One of the perennial questions associated with online learning is how to prevent cheating. Not surprisingly, the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has given new energy to the issue. While most MOOCs are currently taught and taken for personal development or a certificate of completion, there's a growing interest in offering them for credit or certification. I recently saw two news items that are approaching the issue of online cheating from opposite angles.
The first article was in The New York Times a number of few weeks ago and entitled Keeping an Eye on Online Test-Takers. In this piece, curiously enough categorized under Technology/Novelties, introduces the various technological solutions being developed to combat online cheating. According to the article, "Squads of eagle-eyed humans at computers can monitor faraway students via webcams, screen sharing and high-speed Internet connections, checking out their photo IDs, signatures and even their typing styles to be sure the test-taker is the student who registered for the class." Some of these serve as a high-tech proctoring model, such as having remote proctors monitoring webcams to watch the eye movements of students. Others are more automated such using typing patterns to authenticate test-takers. The piece rightly notes that the implementation of such tools may make it harder to cheat online than in a traditional classroom. After all, how many students have to present a photo ID on the way into their lecture hall?
Another approach is being pursued in a new eight-week MOOC being offered by Concordia University Wisconsin entitled "Understanding Cheating in Online Courses" that starts this Monday. According to this Wired Campus piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education, the course will "move into discussing the differences between online and face-to-face learning, and the philosophy and psychology behind academic integrity. One unit will examine the best practices to minimize cheating." More interesting, though, is that participants will actually be instructed to cheat in the course but will be required to share with the class how they did so. As Bernard Bull, Assistant Vice President for Academics at Concordia University Wisconsin and the course instructor, notes, "Of course, if the assignment is to cheat, then you’re not really cheating."