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Cheating in Online Courses
From the Marshall Memo #440
In this front-page Chronicle of Higher Education article, Jeffrey Young reports on ways that some college students are cheating on their online courses and getting away with it. One student at a U.S. public university spent just 25-30 minutes a week on an online science course (that’s how long it took him to take the weekly test), never read the materials, never opened a textbook, learned almost nothing – and got an A. How? He and four other students used a shared Google Doc that all five added to as they took the test online. Interestingly, the online test was engineered to prevent cheating – the questions rotated with each administration – but this group of students figured out how to defeat the system by pooling their answers to the full array of questions.
This student (who, of course, remained anonymous) had a facile rationalization for what he did. He said that for his other courses, which met in person, he attended classes and did the work. But he’s juggling a job along with his studies and figured the university hadn’t put much into security so clearly didn’t care that much if students actually learned. Hundreds of other students were taking the course with no direct contact with the professor, and it all felt sterile and impersonal.
A professor at this university, who also requested anonymity, said cheating in introductory online courses was common. It was easy for students to pay their money, cheat, and get the credential they needed. “This is the gamification of education,” he said, “and the students are winning.”
What are professors (and pre-college educators) to do? One solution is not using multiple-choice questions, but essays can be plagiarized from online services. The answer to this is services that can detect a student’s – or a plagiarizer’s – writing “fingerprint.” This can be combined with face-recognition software (using the student’s webcam) to verify who is taking the online exam.
“Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech” by Jeffrey Young in The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 8, 2012 (Vol. LVIII, #38, p. A1, A20),