A common concern about online courses, and especially online tests or exams, is that students will be able to cheat. It can be uncomfortable moving from a face-to-face to an online environment; you can’t see your students in front of you anymore, so how do you know that they aren’t cheating? And, when you think about it, there are actually lots of ways for students to cheat on an online exam or test: they could download and save course content, work in pairs or groups, share test questions online, use the internet to look up questions, and more (Michael & Williams, 2013).

Although this seems overwhelming, in reality, students may not necessarily be more likely to cheat in the online environment than in a face-to-face class. One study found that the percentage of students who admitted to cheating in the online environment was almost exactly equivalent to those who admitted it in the face-to-face environment (OnlineEducation.com). And, although there are some technical tools and tricks to help discourage cheating, just like just like in a face-to-face class, the design of your course can help ensure that students can’t or don’t have the opportunity to cheat in the first place.

Although a common temptation is to “lock” the content so that students can’t download and share it (Michael & Williams, 2013), this resource provides some alternatives and suggestions that may help you design and approach your course differently to avoid the need to lock any content.


Top Tips for Discouraging Cheating in your Online Course

    • Establish Expectations: Clearly define your expectations upfront – not all students share the same definition of “cheating”, and may not understand the variety of expectations in an academic environment (Feeney, 2017). Some instructors find it useful to develop a Code of Conduct in partnership with the class to help articulate and define academic expectations.


    • Design for Collaboration: Working collaboratively to solve complex problems may actually be a benefit to students’ learning rather than a form of cheating. Could learning as a group actually emulate a real-life scenario? Are there opportunities for students to collaborate with and learn from other experts, community members, or people outside of the classroom (University of Central Oklahoma)? When thinking about collaboration, you may want to review your learning outcomes – what do you hope students to be able to do in this course, and what kind of activities best support that (Farrell, 2015)?


    • Distribute marks and assessments: Does your course rely on a single final exam? You may want to consider distributing student grades across several shorter assignments or tests. By varying the different assignment types and assessment strategies, you reduce the possibility that an individual will cheat to pass the course (University of Texas). Multiple assignments also provide and opportunity for formative feedback, and allow you to get to know your students and how they approach the topic or assignment (Bates, 2012).


    • Rework your Multiple Choice Exams: Multiple choice exams can be very useful, especially if you’re teaching a big class. Even if you can’t distribute grades across multiple, smaller assignments, there are still ways that you can rework your multiple choice exams so that they are challenging, rigorous, and difficult to cheat on.
      • Randomize Quiz Questions: Most online quiz tools make it easy to randomize the order that answers appear or the order that questions appear. This can help prevent students from quickly sharing answers. For help building quizzes in CourseSpaces, check out the CourseSpaces Instructor Documentation.
      • Use Wildcards and Question Banks: By setting up a Question Bank, you can also draw random questions from a bank of questions, meaning that every student will get a different test (Michael and Williams, 2013). Further still, you can use Wildcards within questions to ensure that even if students get the same question, the numbers and information is different every time.
      • Set a time limit: Setting a time limit can encourage students to focus their attention on the question at hand, not at scouring their notes. However, it is important to acknowledge that some students will require additional time for accessibility reasons, and you should be prepared to accommodate accordingly. Be aware that time limits can also be restrictive and challenging for distance and adult learners; if you plan to use a time limit, think about providing different windows for the exam period or similar accommodations.
      • Use a variety of question types: Written questions do need to be marked manually, but they can provide significant benefits for learning and teaching. For example, you could ask students to explain their process for solving a process or justify their solution (Cabrera, 2013). You can also ask students to reflect on a question, relate to their personal experiences, evaluate a process, or create something totally new (Foothill College, 2017). By mixing objective and subjective questions, you’re able to test higher-order thinking beyond the usual remember- and understand-level questions that multiple choice exams typically tackle (Feeney, 2017).


    • Ask application questions (higher-level questions): When students have to use information rather than remembering information, it’s harder to cheat. Moving beyond what Bloom’s Taxonomy defines as lower-level questions (Remembering, Understanding) and into higher-level questions (Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating) helps to ensure that students need to come up with creative, original solutions.


    • Provide Practice Exams and Assignments: Are you hoping that students will master a concept or skill? If so, would it benefit students to be able to practice that skill or concept multiple times before a final assessment? While practice exams and assignments contribute to the learning environment by facilitating mastery, they also help prevent cheating; there is little benefit to getting access to the kind of questions that will be on the test if all students have already practiced the same type of questions multiple times (Michael and Williams, 2013).


    • Make Exams Open Book: Open-book exams and assignments can reduce stress and apprehension, making is less likely for students to cheat. If your exam is designed to test more than remembering or understanding, combined with some of the above strategies in mind, students will be applying the concepts and creating or evaluating new materials, not memorizing and repeating old information (Foothills, 2017).


What next?

Although it is tempting to lock down content and to find a technical solution to cheating, often it is more sustainable to look for possible changes in the course design to help discourage cheating. Of course, none of the solutions discussed above are simple or quick. However, if your approach aligns with your course learning outcomes, ideally your revised course will not only help prevent some students from cheating – it will actually create a better learning environment for all students.

If you need help designing or redesigning your online or blended course, don’t hesitate to contact the Learning Experience Designers at TIL for support and advice. Contact us at TILhelp@uvic.ca to book an appointment!


Resources and References


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