Reducing Cheating Online

Recently, local newspaper interviewed me about cheating online.  With growing interest in online education across the academic spectrum, the reporter wondered what online instructors could do to reduce cheating in their online and blended classes.  After speaking with her, I thought I’d share my ideas with you.

1.  Get to know your students.  I know this can be a challenge online but the more you can learn what your students are capable of the better you can identify trends in their performance.  This will help you spot stark changes in tests or other assessments that could indicate a student has cheated.  While it may not provide proof of any infringement, the process can help to identify potential problems.

2.  Use multiple assessments throughout the course and vary their type.  Besides providing both formative and summative feedback to students, providing multiple assessment opportunities can reduce the likelihood that a student will cheat on an individual assessment.  Using a single high stakes test that determines the majority of a course grade can promote cheating.  With a greater payoff, there’s more likelihood of cheating.  Also, by varying the types of assessment (papers, test, etc.), you can differentiate how students demonstrate they’ve learned the content and play to students’ strengths.

3.  More HOTS, less LOTS.  Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple Google search.  These lower order thinking questions (knowledge and basic comprehension) can promote cheating since they’re so easily subverted.  Identify ways to get students to apply, analyze, evaluate and create using the content you’re teaching.  These higher order thinking skills are harder to game using simple searches online.

4.  Technology can be your friend.  Many schools employ systems like Turnitin to scan student papers for plagiarism.  The originality reports that these systems generate can offer almost indisputable evidence that students have cheated.  Worried whether a student is cheating during an online exam?  Check out ProctorU which offers secure online proctoring by using webcams and microphones to monitor students taking an online exam.  While there is a fee for the service, ProctorU can help to insure credible student assessment data.

5.  Design your online tests differently.  When constructing an online test, there are some design chooses that instructor can make to limit cheating.  Creating large question banks reduces the chance that multiple students get a single question.  Randomizing the order of questions and shuffling the order of answers can also limit students cheating from one another. Instructors can also offer timed assessments at a scheduled time so that all students are taking an exam within the same time frame.  This can reduce the sharing of answers and test questions across students.  Lastly, you may want to build in questions that authenticate the students’ identity.  Asking for a student ID # or middle name can help to insure that the person taking the test is actually the student enrolled in the course.

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