Tag Archives: Distance-Education.org

Verifying online education identity: By your keystroke, we will know you

10 Jan

Moi wrote about verifying identity for online courses in Verifying identity for online courses:

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…

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. http://www.distance-education.org/Articles/Does-Your-Instructor-Know-It-s-You–Issues-in-Verifying-Online-Student-Identities–234.html#.T4pas5U6vq0.email

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


Jeffrey R. Young writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Coursera Announces Details for Selling Certificates and Verifying Identities:

How is a major provider of free online courses going to tell whether you are who you say you are? By how you type.

The company, Coursera, plans to announce on Wednesday the start of a pilot project to check the identities of its students and offer “verified certificates” of completion, for a fee. A key part of that validation process will involve what Coursera officials call “keystroke biometrics”—analyzing each user’s pattern and rhythm of typing to serve as a kind of fingerprint.

The company has long said that it planned to bring in revenue by charging a fee to students who complete courses and want to prove that achievement. And Coursera has long recognized that its biggest challenge would be setting up a system to check identity. Other providers of free online courses, which are often called massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have decided to work with testing centers and to require students who want certificates to travel to a physical location, show an ID, and take tests while a proctor watches to prevent cheating.

What You Need to Know About MOOCs: A guide to The Chronicle’s coverage of massive open online courses.Coursera has decided to try to check IDs remotely, so that students can take tests from anywhere. During the pilot stage, the service will be offered in only five courses, but if it goes well, it will eventually be rolled out to nearly every course in Coursera’s catalog.

The company’s verification system involves several steps:

  • Early in the course, Coursera will ask participating students to hold up a picture ID in front of a Webcam, and then pose for a second picture of themselves, for an initial identity check. A human being will compare the two Webcam images to see if they match, essentially serving as a virtual bouncer.
  • Each student will then be asked to type a short phrase to register his or her keyboarding pattern with Coursera.
  • Each time students submit assignments, they must type the same short phrase for the system to check whether it matches their initial sample.

Can typing style serve as a reliable way to check identity?

Hany Farid, a computer-science professor at Dartmouth College who is an expert on digital forensics, said that the idea had been around for a while but that it is generally less secure than a fingerprint scan or other biometric methods.

In general, identifying people online is incredibly hard to do,” he said. “It could be that for what Coursera wants, it’s good enough. It could be that it’s just a barrier to entry and that it sort of freaks out some people” who might have otherwise tried to game the system, he added.

One potential problem with relying on typing patterns is that some people might type in different ways in different situations. “You don’t want this thing locking you out because you’re in a bad mood,” he said.

Coursera said it was testing two different software programs to do its identity verification—one from an outside company and one that it had developed itself. Coursera officials would not disclose which outside company they were working with.                                                                                               http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/coursera-announces-details-for-selling-certificates-and-verifying-identities/41519?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Coursera is proposing to use “keystroke dynamics.”

Biometrics Solutions.com has a concise description of “keystroke dynamics” at their site:

How it works

With keystroke dynamics the biometric template used to identify an individual is based on the typing pattern, the rhythm and the speed of typing on a keyboard. The raw measurements used for keystroke dynamics are dwell time and flight time.

  • Dwell time is the time duration that a key is pressed
  • Flight time is the time duration in between releasing a key and pressing the next key

When typing a series of characters, the time the subject needs to find the right key (flight time) and the time he holds down a key (dwell time) is specific to that subject, and can be calculated in such a way that it is independent of overall typing speed. The rhythm with which some sequences of characters are typed can be very person dependent. For example someone used to typing in english will be quicker at typing certain character sequences such as ‘the’ than a person with french roots.

There exists software which combines keystroke dynamics with other interactions the user has with the computer, such as mouse movements (acceleration time, click frequency).

Application of keystroke dynamics

Keystroke dynamics can be used for authentication, then it is used mostly together with user ID / password credentials as a form of multifactor authentication.

Another use is as a very specific form of surveillance. There exist software solutions which, often without end-users being aware of it, track keystroke dynamics for each user account. This tracking, historization of keystroke dynamics is then used to analyse whether accounts are being shared or in general are used by people different from the genuine account owner. Reasons for such an implementation could be verification of users following security procedures (password sharing) or to verify that no software licenses are being shared (especially for SAAS applications).

Companies which develop software products applying keystroke dynamics are:

  • ID Control is a dutch company developing strong but affordable authentication solutions, some of which use keystroke dynamics. Their software integrates with MS Windows logon, Citrix, VPN and many others.
  • Psylock is a german company developping IT security solutions based on keystroke dynamics, providing software products for implementations on different scales from MS Windows login, to web login, to Citrix and VPN integration. The Psylock website offers an online demo.
  • BehavioSec is a swedish company specialized in continuous authentication systems, this is software which monitors activity on a computer to make sure that it is the genuine account owner who is using the computer. BehavioSec uses not only keystroke dynamics but also mouse dynamics and the general way in which the user interacts with the computer.


See, Enhanced User Authentication Through Keystroke Biometrics – MIT http://people.csail.mit.edu/edmond/projects/keystroke/keystroke-biometrics.pdf

With any education opportunity the prospective student and their family must do their homework and weigh the pros and cons of the institution with with the student’s goals and objectives. In answer to the question of whether online college is a threat to traditional bricks and mortar universities, it depends. The market will answer that question because many students do not attend college to receive a liberal arts education, but to increase employment opportunities. If the market accepts badges and certificates, then colleges may be forced to look at the costs associated with a traditional college degree.


Will ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCS) begin to offer credit?                                                                             https://drwilda.com/2012/11/14/will-massive-open-online-courses-moocs-begin-to-offer-credit/

Is online higher ed a threat to bricks and mortar colleges? https://drwilda.com/2012/09/17/is-online-higher-ed-a-threat-to-bricks-and-mortar-colleges/

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Surviving a ‘diploma mill’

1 Jul

The Washington Post described the scope of the “diploma mill” problem in Hundreds Linked to Diploma Mill  Dr. Bruce Johnson wrote the Diploma Fraud. Com article, Students Beware! Diploma Mills Still Exist:

How extensive is the diploma mill problem? According to the article PhD, The Easy Way, published in the Chicago Tribune, it is estimated that 9,600 people may have bought fake degrees from a now shuttered St. Regis University in Washington state, and among the student roster were police officers and a Chicago Public Schools instructor. Several St. Regis employees pled guilty to fraud and that is only the tip of the phony degree iceberg. If it seems too good to be true that you can obtain a degree without going to class, well, it probably is. It may seem difficult to imagine that anyone could purchase a degree in this manner, especially with increased attention to accreditation and regulation of financial aid. However, diploma mills still exist – they offer degrees at for a substantially reduced investment and the transaction is often completed with a phone call or an email. The type of degree received is usually based upon a description of your life experience. All you need to provide is payment and suddenly you’re “qualified” for a new career, which is never a good idea to follow. In Diploma Mill Concerns Extend Beyond Fraud, George Gollin, a board member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, an accrediting authority recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, noted that “it is difficult to pin down how many diploma mills exist, or how many bogus degrees are bought each year;” however, he estimates that at one time “companies sold 100,000 to 200,000 phony degrees a year.” http://diplomafraud.com/2012/02/23/students-beware-diploma-mills-still-exist/

What is a Diploma Mill?

The Missouri Department of Higher Education defines a “diploma mill”  as :

What is a “diploma mill?”

A dictionary definition is “an unaccredited school or college that grants relatively worthless diplomas, as for a fee.”   

Alternatively, a diploma mill might be described as an institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or, because of the lack of proper standards, worthless….

The key point is “diploma mills” have few standards. 

How to Spot a Diploma Mill?

There is an excellent article at ELearners.Com which tells you how to spot <a href="

They often have names similar to well-known colleges or universities, but fail to mention an accrediting agency or name a fake accrediting agency.

The organization frequently changes addresses, sometimes moving from state to state.

Written materials typically include numerous spelling and grammatical errors, sometimes on the diploma itself.

Overemphasis on the speed and brevity with which someone can receive a degree (e.g. “Call now and have your degree shipped to you overnight!”).

Degrees can be earned in far less time than normal (e.g. 27 days) or the diploma is printed with a specific backdate.

There is no selectivity in admissions, or any questions about previous test scores or detailed academic history.

No interaction with professors or faculty (e.g. only two emails are received from a professor).

Degree requirements are vague or unspecified, lacking class descriptions and without any mention of how many credit hours are required to complete a program.

Tuition and fees are typically on a per-degree basis.

Grade point average (GPA) and academic honors (e.g. Summa Cum Laude) can be specified at the time of purchase.

Buyer beware, if it seems too easy and too good to be true, you probably should investigate the accreditation of the school.  

What to Do If You are enrolled in a Diploma Mill?

The first step is not to enroll in a diploma mill in the first place. Jennifer Williamson of Distance-Education.org has written the great article, What to Do If You’re Enrolled in a Diploma Mill:

But maybe you didn’t spot these signs up front—for whatever reason—and you’ve been fooled by a diploma mill into parting with your money. While it’s not likely you’ll get your money back, there are a few things you can do.

First: stop giving them your money

If you’re involved in paying tuition with the school, stop paying immediately.

Do not, under any circumstance, list the degree on your resume

List an unaccredited degree on your resume and you not only risk your reputation—you risk your job. It’s better not to have a degree at all than to have a degree from a diploma mill—and companies do check these credentials, sometimes years after the person has been hired.

Ask for a refund in writing

If you’re sure you’re enrolled in a diploma mill, send a letter immediately requesting a refund of all tuition money you’ve paid. Send it by registered mail, explain why you want the refund, and make a copy for your own records. It’s doubtful that the diploma mill will send back your money, but it’s worth a shot—and the letter may be useful if you want to take your complaint to court.

Notify the authorities

Tell your state’s attorney general office what’s happened—there should be a way to file complaints on the attorney general’s website. It’s possible that the attorney general’s office will choose to go after the diploma mill.

Report to the Better Business Bureau

Reporting to the Better Business Bureau is a good move because it will serve to warn other potential students about the school. The reporting process only takes a few minutes and can be done entirely online, and the Bureau may be able to help you resolve the complaint.

If you’ve been had by a diploma mill, you don’t have a lot of options. But you can go public with your grievance and it’s possible law enforcement will decide to go after the school. Tell your attorney general and notify the Better Business Bureau. Stop doing assignments and paying tuition to the school. Send a registered letter outlining the reason why you want a refund, but don’t count on getting your money back. Don’t list your unaccredited degree on your resume or try to let your employer think your degree is real. If you do, you could experience some negative repercussions. http://www.distance-education.org/Articles/What-to-Do-If-You-re-Enrolled-in-a-Diploma-Mill-220.html

If you have been sucked into a diploma mill scheme, at the federal level, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can go to Federal Trade Commission Complaint and you can report fraud to your state. Consumer Fraud Reporting.Org lists how to contact your state attorney general. http://www.consumerfraudreporting.org/stateattorneygenerallist.php


Diploma Mill Degrees Too Good to Be True http://www.cmn.com/2012/06/diploma-mill-degrees-too-good-to-be-true/

How to Spot a Diploma Mill  http://www.onlinecollegedegrees.net/avoiding-cheap-education


Beware of diploma millshttps://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/beware-of-diploma-mills/

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