Design for open book conditions
Compose exam questions in acknowledgment of the prevailing conditions. Students will have access to a range of resources online, not just ‘open book’ but ‘open everything’. Avoid asking questions where answers are just a web search away. Write questions that elicit higher order thinking, connections, application or reflection. Avoid re-using publisher produced sets of questions and instead use questions with unique elements by referencing the unit context, altering phrases, names or variables. iLearn can help by presenting randomised sets of questions and unique sets of variables in numeric questions. Some previous advice was provided on Teche for designing for open book exams and a primer from LSE on ‘take home’ exams.
Be aware that many e-textbooks have licensing limits as to how many students can access the e-book at the same time. It is best to design exam questions that do not rely on having access to a licensed e-text. The library readings team can provide additional advice about the availability of e-texts during exams. See managing unit resources (MQ Library).
Be clear about the rules
Feedback from the MQ student community in 2020 was that there was the diversity of what was permitted in online open book exams. Differences from unit to unit mean that students may become confused about the rules in a given exam leading to accidental beaches of academic integrity. This is particularly the case where students come across worked solutions on websites that are similar to the questions on their exam!
Some recent choice quotes from students include:
…being misinformed on the topic of plagiarism… [and] not knowing what exactly was/was not permitted on an open book examination.
As a student new to taking classes and exams online I was unaware of the guidelines of what qualifies as an appropriate external resource.
The exam rules specifically stated … it was an open book exam, and it would be permissible to access online resources.
The final examination instructions stated that students .. are allowed to use unlimited reference materials… this caused ambiguity in regard to the rules.
The best thing you can do combat confusion is to be clear and complete in defining the exam instructions. Avoid long paragraphs of rules, instead use dot points.
Write dot point lists of what IS and is NOT permitted in each assessment.
Be sure that each assessment and exam includes such a list. Remind students to:
Refer to the specific rules for each assessment because these can be different.
Having clear rules will decrease the risk (and excuse) of accidental integrity beaches.
Be aware that the stricter that you make the rules the more difficult it is to enforce them. It is undeniably a balancing act between what are ‘red lines’ and the nature of the online space. An exam that is being run online that is invigilated versus one that is non-invigilated will have differing contexts and prevailing conditions.
The following is a set of example rules. You may not agree and these may not work for you, therefore please adjust according to the needs of the exam.
Example rule set
Politely remind students that a breach of the exam rules is an academic integrity breach and will be reported to the discipline committee for determination.
Add a copyright statement on online exam files, quizzes and related materials. This reinforces the message and it helps the university seek remedies if exam material is shared online: e.g. “This material is copyrighted Macquarie University, sharing is not permitted”.
Thinking about the combination of question design and developing exam rules in acknowledgement of the prevailing conditions is a compromise. However being clear will at least provide greater certainty and ease of compliance for all concerned.