by Wilfredo Rodríguez
Academic dishonesty has been present in education almost as long as education itself. As education has transformed and improved over time, so has cheating as well. It may seem as if they are inseparable. In the context of online learning, where students and teachers may never see each other face to face, many believe that academic dishonesty is easier than ever. However, is academic dishonesty more prevalent today in the high tech classrooms than it used to be in traditional classrooms? How can it be prevented?
Cheating has been present in education as long as education itself. The reasons for cheating are different for different students, but the methods are always evolving. In face-to-face classes, students can circulate answers during a test or share old tests with friends and family members. In this context, academic dishonesty happens because some instructors are not careful enough or some students are too clever to be caught. An important point is that if students who are likely to cheat find themselves in the classrooms of instructors who are not careful enough, academic misconduct may occur whether the course in online or face to face.
When it comes to assignments and research papers, which are done outside of class time, it is not that difficult for students to use others’ work. However, written assignments are different because faculty can detect if cheating has taken place by looking at the language used. They can quickly compare what students write in class assignments to assignments they bring from outside. The fact is that academic dishonesty happens even with the instructor being physically present in the classroom with the students.
On the other hand, education has moved from traditional classroom setting where faculty members are always in front of the students in every class sessions to where instructors are partially or not present at all. Since the dynamic has changed and students and instructors are often not in the same physical space any longer, many students and teachers believe that academic dishonesty has grown enormously in the online environment (Curbing Academic Dishonesty in Online Learning). In fact, there is not sufficient research done on this matter yet to back up this claim. Some studies suggest that cheating is about the same for both while others indicate that it is more common in online learning. One study suggests that the great majority of cheating goes undetected (How to Reduce Cheating in Online Courses).
There are many factors that promote online cheating and make it easy for students to succeed in certain courses. It is extremely difficult for all students to take a test at the same time. This might open a window for some students to know some of the questions ahead of time if there is not enough questions in the pool. Identity verification is another factor since it is challenging to verify who the person taking a test is on the other side. Having a correct user name and password to log in to the learning management system (LMS) does not guarantee it is the correct student since someone else could be taking the test or helping the student. Some students are tech savvy and while taking an online exam they may memorize or write down test questions, disconnect from the internet, contact the instructor and report they are having technical problems, request to take the test again. Of course, they already know most of the questions and this will guarantee them a good score. Online learning presents lots of possible ways to cheat.
Learning Management Systems are far from fully cheat proof. However, there are important precautions that instructors can take to improve the security of their online courses. For instance, tests and graded assignments should be made available when necessary, they should have due dates and correct/incorrect answers should be given only when every student has taken the test. When giving multiple choice exams, the pool of questions should be as big as possible, questions should be randomized, giving one question at a time and backtracking should be prohibited. Using the computer web cam is suggested as a mean to verify who is taking the tests. One technique is to give a bigger percentage of the course to discussion boards and other components than exams for final exams.
In short, the process of teaching and learning has changed from face-to-face to online. But, academic dishonesty persists in both teaching modalities. Cheating can take many forms in high tech classrooms, and most of the time it is not detected. Nevertheless, instructors can use strategies and features of their LMS to reduce its presence in the academic context.
Krsak, Anita M. “Curbing Academic Dishonesty in Online Courses.” Lakeland Community College, 2007.
Silverman, Evan; Presby, Leonard. “How to Reduce Cheating in Online Courses.” Yeshiva University. Slideshare.net, 13 June 2011. 23 July 2014. <http://www.slideshare.net/Esilbe1/how-to-prevent-cheating-in-an-online-course>
“Academic Misconduct” E-Learning. Sites.google.com,
Young, Jeffrey R. “Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech.” The Chronicle Of Higher Education. Chronicle.com, 12 June 2012. 23 July 2014. <http://chronicle.com/article/Cheating-Goes-High-Tech/132093/>