All-seeing eye in St John’s church in Den Bosch. Photo by Kris Roderburg (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Proctoring, rescheduling, or essays

How do you keep an eye on cheating students?

All-seeing eye in St John’s church in Den Bosch. Photo by Kris Roderburg (CC-BY-SA-4.0)
Students at the UG keep cheating on their exams, and some of the bigger faculties have even sent the board of directors an urgent letter. Something needs to be done. But what?
3 November om 17:40 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:16 uur.
November 3 at 17:40 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:16 PM.
Avatar photo

Door René Hoogschagen

3 November om 17:40 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:16 uur.
Avatar photo

By René Hoogschagen

November 3 at 17:40 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:16 PM.
Avatar photo

René Hoogschagen

Freelance journalist Volledig bio / Full bio.

It used to be that if the law faculty had twenty-five cases of cheating a year, it was a lot. But last academic year, they caught fifty-one students cheating. The Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences (BSS) has twenty-three cases of cheating, up from zero the year before. At the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), the department of chemistry hasn’t had a single case of cheating in written exams over the past two years. Now, they discovered fourteen students who had cheated. The arts faculty has also seen an increase in cheating, although they wouldn’t supply any numbers.

There’s a good chance that the students who were caught cheating represent only the tip of the iceberg: nearly 40 percent of students answering an UKrant survey last week admitted they had cheated during an online exam.

The law, arts, Economics and Business (FEB) and BSS faculties, the university’s four largest ones, even sent an urgent letter concerning the cheating to the board of directors, after FEB completely nullified three exams. ‘We want to express how urgent this is’, law dean Wilbert Kolkman explains. ‘We need to act swifly and decisively.’


Something clearly needs to be done. But what?

Reschedule, says Richard Jong-A-Pin, associate professor at FEB. As far as he’s concerned, the university should schedule no online exams until August 2021. ‘I’m worried that online exams severely devalue the meaning of bachelor’s and master’s degrees.’ 

He calls upon the board to show ‘bravery’. ‘Please, let’s end this travesty right now. We should stop fooling ourselves into thinking we can test our learning goals in an honest way.’

Let’s end this travesty right now

He feels the UG should protect the students from themselves. ‘Apparently online cheating is really easy, but the students need to realise that what they’re doing can ruin their chances in the labour market.’

Shortly after the urgent letter, ESI, the central educational support centre at the university, also suggested rescheduling exams. ‘One option is to forego scheduling exams at the end of each block and have students do an assignment at the end of block 2. Then, at the end of block 4 when the pandemic is hopefully over, you could schedule a bigger exam that combines courses’, says Kolkman.

Maarten Derksen, chair of the BSS exam committee, says that sounds like a pretty good idea. ‘I’m just not sure that would solve any of the logistical problems we’re currently facing. Plus, there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to do large-scale testing in August 2021.’


Perhaps proctoring is the solution? In proctoring, students have to turn on the camera and microphone in their laptop so their lecturer or a computer program can keep an eye on them.

Proctoring options

  • Images and sound are recorded during the exam.
  • Everything that happens on screen is recorded.
  • The student’s mouse movements and keystrokes are monitored.
  • The students show their room using their web cam.

Students all over the country protested the use of proctoring software. In Amsterdam, they even sued the UvA, although they lost the case. In Tilburg, 4,500 students signed a petition protesting the software. They were mainly worried about privacy issues. What would be happening to the recorded images? Who would have access to them? For how long would they be stored?

The Tilburg University executive board promised that the recordings wouldn’t be stored for more than a month, that the program wouldn’t monitor head and eye movement, and that proctoring software would only be used for ‘a select section of exams’. Later, this turned out to be 20 percent of exams.

In-person exam

You can offer students who refuse proctoring software on principle an alternative. In Tilburg and Eindhoven, a few dozen students opted out of proctoring, and they sat an alternative exam, in person. The Erasmus University in Rotterdam and the UvA do not provide this option. The UvA does provide an on-campus location to sit online exams in case students can’t do so at home.

Grades are a very poor form of feedback

At the TU Eindhoven, the proctoring option was met with ‘healthy support’, says Patrick Groothuis, director of Education & Student Affairs. Not just because people were aware of the danger of study delays, but also because all relevant parties have been involved since the beginning, says Groothuis. 

TU/e had previously used Proctorio, Proctor U, and Proctorexam for their selection tests. The latter two programs use human observers who have live access to watch students. For their online exams, TU/e decided to work with Proctorio, since this program had ‘better scalability’. 

In Proctorio, students are watched by an algorithm that scans for suspicious movements, sound, and books in the space. But the UG arts faculty discovered this wasn’t enough. Students were caught cheating on a practice exam, but not by Proctorio. For that reason, the Eindhoven and Tilburg universities have people watch random samples of recordings after exams. 


At the UG, students are randomly selected for a video call. ‘But not during the exam, of course’, says law lecturer Laurent Jensma. This summer, he was tasked with helping his colleagues with their online exams.

Jensma isn’t a fan of proctoring. He is interested in other technological solutions, though, like the system TU Eindhoven is working on, which recognises a person’s typing. ‘That’s much less of a breach of privacy.’ On the other hand, ‘if I were cheating, I would simply type in any answers I’d copied off a senior student’.

‘Based on what’s happening at Erasmus, I don’t have much faith in proctoring software, says Maarten Derksen with BSS. He’s referring to an article in de Volkskrant which says that the Rotterdam university was unable to monitor 99 students during an exam in July. The university decided to nullify their exam results, and even revoked fifteen students’ diplomas.

Login issues

Things went wrong at the UvA two weeks ago, when students were unable to log in because of an update, and several exams were cancelled. But login issues are inherent to digital exams, says Groothuis. He estimates that at TU/e, 1 to 1.5 percent of students have had issues logging in. Even without proctoring software, online examination runs into problems: last week, and again this week, the UG was dealing with a Nestor malfunction.

The worst solution would be to not test at all

Arts faculty exam expert Roelof van Deemster doesn’t think diplomas will lose their value all that quickly. ‘Sure, every wall becomes weaker if you remove a stone’, he said three days before his retirement. ‘But in the end, it’s about the guarantees at the end of the programme.’

He does say that he is ‘wondering if we’re doing the right thing focusing so much on frequent formal testing. After all, grades are a very poor form of feedback.’

He argues that universities should follow students in their learning process and take conversations about this with students ‘very seriously’. ‘That would lift a lot of artificial pressure, which will probably lessen their need to cheat. That then creates more room for the most important thing: learning.’

Essay exams

Perhaps it is simply too easy to cheat when you’re being tested for facts online. The law faculty has therefore decided to test their students’ insight with essays. This appears to have worked: a statistical analysis of the exams in block 4 of the previous academic year says that there have been no massive incidents of cheating, apart from those 51 earlier cases. Dean Kolkman was relieved to tell the faculty council this.

But grading essay exams does take much longer, says Jensma, who’s just had to check eight hundred of them. ‘You can input a multiple-choice exam into the computer and have an answer within five minutes.’

‘This is a situation where there are no right solutions’, says Derksen. ‘Only wrong ones. The worst solution would be to not test at all. All the students would have to show for it is their registration.’