Using Technology to Encourage Critical Thinking Instead of Cheating

Student answering multiple choice test
"cheating is a pedagogical issue, not a technological one" (Stommel, 2020)

Technology and Cheating

In light of the mass transition to online learning caused by the pandemic, academia has experienced major obstacles and dilemmas regarding instructional strategies and assessment procedures in remote environments. From a professor’s perspective, administering quizzes and exams have never been more concerning given the absence of supervision from authority and the increased possibilities of students colluding online for answers and information.

Monitoring students in large classes to prevent cheating can be cumbersome already in face-to-face environments and now that students have 24/7 access to the internet and their devices, students acquiring information online during exams is essentially inevitable.

Online Assessments and Proctoring Softwares

Furthering the problem, many education institutions have adopted proctoring software as a preventive measure and a response to online cheating. In April last year, approximately 54% of institutions have expressed that they were administering digitally proctored assessments by actively restricting computer activities and recording audio and video through third-party platforms.

However, despite the good intentions behind these software, the community is polarized on the legality and ethicality of putting students under digital surveillance. When the technology was approved last year by multiple institutions, a widespread backlash from students was expressed. Many of whom voiced their strong opinions with petitions to cancel the use of such technology pertaining to its invasive nature of nonconsensual data collection and sharing. Using such tools clearly eliminates online cheating as every activity, even webcam data, is stored and analyzed. However, the majority of the community is just finding that the risks of exploitation and data leak far exceed the benefits.

Implementing such software also introduces inequalities to the education space as the tools rely on facial recognition and behaviour analysis technology which has been studied to be racially biased (Stark, 2019). A single miscalculation by the system could cause a student to be locked out of the exam thereby instilling unwanted discomfort and stress in students. While it may detect cheaters and prevent academic misconduct, the softwares could also impair student performance and increase academic parities between students of different learning styles and anxiety levels.

It may seem that there is no hope in online learning given the increased possibilities of students cheating. However, as Jesse Stommel, an Executive Director of Hybrid Pedagogy and Senior Lecturer in Digital Studies emphasizes, “cheating is a pedagogical issue, not a technological one”.

Technology and Critical Thinking

Online learning can be just as effective as in-person classes and can even facilitate the same instructional strategies and assessment procedures with the right tools and platform. Thus, instead of focusing on the limitations of online assessments, cheating as a whole and the factors encouraging it should be addressed. One of which is the nature of administering multiple choice-based exams that tests students’ memorization skills under closed book environments.

These types of assessments focus on lower-order thinking and are very susceptible to cheating as answers can be easily circulated between students. Furthermore, closed book assessments, specifically memorization-based exams have been found to provide little significance in improved knowledge retention and retrieval compared to open book counterparts (Rummer et al., 2019). On top of that, these exams are ineffective in assessing students knowledge and abilities as it completely ignores students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills which are more indicative of students’ overall academic progress.

That said, given the abundance of insightful information on the internet, students should not be discouraged to use technology as a complementary tool that can enhance their learning experience and outcome. Of course, multiple choice-based exams and the likes of should be discouraged first in order to see the benefits of technology and eliminate forms of online cheating. Transitioning from lower-order to higher-order thinking-based assessments such as written assignments and group projects enables students to find any available information to them and appropriately synthesize data to form intelligent conclusions. Through this process, students are empowered to use problem-solving and critical thinking skills which are integral for quality education and improving academic performance.

Choose the Right Pedagogy

By switching over to proven effective teaching approaches such as team-based learning and peer-grading which enable higher-order thinking, not only do students learn at a deeper level but professors’ concerns regarding cheating are addressed and significantly reduced. In the end, conducting and managing online courses require not only the right tools and software but also the right pedagogies to facilitate effective knowledge creation while preventing academic misconduct.

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Feathers, T. (2021, February 26). Schools are abandoning invasive proctoring software after student backlash. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from

Flaherty, C. (2020, May 11). Online proctoring is surging during covid-19. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from

Grajek, S. (2020, April 10). EDUCAUSE COVID-19 quickpoll Results: Grading And proctoring. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from

Rummer, R., Schweppe, J., & Schwede, A. (2019). Open-book versus closed-book tests in university classes: A field experiment. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00463

Stark, L. (2019). Facial recognition is the plutonium of ai. XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students, 25(3), 50-55. doi:10.1145/3313129

Jay Arias
Education Researcher