Is it too easy to cheat in online college courses?

From Columbus Dispatch by Joshua Lim

REQUEST TO BUY THIS PHOTOCOURTNEY HERGESHEIMER | DISPATCH FILE PHOTOResearch has found that students are just as likely to cheat in online courses as they would in live courses.

An Ohio State student’s entrepreneurial approach to academics cost almost two dozen fellow students some money — and academic discipline.

An investigation by the university’s Committee on Academic Misconduct found that an unidentified student completed online course work for 23 other classmates in exchange for payment. All of the students were punished — some with expulsion, for paying what is an unknown amount of money for the cheating.

Federal educational privacy laws prohibit OSU from releasing the names of the students involved or the specific punishments handed down.

The incident raises questions about whether the growth in online courses has led to a corresponding increase in cheating.

The OSU students were cheating on a food-science course offered fall semester by the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, spokesman Chris Davey said.

The disciplinary action, including “several dismissals and other forms of discipline,” were imposed this spring. OSU does not have data on how often students cheat in online classes.

The Committee on Academic Misconduct found 457 students in violation of rules against academic dishonesty during the 2013-14 school year, according to the committee’s annual report, which did not specify whether violations occurred in online courses. Numbers for the 2014-15 school aren’t yet available.

Some research has shown that students are just as likely to cheat in online courses as they would in live courses.

In a study of 635 undergraduates and graduates from a mid-size university in Appalachia, two researchers at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., found that 32.1 percent admitted to cheating in a live class, while 32.7 percent admitted to cheating in an online class at some point while in college.

The research also found that students taking online courses were more prone to have someone else give them answers during a test or quiz.

To curb online cheating, some universities have partnered with companies that specialize in online-exam monitoring such as ProctorU.

ProctorU is an online service that monitors students during exams through webcam and screen-sharing technology. The proctoring service also requires test-takers to show their ID to the camera and asks them to answer questions based on their public records.

Franklin Hayes, a spokesman for ProctorU, said a lot of schools used the honor system for online exams but found it was unreliable.

“When people realize that there’s somebody there kind of watching them take the exam, they are a lot less likely to attempt something,” Hayes said.

Students still try to cheat despite having someone observing them through a webcam, said Paul Creed III, Kent State University’s technology-project director. He said he receives one to two reports each semester of cheating attempts documented by ProctorU.

Last year, Kent State signed a three-year contract to make ProctorU the university’s standard remote-proctoring service.

Davey declined to say what steps Ohio State takes to prevent cheating in online courses because it would undermine their effectiveness.

“We do not have an indication that this is a widespread practice, but we will continue to monitor vigilantly,” he said. “No form of cheating is tolerated at Ohio State, and we have systems in place to stop it, as this case demonstrates.”

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