This week:

  • I share some of what I learned in reporting my latest story, on the division between instructors who say not to worry so much about cheating and those who are quite worried.
  • I pass along a new resource on inclusive teaching.
  • I highlight some recent articles you may have missed.

When the Advice Doesn’t Apply

For many professors, one of the biggest challenges of shifting their courses online has been figuring out how to assess students’ learning. It’s an issue I wrote about back in April, and revisited in a Chronicle virtual event in August.

Assessment is multidimensional and complex. But in both cases, the feedback I got was squarely focused on one thing: cheating.

At first, I was a little surprised: The teaching experts I’d been interviewing had recommended considering alternative assessments, and not worrying so much that students might cheat. After all, they are living through a crisis. Is this really the time to put a high priority on test security?

I had talked with professors who had taken this advice to heart and rethought their exams. But others didn’t think it would work for them. Why not? My curiosity was piqued.

So I interviewed a bunch of professors who have been worried about cheating. In quite a few cases, the reason was simple: They had caught students cheating in the spring.

By and large, those professors fit a pattern: They taught in STEM or other quantitative disciplines with sequential curricula; they taught large classes; and they saw exams as a valuable tool, and content mastery as an important thing to test. They had tried to make exams work remotely and it hadn’t gone well, and now some of them just weren’t sure what to do.

This takes on additional urgency for instructors whose students will have to take a licensing exam to start out in their intended profession, something I wasn’t able to get into in my article.

Cheating isn’t new, and professors have probably encountered it before. Still, for some, the kind of cheating that’s possible now was new. That’s what happened to Emily Burkhead, a teaching assistant professor in mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Burkhead had heard of Chegg. But she understood it to be an online repository for course materials. If that were true, professors could circumvent students’ attempts to cheat by asking new test questions. But, as Burkhead learned the hard way when her students used it, Chegg and sites like it have a question-and-answer feature that allows students to submit any question, no matter how original, and get a response back in minutes.

There are lots of ways professors can make a test harder to cheat on. But question/answer sites, some have found, render much of that work useless. The real answer, several professors told me, is building a culture of academic integrity. Add that to the list of teaching goals complicated by pandemic conditions.

When it comes to instructors teaching hundreds of students in a foundational course, I am not sure there’s any easy answer to assessment right now. Still, I learned a lot from speaking with professors about their experience with cheating, their efforts to mitigate it, and their understanding of why it matters. You can read my story here.

Inclusive Teaching, Online

Learning how to include every student in the classroom is a challenge under normal circumstances, so it’s no surprise we’ve seen a lot of interest in how to do so remotely. Two experts on the subject, Kelly Hogan and Viji Sathy, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have written a Chronicle article about teaching inclusively in Zoom, and also discussed it in one of our virtual events.

Hogan and Sathy are among the professors featured in a recent webinar series from the Association of College and University Educators that takes a deep dive into inclusive teaching, covering how to prepare a course, create an inclusive environment, and reduce implicit bias. You can check it out here.


  • For your college’s next provost, hire the director of a teaching-and-learning center, argues Joshua Kim, who directs online programs and strategy at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) and is a CNDLS Senior Fellow for Academic Transformation, Learning, and Design at Georgetown University. Not only do teaching centers focus on a college’s core work, he writes, but they are also attentive to diversity and inclusion — and usually have the good will of the faculty, too.
  • For the past couple of weeks, we’ve highlighted the challenge of preparing students for the presidential election and addressing it in class. Top Hat, an active-learning platform, has rounded up some more ideas on its blog.
  • Speaking of the election, you can read our colleague Michael Vasquez’s recent look at the student vote here.

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