Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Teaching Online (Part XII) - Cheating me Cheats you!

     A security officer once said to me, "There is not a car in this parking lot that I can't open...with a brick". He was of course making the point that the actions of the owners, not leaving valuables in the car or at least in view, were as important or even more important than the actions of the would be thief choosing to commit the crime. It could also be pointed out that if the thief knew the owner of the car they might think twice before breaking in and stealing. It is why in every movie where an officer is taken hostage they immediately try to start introducing themselves to their abductor. In general, if you know someone, it is harder to steal from, murder, or cheat them. That is not to say exceptions don't abound, but in general it is harder for most the more they know someone.

     To be blunt, no online course will ever be "cheat proof", and one can argue that traditional courses are hardly "cheat proof" either, but just like when you park your car, there are ways to lower the risk of issues occurring. When contemplating this issue do not get stuck merely focusing on the actions you want to prevent, but also how you can inspire actions to be encouraged.

     Possibly the greatest challenge/fear of online courses is cheating, so how should the issue be handled? As instructors, you can be proactive and "limit" cheating in an online environment based on a few of the tips below, but the most important factor is a relationship with your students. Just like a thief, students are much less likely to break the rules if they know/respect and have a relationship with the professor. Getting to know your students and establishing a  relationship is much more important than any timing or lockdown device. This is true in an online or a traditional face to face course. When you go from being just a name to being an instructor who cares and mentors you just made the decision to cheat that much harder for your students.

     Make that decision even harder by having a frank discussion about cheating and acknowledging it takes place. As a part of your intro early on before testing and assignments come due, it is good to make sure and cover the topic. Ignoring the topic or pretending cheating does not exist is not the answer. Just like a parent sitting down with their child to discuss drugs or alcohol, acknowledge and discuss the issue with students and make your expectations clear. Mention the honor code, and how in reality one who cheats, cheats themselves in class and in life. This takes away justifications that seem to weasel into students heads as they try to rationalize certain types of cheating or even ranking some forms more acceptable than others. When the ground rules are laid and discussed, the lines are drawn and choices are made before crunch/temptation time arise. Which side of the line they are on is the student's choice, but at least you have made the line clearer in their minds.

Here are a few other tips as you design your course that will help to limit cheating.

  • Use webcams during testing
  • Limit times when testing is available
  • Timed quizzes/exams
  • Using the Respondus Lockdown Browser or something similar
  • Randomize Questions/use pools of questions
  • Higher Order Thinking Questions
  • Turn in sections/chunks/rough drafts of large projects or papers
  • Make note that you randomly "Google" paper titles & excerpts
  • Require the honor code to be checked before they can submit tests or assignments
"Cheating me only cheats you", for some that means nothing, but for others it is the subtle reminder to do the right thing. In our thirteenth and final blog post in this series we will discuss the statement "If a little is good, than a lot must be..."