Can Online Courses Detect Cheating: The Risks And Reality

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With the rise of online learning in 2020 due to the pandemic, it’s no surprise that more students will be looking for ways to cheat the system. While each school implements their own measures to handle cheating from students, it can be more difficult to monitor when all the classes are online and students aren’t all in one place.


For that reason, a lot of students are left asking themselves, can online courses detect cheating? If you came here in the hopes of finding tips on how to cheat on online courses or exams, you might be disappointed. Online courses can, in fact, detect online cheating.


Let’s take a closer look at what cheating looks like in online courses and what measures schools are taking to prevent it.


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Why Do Students Think It’s Easier to Cheat on an Online Course?


Many students hold the false belief that it’s easier to cheat on an online course. Without any teachers present in the same room as you, how can online classes tell if you cheat?


We’ll get into the anti-cheating measures soon, but the myth that instructors can’t tell when students are cheating during an online exam is just that: a myth.


It seems like it would be easier to use a phone or open a second window to Google the answers to a question on your online exam, or have books open on your desk to help you through your test. However, as long as students have been finding creative ways to cheat, teachers and schools have found more creative ways to counteract it.


A lot of students also think that universities don’t care as much about cheating in online courses. That also couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether they’re holding online classes due to the pandemic or they’ve always been entirely online, universities have rigorous standards to uphold.


For that reason, preventing cheating will always be regarded as high-priority for every school.


Is Cheating Actually Easier in Online College?


While this question is often debated by students and educators alike, studies show that cheating, while not necessarily easier in online courses, isn’t more prevalent online than it is in classrooms.


A 2009 study showed that while 73% of students thought it was easier to cheat on an online course, the likelihood of students cheating was the same for both online and in-person classes.


Given the advances in technology in education over the last decade, there are now even more ways for educators to catch and prevent cheating.


Cheating is more than just copying or searching answers on an online exam. Plagiarism is also prevalent on college campuses, and online courses are no exception. Schools often use programs like Turnitin to scan for plagiarism on assignments or essays, so submitting essays online rather than in person doesn’t make it any easier to get away with cheating.


How Are Tests Administered for Online Classes?


Instead of relying solely on technology and software, educational institutions usually use a mix of both software and human proctoring to check for cheating.


Students are usually asked to provide photo ID over a webcam to prove it is them sitting the exam and not someone else. While some online courses will still require students to come in for in-person supervised exams, it’s becoming more common to hold examinations online entirely.


Schools use webcams where supervisors will watch students as they take exams. Companies like ProctorU provide services and teams of people to help supervise students during their online exams. There are also remote computer tracking services, such as ProctorTrack, which uses AI to monitor exams and look out for cheating.


How Are Schools Preventing Students From Cheating Online?


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Aside from the prevention measures already mentioned like proctoring and plagiarism tracking software, there are a few other methods schools employ to prevent wide-scale cheating. Many of them involve using cutting-edge technologies, and some require good old human intervention.


Keystroke Verification Software


This is one of the most commonly-used cheating prevention methods. Keystroke verificate software is simple to use and hard to fool.


To start, students begin by typing a short phrase that is analyzed by a software program. The software then records the student’s specific typing pattern, including how fast they type, their rhythm, and any other identifiable characteristics.


When a student wants to submit work, it’s compared against the typing sample saved by the software to ensure that there was no copying or cheating.


Variable Testing


Students often study using old tests and examples from previous assignments. While there’s nothing wrong with this as a study method, it can make it easier for students who want to cheat to find the exact answers they’re looking for online.


With variable testing, educators create several versions of an assignment or test. That way, each student doesn’t have the same exam and this discourages students from sharing answers or searching for them elsewhere.


Honor Codes


While clearly not a new or cutting-edge method to curb cheating, honor codes are still very much in effect at many schools. With an honor code, students are expected to be responsible for their work and their behavior. Educators give them the benefit of the doubt that they won’t cheat.


Sometimes, students are asked to sign an honor code for a course at the beginning of the semester and this is treated as a sort of contract that they will not cheat. The consequences for breaking this honor code and being caught cheating can be severe, and often includes immediate expulsion or the withholding of a diploma.


Use Collaborative Learning Activities


If students are likely to collaborate on cheating, some courses will stay one step ahead by making assignments collaborative. Collaboration can reduce the likelihood of cheating since students are working together anyways. Therefore, if a professor assigns important tasks that need to be completed in a group, it will be more difficult for students to cheat or submit plagiarized work. Students are also less motivated to cheat when working in a group, so this can be a great way to prevent cheating, even for an online course.


Restricting IP Addresses


Schools can use software to restrict IP addresses. Using this technology, schools can ensure that an exam is being taken in a specific and determined location. Whether this is a school library, a computer lab, or even a student’s home, it can help deter cheating by ensuring students aren’t together during an examination and are not in a setting that can be conducive to cheating.


The Bottom Line

With all the technology and methods we have today to prevent cheating, it would be unwise for students to cheat on online courses. While some students may still be left wondering how can online courses detect cheating, it’s important for schools and educators alike to make it clear that cheating will be both monitored carefully and reprimanded on all online courses.


All of our classes at University of the People are held online. As an accredited remote-learning institution, we take pride in our online learning method that helps students get the most out of their education while promoting academic integrity.