Online Cheating: a Big Problem?

Before searching for cost-effective ways to comply with the new law, the question must be asked, “Do we really have a problem so serious a new law was required?” Is cheating associated with online exams currently such a serious problem? One person who thinks the new law is not needed is the Executive Director of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), Michael Lambert: “There are lawmakers who do not believe that you can really learn from online classes…The law presumes people cheat and that people aren’t honest. It’s always been a question raised by people who do not understand how we teach.” The new law does seem to question the integrity of online education and implies cheating is a more serious problem at online versus traditional schools.

There are those who say the new law makes sense even if online cheating is no more of a problem for online schools than those who rely exclusively on a traditional classroom setting. These people believe the new law will provide greater credibility for online learning and will enhance the value of an online degree. But this argument is based on the assumption of a widespread belief that online education and their degrees are not presently perceived as valuable as a degree obtained from traditional universities. If this belief does remain today, it is rapidly changing as online education grows in popularity.

I suppose these arguments are moot because the law has passed and we are now only waiting for the implementation guidelines. So, let’s consider how we in online education can respond.

One response is to expand the use of proctored examinations in a face-to-face setting. This requires the student and the proctor to meet at a specific time and place so the examination can be observed by the proctor. The problems associated with this involve travel expenses, scheduling, and the cost of providing proctors. Distance learners generally dislike the time, inconvenience, and additional costs associated with taking proctored examinations.

The other alternative is a technological response involving webcams, keystroke readers, and fingerprint readers. Several online universities have been using webcams for some time now – with good results. Troy University in Alabama conducted a survey of its online students and found 88% favored a remote proctoring system using a webcam over a human proctor. Western Governors University is said to be considering the application of keystroke technology and webcams for their online students who want to take all examinations from home. I suspect most online universities will first explore the application of these technologies to comply with the guidelines (once we know what they are) and consider hiring more proctors as a last resort.

What is your opinion on this matter? Can you share information about what your online university is doing or planning to do?

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