Cheating, Student Authentication and Proctoring in Online Programs

Without having to miss out on fun, just outsource your test to us, an expert will take it and you will get the awesome grade that you deserve. All at prices you will not believe. How does that sound?”

—Excerpt from one of many results of googling “take my test”

This pitch is more than incredibly crass. It is really just outright pimping of hired poseurs to online students willing to “pay for performance.” With the massive growth of online education, such parasitic companies have sprung up like weeds, presenting a serious threat to program integrity.

In a famous 1993 New Yorker cartoon, a dog at a computer quipped, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” We are still haunted by concerns about whether remote learning can ever be conducted fairly. Of course, the Internet didn’t invent dishonesty. For years, students have been reporting anonymously having cheated and plagiarized–more than 70% in most studies. The public believes, along with many faculty, that cheating is easier to do, and likely even more common, in online courses than on campus. While many online leaders agree, they do not see cheating as a major challenge or barrier to program success.

What’s harder–and even more important–than deterring and detecting cheating in online education? Certainly designing interesting course formats that catch and hold the attention of students halfway around the world through all hours of day and night. Distractions abound, and the convenience of asynchronous learning makes it all the more tempting to put off work until the last minute (thus making the siren’s call from cheating companies doubly tempting). Distance creates the illusion of anonymity.

This is where a legitimate industry has emerged: commercial “test proctoring.” For many years, there have been commercial bricks-and-mortar “testing centers” (Pearson and Prometric centers being the most prevalent) where individuals needing professional certification complete exams under the scrutiny of professional proctors. Customers verify their identities using government photo IDs, drivers’ licenses, passports, etc., before sitting for proctored tests. Online programs began using these centers or otherwise requiring online students to come onto campus to take exams. While commercial testing centers can be expensive, the real cost was in student travel time and inconvenience. Link to full article here

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