Tips to Curb Cheating on Online Exams

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by P.D. Lesko

Are your online students cheating when they take their exams? Yes they are, and unless faculty members actively work to curb the opportunities their students have to cheat on exams, the huge percentage of the students who cheat will get away with it. The good news is that there are strategies and assessment tools a faculty member can employ that curb cheating. More about those in a moment. Let’s start with the bad news.

In 2017, Kessler International asked 300 students who attend college in person and online whether they have cheated on an exam or assignment. Only 12 percent of students said they’d never cheat because of ethics. Nine in 10 (86 percent) admitted to cheating in some way in school. More than half (54 percent) thought cheating was OK, and some suggested that it was even necessary to stay competitive. Among those who acknowledged cheating, nearly all (97 percent) said they’d gotten away with it.

Three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) said they’d copied text from somebody else’s assignments. Slightly more (79 percent) admitted to plagiarism from internet sources. Nearly as many (72 percent) said they’d used their mobile devices to cheat during class. A smaller number (42 percent) said they’d purchased custom term papers or essays online. And 28 percent said they’d had a “service” take their online classes for them.

Douglas Harrison is the vice president and dean of the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology at the University of Maryland Global Campus and a member of the Board of Directors for the International Center for Academic Integrity. He told InsideHigherEd in April 2020, “Let’s be clear: no assessment is uncheatable, and there are indeed best practices and techniques for conducting assessments securely in an online environment. But beyond the purely tactical, the most pedagogically meaningful response to issues of academic integrity in online assessments begins with a few basic principles and concepts.”

Now for the worse news. Student cheating is even more pervasive than it was just a decade ago. In a 2010 survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools, Rutgers University faculty member and researcher Donald McCabe found that 64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, 58 percent admitted to plagiarism and 95 percent said they participated in some form of cheating, whether it was on a test, plagiarism or copying homework.

So how can you curb cheating in your online courses? Let’s start with some common modes of cheating and ways to combat them:

Remember that students asked to demonstrate learning in ways that are authentic to them are less likely to cheat. Grant Wiggins defines authentic assessment as “engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.”

Douglas Harrison adds, “In short, whether online or face-to-face, authentic assessment — such as case studies, scenario-based projects and word problems — can often represent a superior way of measuring students’ learning, engaging and empowering them to demonstrate knowledge rather than demanding that they prove their worth via high-stakes exams.”

Such assessment tools can also help faculty teaching online courses gauge student mastery of course materials more accurately and reduce opportunities for students to game the online exam system.

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