Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, almost all US colleges and universities are going fully online for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. This includes online or take home final exams in classes that were not originally designed for asynchronous exams. Several of my colleagues are concerned about the integrity of their exams (especially those who haven't taught online before).

The question to address is "How should we enforce and adapt our policies (if at all) during this time?" It would be an impossible task (and not our job) to check new questions against all exam questions, but COVID-19 will change the behaviors (in the short term) on this site. I believe that it is worth discussing how we will react.

We are typically careful about competition questions, but sometimes less stringent about PSQ's. In this situation, PSQ's have the potential to be exam questions. In addition, as this question brings up, we're likely to see an influx of new users (and poorly asked questions).


1) How should we enforce and adapt our policies during the COVID-19 outbreak?

2) How can can we appropriately support the needs of the college/university community during the COVID-19 outbreak?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This would best be placed on the regular site (non meta) at Mathematics Educators. There have already been posts there wondering the same things, so you get in on the dialogue already happening their on its main site. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Mar 22 '20 at 13:06
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Perhaps, but the question is more intended as what this community's response will be instead of pedagogical design. $\endgroup$ – Michael Burr Mar 22 '20 at 13:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was just trying to be helpful. It does make sense to discuss the issue about this community's response to any increase in questions posted here that "smell of an exam question." $\endgroup$ – amWhy Mar 22 '20 at 13:12
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ academia.stackexchange.com Has a large number of posts about adapting to online exams and other necessities (including I recall a recent question precisely about exam integrity). $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Mar 22 '20 at 13:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ academia.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4680/… is probably yhe best starting point. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Mar 22 '20 at 13:58
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @TobiasKildetoft Thanks for the link. That is a great resource (among the others which are available) for adapting to an online format. This question, however, isn't about adapting to online exams. It is about our community's response (if any) to what may be a flood of questionable questions. I've edited the title of the question to highlight that aspect more. $\endgroup$ – Michael Burr Mar 22 '20 at 14:32
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I understand the question differently. My impression is that Michael Burr is asking if MSE has a policy regarding attempts to us this website to obtain exam solutions. It seems reasonable to discuss this on meta, as we may need a consensus policy in the vein of the Contest Policy. That being said, if the question is about what policies instructors should adopt, I agree that Mathematics Educators is the right place to go. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Mar 22 '20 at 18:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I was just thinking about posting a rhetorical question to the effect of "Is MSE becoming an online calculator?" Now I understand why there has been an uptick in no effort questions recently. $\endgroup$ – copper.hat Mar 22 '20 at 18:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson Note my comment directly below Michael's reply to me: "I was just trying to be helpful. It does make sense to discuss the issue about this community's response to any increase in questions posted here that "smell of an exam question." Hence, yes, it would be good to have a consistent policy about exam questions. Period. But exam questions can be hard to pin down, because they may not be (and are usually not) posted on public websites, as are contest questions. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Mar 22 '20 at 18:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see that too, @copper.hat. And I've also seen some users ready to upvote them, etc., or oblige them with answers, in comments and in answer fields. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Mar 22 '20 at 18:42
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @amWhy: I must confess to not being entirely consistent in my own approach, perhaps because, even at a graduate level, I remember moments of sheer panic when faced with some questions. The desire to help sometimes obscures the appropriate level at which to help. $\endgroup$ – copper.hat Mar 22 '20 at 18:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @copper.hat I completely understand where you're coming for. I haven't always been consistent either. More so now, maybe, but not entirely consistent even now. But I'd never consider you a habitual answer of low-quality nor PSQ questions. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Mar 22 '20 at 18:47

This subject was already raised from a different angle Corona virus, educational institutions closures...

The poster there argues that we should be more permissive.

Due to the spreading of Corona, more an more schools as well as higher educational institutions are closing. There is a change of more questions coming to this website from students who now have to do some form of self study in order not to get behind on the material. [...] Let's be kind and provide them with an answer nonetheless, instead of simply closing the post.

In my answer there I said that I do not think that we should or even reasonably could change our policies to be more permissive and added:

Further, one could just as well make an argument that there is an increased risk of students trying to cheat in a situation where online teaching and evaluations are introduced in completely ad hoc ways, and therefore one should be especially strict.

This questions here seems to actually raise this concern. However, as on the other question, my opinion is that we should not and in any case could not effectively change our policies.

Visibly, even the general direction of the proposed change is not something on which opinions are aligned.

I think the best we can do is to keep moderating the site as usual. That is, we keep enforcing standards on the quality of the questions via insisting that some context and details are provided, which has several benefits, one of them being that it curbs blatant attempts at cheating.

I do not think that we should attempt to do anything beyond this. Ultimately, it will not really work, yet trying to make it work will cause lots of friction.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .