News - April 28, 2020

No toilet breaks during online exams

Luuk Zegers

Online testing raises privacy issues for students. And toilet break issues, because you are not allowed to go to the toilet. Not even in a three-hour exam.

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Now that exams will not be sat in the classroom for a while, invigilation methods are changing too. To prevent students from cheating, they are going to be kept under scrutiny through the webcam, screen recording and their microphone. When it emerged that students had been asked to install the software for all this before any kind of privacy statement was available, a discussion arose in the Wageningen Student Plaza Facebook group.

A privacy statement has been available since Monday 20 April, online education programme director Ulrike Wild assures us. ‘Due to the upscaling, the contract with software supplier PSI needed an update. We have already been using their software for WUR’s online education for five years, but now we are suddenly running more exams than in all those five years put together – 15,000 of them. So we had to upgrade the contract and adapt the privacy statement accordingly. Maybe we underestimated how much demand there was for that privacy statement, but it’s there now. In terms of privacy, the contract is in line with national guidelines.’

Suspicious behaviour
Rolf Marteijn (programme director at Nutrition & Health and member of the working group on online testing): ‘The checking is done by people, not by an algorithm. First, someone from PSI looks at the images in a secure environment. That person flags up any suspicious behaviour by a student, for example if a student leaves the room or is wearing a headset, picks up a book, or is clearly talking to someone. In these cases, the PSI invigilator marks that student as ‘suspicious’. The images marked ‘suspicious’ are then looked at by a team from Education and Student Affairs. The experience of the past five years suggests that in most cases, the team will then say: there’s no problem. Unless something really suspicious happens, such as somebody coming into the room 20 times. And then it will be passed on to the examiner. All the images are deleted after three months.’

And then there is the matter of toilet breaks. Students are not allowed to leave the room during the exam. If they do so, they run the risk of being disqualified – no matter how desperate they were. Marteijn: ‘The protocol in a normal exam is that you can only go to the toilet if circumstances allow. And then an invigilator has to go along with you, you are not allowed to take your mobile phone with you, and not everyone can go at the same time. That protocol says that if there is only one invigilator, you can’t go to the toilet. Maybe exceptions are made in practice, but the protocol is clear.’

A toilet break? Only for medical reasons
So other universities, such as Maastricht, advise teachers to allow for a ‘toilet break’. ‘We don’t do that,’ says Marteijn. ‘If you do, you have to make it a 15-minute break to allow for the fact that others in the house might need the toilet too. And then some students will communicate with each other. There simply isn’t a good solution to this. We are going to look at whether in period 6, teachers could split their exams into two parts, or just set a shorter exam to test the learning objectives. Not every exam needs to be three hours long. We understand that it’s not an ideal situation, but at least nobody can doubt the validity of the exam this way.’

People with medical reasons for going to the toilet should hasten to contact their dean. A solution is being worked out for these students. Marteijn: ‘For the rest of the students, the trick is: bear in mind that you are not allowed to leave the room during the exam, so don’t drink too much and do go to the toilet before you start.’