Online Cheaters

At College Guide today, we feature a web-exclusive report by freelance higher ed journalist Jamaal Abdul-alim about the growing problem of cheating by students on online college courses.

The proliferation of such courses–and of schools–typically for-profits–specializing in online higher education has made this a big, big problem. And as Abdul-alim reports, some of the measures being taken to improve security in online exams may be entirely missing the mark:

Perhaps the greatest problem is that there’s a pretty serious disconnect between the type of cheating schools like Phoenix can detect using sophisticated technology (logging on using a different IP address) and the type of cheating that students seem to actually use (the real student just pays someone else to do all the work in the course). If the real student never logs on, the system can’t tell he’s not really taking the course.

“Entrepreneurs” running ads offering to take courses for “consumers” seem to charge in the range of $300 to $800, depending on the difficulty of the class and how elaborate its requirements might be.

Are there better methods out there for preventing this kind of fraud that are not yet extensively used? Maybe so, suggests Abdul-alim:

Frank LoSchiavo, a psychology professor at Ohio University – Zanesville and co-author of a study that found as many as three-quarters of students cheat during online exams by consulting textbooks or other course materials, said faculty should take responsibility for curtailing cheating in their online classes.

“Instructors that care about the integrity of their courses — online or otherwise — require that students complete proctored exams,” LoSchiavo said. “There are several high-tech options as well, such as having students take exams at home while in front of a webcam.

“No reasonable testing procedure is completely safe, but reasonable safeguards — such as requiring proctored exams, requiring identification — should stop most fraud,” LoSchiavo said.

Sounds reasonable indeed.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.