University officials look to address cheating methods in online courses
Offering online courses is relatively new at MSU, and the campus community still is working toward the best solutions for academic problems that can arise, officials said.
Online courses generate increased complaints of academic dishonesty that warrant different kinds of investigation and communication, University Ombudsperson Robert Caldwell told the Steering Committee earlier this week.
The university began offering classes online around 2001 and has a diverse offering of more than 100 online courses, but courses are not available in every subject.
“As a university community we are still learning about the online teaching environment,” said Caldwell.
Office of the Ombudsperson is charged with resolving disputes among members of the university community, among other things, and mostly handles complaints related to academics.
One of the most common problems the office deals with is academic dishonesty, he said.
In face-to-face classes,one potential problem professors face is people taking exams for students. It’s harder to prevent such activity in an online setting, he said. A potential solution involves technology that asks for a thumbprint.
Packaging senior Alyssa Skinner, who has taken several online classes, said it would be easier to cheat in an online class.
“If you have friends in the class, the professor would need to keep an eye on that because you could just do everything together,” she said. “I don’t know if they could prevent that.”
As far as exam cheating goes, she said notes usually are allowed, but timed exams and programs that don’t let students go back help prevent cheating.
Marketing associate professor Forrest Carter’s online classes mostly involve entrepreneurship projects and although the students could have someone else doing the work, it’s unlikely and not something he’s had to deal with, he said.
The students meet with instructors at least bi-weekly to give reports and do the same with outside mentors, Carter said. That much interaction makes it harder to cheat, he said.
Ralph Putnam, an associate professor of education, has structured his online courses to have emphasis on discussion forums and short essays, which he said gives cheating smaller incentives — although that was not the intention, but a side effect of the class design.
“There’s definitely potential for dishonesty,” he said. “You have the potential that someone else is doing the work for them because they’re not sitting there in class. The only way they could cheat is to have someone else do all the work. Someone else would be taking the class — we have no way of knowing that.”