Is Cheating Easier in an Online Class?

Imagine this: You’re taking a test for your online economics course, a test you, uh, well, forgot to study for. No problem, you figure. You’re at home, and you’re on the Internet. It shouldn’t take too long to find the answers, pop them into the spaces and ace this thing, right?

Suddenly, a chat window opens, and your professor is live on your screen. He asks you point blank about the causes of economic inflation – which you know was part of the course material. Only you need time to look them up online. But he’s right there waiting, and your cursor is blinking. Now what?

Electronic cheating

For teachers at online colleges, the reality is setting in that without a physical classroom to learn in, and without a teacher physically there in front of them, some students may be more likely to scam their way through the electronic curriculum.

Melvin Greene, a professor who teaches online classes at the University of Maryland University College, discovered this the hard way. Greene suspected Internet answer-mining when he realized some of his online students’ test answers sounded suspiciously Web-sourced.

“I could tell the answers were not their own,” Green was quoted in a BNET article. Realizing he hadn’t instructed his students against plagiarism, he could only make a mental note to take this into consideration next time.

Catching e-cheaters

Their lessons learned, Web-based professors are now taking measures to ensure their online students don’t get away with anything like this. As reported at DegreeTutor, several methods are used during online courses to keep students honest.

One effective method is the pop-up chat quiz. At any time during class time or during a test, the professor will connect to students randomly via the class chat system and do a sort of on-the-spot pop quiz. This ensures the student is actually there during class, and is knowledgeable about the subject matter. It also pushes students to be ready to talk about course material at any time.

Another method is timed, real-time tests. These tests are taken by every student simultaneously, with a set time limit so students don’t have time for any last-second “research.” Often individual questions are even timed, for a more controlled test environment.

One slightly more aggressive method, used for students who test in a testing center or on a campus, is to have on-site assistants monitor students in person as they take the test. The at-home equivalent is using web cams, where professors can monitor students live in order to discourage them doing anything squirrely. Students are found to be much less likely to cut corners when they have someone standing over their shoulder.

These and other measures are part of the developing battle against electronic cheating. With Web sites where entire term papers can be downloaded and a vast ocean of information readily available to students, not to mention students who are increasingly savvy with technology, it’s sure to be an uphill battle.

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