By Danika McLure
It’s hardly breaking news that students cheat in school. From peeking at their peers’ answers on quizzes, to downloading essays from the internet, educators have dealt with academic dishonesty for as long as education has existed.
Students have been documented cheating on quizzes, projects, homework, and even the SAT, so much so, in fact, that non-students have been banned from taking it. Even in the most prestigious institutions, students have proven themselves untrustworthy.
Surveys of Harvard University’s freshmen population revealed that ten percent of students had cheated on exams, and 17 percent admitted to cheating on a paper or take-home assignment. Even more shocking was the amount of students who admitted to cheating on a homework assignment or problem set–42 percent.
Information compiled by the University of Illinois-Chicago confirms these findings, noting that between 35 and 40 percent of uncited material is copied either from a printed or internet based source.
Naturally, findings like these have caused professors to examine ways to prevent cheating in the student population. And with the prevalence of online learning environments, professors are wondering how to tackle plagiarism and cheating in an online environment. Is online testing fair? Does an online learning environment foster dishonesty more so than a traditional classroom does?
These are fair question, especially when you consider that over 6.4 million students are currently enrolled in online learning environments.
Certainly there are hurdles to be overcome in an online classroom. Unlike traditional classrooms, where student exams are easily proctored by professors or student aids, there’s a fear that online students may be able to open alternate browsers, use their mobile devices, or work together alongside their peers. Beyond that, there are a vast number of entrepreneurs and freelancers who advertise services designed to help students cheat in their online courses–all for the completely reasonable price of $1200 for a guaranteed “B”.
Boston University Professor Jay Halfond, alongside his colleague Dennis Berkey recently conducted surveys of online professors, questioning the prevalence of cheating and dishonesty in distance learning, as well as ways they might go about addressing the issue.
As he notes in a column on The Huffington Post, out of the 141 respondents, 80 percent agreed that student dishonesty was an issue throughout American higher education. Surprisingly, nearly the same number of professors reported that they, “as stewards of their online programs,” had cheating under control–largely through outsourcing.
Halfond notes that the ed-tech industry has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, now attracting a $1.61 million investment annually. As such, engineers have recognized the profitability of creating software which helps professors maintain academic integrity in the classroom. Software has been developed which helps evaluate originality in writing, gauging authentic student participation, and high tech software which has facial recognition.
In fact, for as often as cheating is considered a universal, natural tendency for college students to partake in, new research suggests that for online students–whose potential for dishonest behavior appears to be abundant–there is little evidence of cheating.
On March 29, a digital exam proctoring company called Examity released findings from tests it helped proctor last fall. In reviewing the 62,534 final exams, the company found that a mere six percent of students (3,952) broke test rules–a far cry from numbers e-learning opponents might suggest occurs.
Although it’s entirely possible that the company may have only been able to detect a fraction of the cheating occurred–Quartz reports that they managed to catch a variety of “gutsy endeavors” put forth by students, including an instance where “a mom hid underneath the desk of the test-taker to communicate answers,” as well as an instance in which a “test-taker faked a coughing fit to extricate a cheat sheet in the back of his throat.” Examples which suggest the company investigated the student exams quite thoroughly.
What may be a more important consideration when it comes to online learning, is noting that desperate students might also go to great lengths to cheat. With technological advancements curbing the tendency for students to cheat in online courses, professors are able to focus more on engaging students, rather than policing their behavior.
Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl