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Minimizing Online Cheating

Minimizing Online Cheating

While online education is gaining in popularity, so too have concerns about online cheating. Websites offering to take students’ courses, like the recently launched WeTakeYourClass.com, have caused even more alarm among academic communities and, if successful, could challenge the credibility of online education.

Although cheating is nothing new – we are all aware of the more “traditional” ways of cheating, from side-glancing for answers during tests, writing notes on the back of the hand or elsewhere, to paper-writing services offered for students – does the online classroom create an environment that is more susceptible to academic dishonesty?

Senior Shannon Miranda from Ohio University told U.S. News that she believes it is easier for students to cheat on tests in online classes.

“If the teacher schedules an exam, you can have a bunch of people in one room sharing textbooks and taking the test at the same time,” Miranda said. “I know friends who have taken on online test first so the next person can have all the right answers.”

Diane Johnson, assistant director of faculty services at St. Leo University in Florida, believes that it is not collaboration but instead plagiarism which is the real problem in online classes.

“Many of our students just don’t know how to paraphrase, and part of it is they don’t know how to cite,” Johnson said to U.S. News. “It’s unintentional plagiarism, but it is still plagiarism.”

She believes one solution is for universities to emphasize teaching students and faculty about plagiarism. “In every single class, we have information on what plagiarism is, and a major piece is that we hold our students accountable if they’re caught. If you hear that one of your classmates has been reported for plagiarism, it gives you an impetus to not do it too.”

Although plagiarism-prevention sites such as Turnitin.com have made it more difficult for students to get away with plagiarizing work, plagiarism continues to be an issue on- and off-line. Even in free academic environments, such as Coursera’s massive open online courses (MOOCs), plagiarism problems have been reported.

“We thought about the standard solution, which is to have testing centers, but it’s not a great solution from the students’ side,” Daphne Koller, cofounder of Coursera, told U.S.News. “We want to have the highest level of academic integrity, but we also want high access.”

In addition to plagiarism and collaboration problems, online schools are now having to worry about creating systems to ensure that the work being submitted is done by the student. Although online schools use identity checks when students enroll and for the student to be eligible to receive federal funding, there are yet no surefire systems working to prevent We Take Your Class and others’ success at helping students cheat.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the owner of WeTakeYourClass.com has made the claim that sites like his are not the problem, but instead, the problem is education that is structured in a way that makes it easy to cheat.

And the schools, indeed, are trying to correct this problem. Director of Online Learning at The Sage Colleges in Troy, N.Y. Connie Frazier takes a stand on the matter and says that although it may appear easier for students to cheat online than in the traditional classroom, the issue really plagues both settings.

“Academic dishonesty is an issue on [campus] and online… so we have to be diligent,” she told U.S. News. “I don’t see much distinction between on-site and online. It’s all a matter of being connected to the students.”

Frazier explained that improving the technology for online delivery is one way her school has targeted academic dishonesty head-on. While students can take tests together, the online system changes up questions or answers so that it is more difficult for students to cheat. In addition, the answers to tests, she said, aren’t revealed until all of the students have completed it.

“In our learning management system, you shuffle the questions and you shuffle the items within the questions,” Frazer said. “When a student looks at a quiz, it doesn’t look anything like the quiz another student is taking. It’s hard to borrow from someone else.”

Some online schools are requiring students to use video conference in their classes, and others use two-factor authentication systems to lessen the probability of cheating. Charter Oak State College is taking extra steps to ensure that the person who registers for a class is the one who takes it, Director of Enterprise Systems Eric Zematis told Inside Higher Ed. They are using a multi-step process and Acxiom to prevent cheating in their online classes, Zematis explained.

“If we had a course that was just a multiple-choice final at the end there’d be a high chance of cheating,” he said. “When we design courses we try to look at having more interaction to try and discourage cheating.”

“What kind of experience are we providing for students if someone is able to take an entire class for a student and we never figure it out from the interaction?” adds Kyle Johnson, a higher education consultant. “Are we really just dumping information at them so someone can come in and take a couple of quizzes and they’re done?”

In the end, ensuring the credibility of our education system is a valid concern and should be the ultimate goal alongside working to make quality education more accessible and affordable.