Online Learning and the Age Old Problem of Cheating

Thursday, March 7, 2013 -- Scott Lobdell

I was reading an article in the New York Times that discussed the issue of students cheating in online courses in colleges. It brought me back to 2002 when I was first tasked to create an online program. Cheating, or making sure that the student was the one doing the work was a key issue. In fact, it was the issue that could have killed the whole concept. I needed to solve this puzzle; how do we guarantee that the student is the one doing the work since we wanted a true online environment where the student had 24/7 access.

The easy solution would have been to restrict the students to computer labs only and deactivate the curriculum when the student was not in the lab, but that is not a true online virtual program. The school district wanted a true online virtual program that gave students full flexibility. Because of this I needed to look at process and procedure. This was the answer to the puzzle which is still used today in EdOptions Academy over ten years later.  

1. Recognizing that the exams (mid-term and final) are the assessments that prove mastery of the content in the course. The exams must prove mastery or this process will not work.

2. Create an unbalanced weighting of grades where the exams are worth 50% or more towards the final grade.

3. The student must have a passing exam average to even be eligible for credit in the course. If the exam average is below a passing score then the student does not earn credit in the course.

4. Both exams MUST be proctored by school personnel or other recognized designee.    

What does this do?

It forces the student to be the one working on all course material to be prepared to take the proctored exams. If the student is not the one doing the work they will not pass the exam and earn  credit. This is something that the student must know going into the class.

Student work will still count towards a final grade calculation so students do not feel that they worked for nothing. 

Another key would be proctor buy in. Proctors must know that they are the most important piece to this process since the weight of the class is literally on the exams they proctor. Proctors must follow strict guidelines for exam security for this whole process to work. An alternative to live proctoring is virtual proctoring. This forces the student to follow a strict list of protocols and records the screen the student is working on via webcam.

Also, this method can and will foster cooperative learning between the students. Since the chapter work is something where the student is free to work on their own why not work with other students. By working and studying together the students support one another heading into chapter assessments and ultimately the proctored exams. Mix in the online teacher and the student will have an online learning experience that is self-paced and cooperative with an eye on proving mastery of content.   

Some students have and will always try to manipulate whatever system teachers have created to assess student knowledge. It is amazing to see what lengths certain students have gone to cheat the system in the online education world. It is just like the old adage … If these students would spend as much time on learning the material that they spend trying to cheat … well maybe they would actually earn credit they need to stay on track and graduate.