Cheating is an ongoing concern and a reality in both face-to-face and online settings (Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely, 2008). If it is more common online there are at least two possible explanations: one, the physical separation inherent in online learning facilitates cheating among those who are so inclined (Rowe, 2004); and two, online instructors may assess students more frequently in attempts to validate student performance (Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely, 2008), and more frequent assessment means more frequent occasions to cheat.
The nature of cheating has changed from copying answers from a
student at the next desk to deliberately “crashing” a timed test to gain
more time, hacking into instructor accounts and previewing assessment
questions, and even changing grades in online student records (Cizek,
2001). Our society's reliance on test scores has risen dramatically over
the last decade – driven at least in part by technologies that enable
the administration and scoring of broad-scale assessments quickly and
cost-effectively - and with that has come a disturbing trend of
educators cheating and enabling or encouraging students to cheat (Cizek,
2001). In this climate, cheating (for some) has become a form of
political or social protest: “Generally,
there appears to be a growing indifference on the part of educators
toward the behavior and even an increasing sense that cheating is a
justifiable response to externally-mandated tests” (Cizek, 2001, p. 17).
The steps to be taken to minimize cheating in an online environment depend on the nature of and motivation for the cheating. For the purposes of this discussion, I offer three “global” strategies: creativity, judgments, and software.
in instructional design can reduce the frequency of cheating. For
example, it is more difficult to cheat on a group project, performance
assessment or essay test than on a multiple-choice quiz (Rowe, 2004).
Designers can also “build in” security with frequent opportunities for
assessment throughout the course or training. This can be particularly
helpful in online learning where instructors don't have the benefits of
face-to-face contact for assessing their students.
Humans are hard-wired to make judgments.
Online instructors need to consider what they know about individual
students (including their demonstrated abilities and the quality of
their work) and group assessment norms and trends, and make judgments
about whether cheating may have occurred. Also, instructors should
consider the amount and type of work they assign. Some students report
that they cheat because the workload is too heavy or the assignments are
boring or meaningless (Stephans & Wengaard, 2001).
Software exists that can help increase testing security and minimize cheating. Assessment Systems Corporation is one company (I'm sure there are others) that offers test authoring, hosting, and psychometric services.
Should the definition of cheating evolve along with the tools we use to produce work in an online environment? A
week ago, I would have answered, “No. Cheating is cheating is cheating
and it's wrong.” But Maher (2008) has changed my thinking. “If a student
is going to talk with a bunch of other students and network with them
to exchange information to produce a paper, isn't that a skill that we
want them to take to the workplace? If I can find someone who is working
in advertising and who knows how to push a product, and they can
collect information from other sources and borrow and steal and put it
together and reshape it, isn't that a skill that I want them to have?”
So perhaps the definition of cheating should
evolve to fit with current notions of “work” and “learning”. But where,
then, is the line between “collaboration” and “copying”? Maher has this
to say: “... say
that you're going to do something else that you can look at other
people's projects, but the way I assess what you're doing is going to
take into account that you're going to look at what other people are
doing. Your work still has to be original, but to get inspiration from
other people and to craft your work in response to theirs or alongside
theirs is not something that's necessarily a problem.”I love that idea on its own, and I love it even more when I overlay Cizek (2001): “From
the broadest perspective, it may be useful to entirely reconceptualize
testing so that successful test performance can be more consistently and
directly linked to student effort and effective instruction, and so
that unsuccessful performance is accompanied by sufficient diagnostic
information about students’ strengths and weaknesses” (p. 10).
Cizek, G. J. (2001). An Overview of Issues Concerning Cheating on Large-Scale Tests. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Council on Measurement in Education, April 2001, Seattle, WA.
Maher, S. (2008). Interviews. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline/interviews/maher.html#5
Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Rowe, N. (2004). Cheating in online student assessment: Beyond plagiarism. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 7(2). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer72/rowe72.html
Stephans, J. M., & Wangaard, D. B. (2001). Teaching for integrity: Steps to prevent cheating in your classroom. Retrieved from http://www.ethicsed.org/programs/integrity-works/pdf/teachingforintegrity.pdf.