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Cheating. It's certainly not a new practice. Many students do it, and in many different ways. As the popularity of online education grows, we cannot help but wonder if the freedom to take classes without a professor in the room makes online degree programs fertile grounds for cheaters. Fortunately, schools are on it.
How Do Online Students Cheat?
There are a variety of popular forms of cheating. Some quite inventive; while others may be more traditional. A study by 2017 Kessler International revealed that 76 percent of the students said they had copied text from somebody else's assignments. Slightly more (79 percent) admitted to plagiarism from internet sources. Around 72 percent said they'd used mobile devices to cheat, while 42 percent purchased custom term papers or essays online. And 28 percent said they'd had a "service" take their online classes for them.
In 2016, 30 students enrolled in online degree programs in University of Iowa faced disciplinary actions for cheating by having other people take their exams, according to the Gazette. Cheating scandals like this teach us that no institution is entirely cheater-free. This is true of both online degree programs and classroom-based programs, though methods vary.
In Texas Christian University, 12 students were allegedly suspended after using an app called Quizlet for their final exams. Quizlet is a free app used for making online quizzes and flash cards. Quizlet is quite popular among students, and some even go overboard in uploading questions from real exam for other students to find.
Janice Karlene, who used to teach business, online and off, at LaGuardia Community College and Thomas Edison State College, told OnlineDegrees.com that she has known traditional students to photocopy final exams and post them online, text in the room, and even open browsers to consult with Professor Google during exams. Online students, on the other hand, may use unauthorized books during tests, share information with other students (in cases where students do not complete tests synchronously), and even pay people to do their work.
"Technology changes how cheating is done rather than making it easier," said Karlene.
Craig Markovitz, Ph.D., founder of Viking Tutors, is inclined to agree. "Online courses and exams certainly make it easier for dishonest students to cheat," said Markovitz. "Without someone present to monitor and discourage these practices, some students don't understand the consequences or ramifications of their cheating."
Schools are no longer taking these matters lightly, especially online schools who are still working to establish their credibility and prove their programs are just as effective as classroom-based counterparts. Many schools have been quick to respond to cheating, and in developing ways to prevent it.
How colleges are working toward preventing cheating
Online colleges have implemented a number of tactics designed to minimize (and eventually eliminate) cheating. Methods range from simple, old-fashioned tactics to those so high-tech they would pique James Bond's envy. Among them:
- Proctored exams — Many schools require students to report to campus or official off-site testing centers for proctored exams. Proctors are typically required to check students' IDs, stay alert and move around the exam room, and immediately tend to any suspicious conduct by the students. Still, reporting to testing centers can be a challenge, especially for online students. Enter online proctoring, also known as eproctoring. With the advent of artificial intelligence, online proctoring has come a long way. Equipped with machine learning to prevent fraud and cheating on exams, the advanced technology is helping to create an exam environment that is more secure.
- Keystroke verification software — Keystroke verification software is perhaps one of the most common tech-based cheater prevention methods. The approach is simple: Students type a short phrase, which is then analyzed by a software program. The program learns students' typing speed, rhythm and other characteristics, like how long they tend to press certain keys. Before a student can turn in homework or take a test, they must submit a new typing sample to ensure it exhibits the same trends.
- Text-matching software — While these tools are useful in upholding standards of academic integrity, they are not 100 percent accurate in finding various forms of plagiarism. Plagiarism software such as CopyLeaks, and Unicheck are being used by colleges across the country. Yale University introduced limited access to students of a plagiarism detection system called Turnitin. This pilot program allows students to evaluate their own work for plagiarism.
- Variable testing — Students tend to use study material sharing sites, such as CourseHero, to share answers and methods. While harmless in intentions, tools like these do provide a temptation to students who are looking for exam answers and want to cheat. To prevent this type of cheating, online courses find it useful to make quiz banks and randomize the questions so that students have a more difficult time in sharing answers. They also change assessments (activities or projects where students demonstrate an application of their learning) each semester or create three or four versions that they rotate throughout the year to prevent cheating.
- Honor codes — Honor codes are perhaps the simplest methods of deterring cheating in online courses, though they work only indirectly. According to the Texas State University, students who break this code can be dismissed from the program and may not receive their certificates of completion. The students are typically required to sign an honor code at the beginning of each program vowing that they would not cheat.
Cheating to earn a degree. Who loses?
Online and traditional schools will surely continue to develop and refine anti-cheating initiatives, but no system is perfect, and some offenders are relentless. The study by Kessler International also highlights that among 300 students who attend classes on campus as well as online, more than half (54 percent) thought cheating was OK, and some suggested that it was (believe it or not!) even necessary to stay competitive. Among those who acknowledged cheating, 97 percent said they'd gotten away with it.
"Dishonest students can always find a way to beat the system," warns Markovitz, recalling Craigslist ads from anonymous posters offering to complete online programs — from start to finish — on students' behalf. Still, those who skirt the rules and opt out of vital work are bound to lose eventually. "Students who cheat, whether in the classroom or online, are only doing themselves a disservice," he says.
In conclusion, for any online degree program, upholding academic integrity is of utmost importance. To build and maintain the credibility of the exams that these programs conduct, it's extremely important to prevent cheating at any cost.