Online Enrollment Collision Course – Target: Online Test Integrity

When will the collision between the growth of online enrollment and the integrity of the online testing environment take place?

Recently, a number of news stories talked about the growth of online enrollment in the United States outstripping that of traditional education. “By 2015, 25 million post-secondary students in the United States will be taking classes online.” And as that happens, the number of students who take classes exclusively on physical campuses will plummet, from 14.4 million in 2010 to just 4.1 million five years later, according to a new forecast released by market research firm Ambient Insight. “If this trend continues, by 2018, there will be more full time online students than students that take all their classes in a physical classroom.”

At about the same time an article appeared in the Arkansas Gazette about a cheating scandal and concerns about the integrity of testing in an online environment. “Administrators and the faculty at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville want new ways to keep students from cheating in online courses,” faculty members said Thursday.

The search for improvements comes after university administrators investigated a cheating case in the fall of 2009 in which several students were accused of paying another student to take their online math quizzes.“We’d be stupid not to look and try to use technology for teaching,” said Tom Senor, who teaches an online philosophy course. This fall, the university offered more than 125 online courses. A push is under way to expand the course offerings, but many professors remain wary.“I had concerns about academic integrity and online exams,” Senor said of the course he taught last fall.

There is an ongoing debate about why students cheat. Pressure to get good grades leading to a degree leading to a good job. Pressure to match up well against college classmates. Pressure because cheating in lieu of studying leaves more free time for working, socializing, sleeping. All sorts of reasons. The moral dilemma that students face from cheating (assuming they don’t get caught), in many cases is outstripped by the perceived benefit of higher test scores.

Cited in a recent article in The Harvard Crimson, “According to data collected by the Center for Academic Integrity, the majority of college professors report having witnessed academic dishonesty in their classes. Eighty-six percent of faculty at universities that have been studied by the organization report to having observed “serious written cheating,” while seventy percent of these professors report that they have seen “serious test / exam cheating.”

Not unexpectingly, nationwide rates of students admitting to cheating are much lower, according to the data. Only 48 percent of students reported that they had engaged in “serious written cheating,” and a mere 22 percent of students admit to having engaged in “serious test / exam cheating.” What is startling is the fact that almost 50 percent of students in an anonymous survey admit to some form of cheating. Whatever battle is going on in the student’s conscience, is not forcing them to fool themselves about whether the are committing a violation of school policy and societal norms. They admit to it, and seem to be ok with it.

Schools slowly seem to be waking up to the issue, starting to move from the see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil phase – to we know we have a problem, now what we will do about it. The collision is coming. It’s just a question of when and how the problem is solved.

Steve Lesser, VP Sales & Marketing

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