Cheating Online: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

For all the wonderful connections distance learning brings, online courses also create disconnects that make cheating painfully easy. Don’t get me wrong: I like online teaching and the voice it gives students who might not otherwise speak out. But students also can more easily hide. Online courses are cash cows, a crucial source of income of cash-strapped institutions. Frequently instructors are paid by the number of students in their classes: the more students, the more their stipend; the more students, the less direct interaction with the professor; the less interaction, the less guilt for cheating. Let’s face it: cheating does not feel so bad if the professor only exists in disembodied, electronic form.

Depending on the study, between 75 percent and 90 percent of students have cheated during their academic careers. Of those, 95 percent say they were never caught. That’s a whole lot of lying. Certainly students already are cheating rampantly in face-to-face courses, but cheating online simply is a whole lot easier. Likewise, it’s easy to point to those cheating kids, shake our collective heads, and say “but what can we do?” Answer: Lots.

Putting students into a single room with a proctor and a paper-and-pencil test is still the most effective way to prevent cheating, according to the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. Absent that, tests proctured at individual computer stations offer another alternative. Even anti-plagiarism software can be bypassed if the student is willing to fork over the money to pay someone else to write their papers (See earlier post: The Professional Cheat) Plagiarism simply cannot be eliminated through automated programs. 

The same disconnect that leads students to cheat also disconnects faculty and administrators from students’ really bad choices. A student pulling out crib notes in front of us is an insult to our intelligence. But if the professors never see the student, then they may feel less angst and even be less insulted. Out of sight, out of mind. Integrity has price, and that cost may cut into the profit line.

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