor, is part of the group put together by Farley and Schreiner and he explained how he has seen remote testing prosper at Manhattan over the course of the semester.

“I know my first round of tests this semester I was very strict about all that stuff, and as the semester has gone on and work I have backed off of it,” Kolz said. “So making the tests, I’ve been giving it more time and I’m not doing the background scan as much … you know I think you kind of adapt to kind of what works for you.”

Besides the potential for academic dishonesty, another challenge faced with online finals is the disparity in student’s work environments. Kolz believes that it is necessary for students to report to their professors when they have problems related to their work environment, and professors should be understanding.

“I think students need to communicate exactly when things go wrong and faculty need to be patient and flexible, you know, and not be looking for cheating under every rock,” he said.

Overall, Kolz suggests the most beneficial tool for students in preparing to take online finals is communication. 

“Communicate if there’s an issue or problem, communicate if you can take the exam at a different time, communicate if your internet goes down or your roommate walks in or whatever,” Kolz said.