With final exams coming up soon I want to return to a topic that virtually all online instructors struggle with: how to provide fair, convenient, comprehensive tests to online students.
Academic cheating has always existed of course and some reports suggest that the extent and scope of the problem has increased over the last few decades. Kitahura and Westfall (2007) provide these data:
- a 1999 survey – over 75% of college students “admitted to some form of cheating;”
- a 2002 survey – 74% of high school students admitted to cheating;
- a 2003 national survey – 41% of students said plagiarism occurred “often” or “very often.”
Online instructors are particularly sensitive to the issue of academic cheating as, by its very nature, distance education implies less control and physical contact with students. Take, for example, the fact that it is not uncommon for friends or family members to register for the same online course. Does this increase the likelihood of cheating? Not necessarily but it does make it more convenient if the students were so inclined.
So, given that cheating is a long-standing reality, and that it is more difficult to detect in an online course, what can an online instructor do to increase academic honesty? Well, actually, quite a lot.
Here are some practical measures online instructors have taken to reduce cheating.
- Write a personal letter to your students about the topic (see link to example letter below)
- Explain to your students exactly what plagiarism and academic dishonesty are
- Include a statement in your syllabus of your institution’s academic honesty policy and your expectations of your students
- Require all tests to be taken on campus in a proctored environment
- Require all tests to be proctored by an authorized supervisor (e.g. Company Commander for soldiers in Iraq)
- Require some tests to be taken in a proctored environment while some can be taken online
- Provide many small assessments of learning that are given many times throughout the course
- If you use the Blackboard testing system there are a number of things you can do such as: specify a certain time limit for tests; create tests using the Test Manager’s “random block” tool in which students are given equivalent but different test questions; select the “one at a time” option so that students answer one question before seeing the next one; use the “no print” code that prevents students from printing tests
Some institutions are exploring innovative uses of technology to ensure honesty. Troy University, for instance, has implemented the Securexam Remote Proctor to reduce cheating on online exams. The device consists of a video camera with a 360 degree field of view and an omnidirectional microphone. It has a fingerprint sensor in the base of the unit and connects to a USB port on the student’s computer. It is, in essence, like having a proctor in the room with the student no matter where he or she is. The results are still out on the success of this approach but it may well strike some as overkill. My preference is more toward educating the student about academic honesty and plagiarism and then providing numerous assessment options at weekly intervals throughout the term. I would be very interested in hearing your views on this issue.