The usual order and rhythms of the academic semester were, again, unsettled this Fall by pandemic protocols. One of the most conspicuous changes was the cessation of in-person classes in late November, just before Thanksgiving recess. The question lingered: how can finals be held in these new circumstances? Concerns about academic integrity were raised.

In a piece for the Cornell Daily Sun, Surita Basu, caught up with a few Cornell professors who made innovative changes, in part, to address issues of academic integrity, but also to keep public health and intellectual performance at the top of mind. As Basu writes:

Prof. Haym Hirsh, computer science, wanted to prioritize as normal of an exam as possible for his 160 students in CS 4700: Principles of Artificial Intelligence

Even though the course was entirely online, Hirsh offered both an online and an in-person semi-final, with all students taking the exam at the same time to alleviate some integrity concerns. The computer science department came up with a proctoring protocol for online exams using a software called Gradescope that includes a lockdown browser that restricts the students’ internet access during the exam.

For the 30 students taking the exam online, they sat in TA-proctored groups of 10 to 12. The Gradescope software restricted their device usage and required students to show a 360 degree view of their surroundings before they started the test. 

With 10 students in a lecture room with special accommodations, the last 120 students sat socially-distanced in Barton to take the exam, according to Hirsh. 

The semi-final for the course functioned as a hybrid between a prelim and a final exam and there will be no final exam for the course, according to Hirsh.

“I made two compromises with the semi-final,” Hirsh said. “One of them was the split test. The other was the fact that I had to carve out three weeks of material that I wouldn’t be putting on an exam.”

As the semifinal tested students on all of the cumulative material for the course, Hirsh’s lectures for the rest of the semester will cover more stand-alone concepts. This eliminates the need for a final cumulative exam at the end of the semester and instead, students will take short quizzes. 

“There was no major exam that was going to cover three weeks of the semester, so I had to make a choice about what I was going to cover,” he said.

Continue reading "What the Pandemic-Solution Semi-Finals Looked Like, According to Professors."