Verifying identity for online courses

15 Apr

Cheating is increasingly a concern in education. Some colleges in an attempt to curb academic dishonesty on campus are beginning to employ methods one has usually associated with Las Vegas casinos. Minnesota State University Mankato has an excellent newsletter article about academic dishonesty. Richard C. Schimming writes in Academic Dishonesty

A recent survey found that 1/3 of all students admitted to cheating on an examination, 1/2 admitted to cheating on a class assignment, 2/3 admitted to cheating at least once during their college career, and 2/3 have seen classmates cheat on exams or assignments. Paradoxically, 3/4 of those in that survey believe that cheating is not justified under any circumstances. Finally, 1/2 of the students surveyed believe that the faculty of their university do not try to catch cheaters….

The various reasons that students give for cheating can also be instructive in obtaining a picture of academic dishonesty. Gleaned from a variety of sources, the list of student reasons for cheating given below is meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive:

  1. Today’s generation of student has less of an attachment to the institution so that cheating is more impersonal and seen as less painful because of this detachment.
  2. The difficult job market places a premium on a high grade point average so that any means necessary will be employed to achieve and maintain good grades.
  3. Some students believe that professors are cheating them in the classroom by shirking their teaching responsibilities. Therefore, students come to believe that turnabout is fair play.
  4. New entering students find themselves in courses beyond their capability so they resort to cheating to succeed in the course.

The metaphors and social constructs provided by students in surveys can also provide insight into the rationale for academic dishonesty. In one recent study, students used the following metaphors for cheating:

  1. Cheating is just a game, so that it is not important how you win but what is important is that you win.
  2. Cheating is an addiction. Once a student has successfully cheated in some academic context, the urge to continue can become addicting.
  3. Cheating is an easy out. Rather than working hard to master the material, a student can be tempted to use the shortcut of academic dishonesty.
  4. Cheating is a personal dilemma. Students do not begin to cheat because they are ignorant of the potential consequences. Rather the decision to cheat is a difficult decision for most students.
  5. Cheating is theft. The act of cheating robs the institution, the professor, the cheating student, and the other students.
  6. Cheating is a team effort. Cheating does not occur in a vacuum. Where there is a culture that condones cheating and where a student sees other students cheating, academic dishonesty is more likely to flourish.

Trip Gabriel has an interesting article in the New York Times about the University of Central Florida’s attempts to defeat cheaters. In To Stop Cheats, Colleges Learn Their Trickery

Gabriel describes attempts to stop cheating which resemble Las Vegas security.

George Watson and James Sottile of Marshall University have written the paper, Cheating in the Digital Age: Do Students Cheat More in Online Courses?

The focus of this study was on whether students cheat more in on-line or live courses, and, somewhat surprisingly, the results showed higher rates of academic dishonesty in live courses.  One possible explanation is that classroom social interaction in live classes plays some part in whether students decide to cheat, which would agree with the findings of Stuber-McEwen et al (2009).  Familiarity with fellow students may lessen moral objections to cheating as they work through assignments and assessments together over the course of a school term.  The findings that students believe more classmates will cheat in on-line courses than traditional classes are similar to the findings of King et al (2009).

While the study showed that cheating in on-line courses is no more rampant than cheating in live classes, one type of academically dishonest behavior does merit discussion for on-line course developers.  The data showed that students were significantly more likely to obtain answers from others during an on-line test or quiz.  This ability to receive answers without the monitoring of a professor, presents problems for the standard lecture-based, test-driven course.  Course developers should take extra precautions with regards to on-line tests or quizzes, either through having a test proctor, changing the type of assessment, or lowering the assessment’s value in relation to other course assignments.  In the example of test proctors, there are some instances in which faculty require students to be on campus to take exams, in person at a set date and time, to insure the person taking the test is the student enrolled in the class.  This approach can be cumbersome and may nullify the strength of online courses, which is the freedom to work on one’s own schedule at home….

The results on gender and academic class were mixed and, therefore, more difficult to garner conclusions.  Females were significantly more likely in online courses to admit to cheating and to have someone give them answers during a test or quiz, but in all other self-reported behaviors, no significant difference existed for gender.  It is difficult to determine from the data whether these differences accurately represented cheating behavior or if females were more honest in their survey responses or more ethical in their estimates of what constitutes academically dishonest behavior.  Academic class analysis showed significant differences for cheating and receiving assistance during tests and quizzes, but interestingly, the mean distributions were highest for freshmen and graduate students.  One could make the case that freshmen who cheat may not survive the rigors of collegiate academia, leaving fewer dishonest students in the upper classes, but that does not explain the scores for graduate students.

These results have implications for both the college professor and university administrators.  Students are already orientated to specific ethical behavior prior to entering college.  Since the college environment, either on-line or in the traditional classroom, is not an idealized environment, it is important for educators to address the need of moral or ethical development within each major.  The curriculum requirements for each academic major should involve a course in ethical behavior and moral development.  This course should be three credit hours and examine the process related to ethical resolution.  Every incoming first year student and transfer student should be required to complete a generalized ethics and moral development course.   It is unfortunate that both males and females self-report that they would cheat.  Given this behavior, professors and university administrators need to ensure that students who are caught cheating have to pay a consequence for such inappropriate behavior.  The college experience should instill a prominent level of ethical behavior in all students.  Such change should be proactive and the process of moral education should be driven by the need to help others.  According to Kohlberg’s (1984) research, education is one of the significant factors in increasing moral development.

There are strategies online education institutions can use to reduce cheating.

Distance Education.Org has a great article by Jennifer Williamson, Does Your Instructor Know It’s You? Issues in Verifying Online Student Identities:

While a recent study by Friends University shows that online students don’t cheat more than traditional students on the whole—and actually might cheat less—that doesn’t mean that online education isn’t vulnerable to cheating. And one major issue in preventing academic fraud in an online environment is demonstrated in the Florida case: the problem of student identity verification. How does your professor know it’s you taking that exam?

Here are a few ways online schools and instructors have been working to make sure they know the identity of students taking exams.


One of the most straightforward ways is insisting all important exams be proctored. This means you have to physically go to the school and take your exam in a room monitored by a proctor. Some schools may be able to arrange for you to take an exam in a remote location near your home, but even if this is possible for your school, this method does defeat the purpose of distance education to an extent—you have to leave the house or your workplace and travel to a test location, which could be problematic. It’s not ideal, but it is an easy way for professors to be sure it’s you taking the test.

Blackboard Acxiom

Many online degree programs use Blackboard to administer classes. Blackboard recently adopted an identity verification process powered by Acxiom, a risk mitigation company. With this software, you’ll have to enter the answers to verification questions, presumably set by you when you sign up for class, that only you can answer. The school using the software controls when students have to authenticate their identity. Of course, this isn’t a perfect solution as students could always simply tell their stand-ins the answers to their proprietary questions.

Certified IP locations

Under this system, also administered by Blackboard, teachers can specify the IP address where the student will take the test. This may allow you to take your test at your home computer, but teachers may also choose a computer for you to test on and then require you to come to campus to take the test in a proctored environment.

Remote proctor systems

There are a few remote proctoring systems, some of which are still being tested. One is the Securexam Remote Proctor System. It’s a small unit that plugs into the student’s USB port, with a fingerprint pad for identification—professors can choose how often during the test students are required to use it to identify themselves. It also includes a 365-degree camera that will alert the professor to anything strange happening in the room—like someone else walking in or speaking during the test. Professors don’t have to watch live; they can watch a recorded version of the test after it’s been taken. The device is purchased by students, and costs somewhere between $100 and $200 in most cases.

Remote proctoring systems may be the best way to assure student identity while keeping the benefits of online education intact; but still, the system isn’t perfect and some students find the costs hard to bear. Online student identification will need to evolve as online education has, to become easy, cost-effective for students and schools, and flexible. With time, hopefully online schools will have a more effective and cost-efficient way to verify online student identity and prevent academic fraud.–Issues-in-Verifying-Online-Student-Identities–

ABC News has a good report, A Cheating Crisis In America’s Schools

So far, there are no reports of colleges frisking students before they take their exams.


Accountability in virtual schools         

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

7 Responses to “Verifying identity for online courses”


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