Does Online Education Encourage Cheating?



Online testing may be becoming the new norm. “… definitely transitioning that way. For something like the DMV where you can administer the test at the DMV but still have it online, for ease of grading, it seems like an easy decision.” said Brian Stonelake, Southern Oregon University professor, of the common testing format changing from written to online with everything from the Department of Motor Vehicles to college quizzes.  With this being the new way of things in general, it seems natural that colleges follow suit in regards to their classes and testing. According to an article in US News & World Report, “The number of college students enrolled in at least one online course increased for the ninth straight year, according to the Babson Survey Research Group’s annual survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities—including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions.”

Online testing, though, has one major setback; the possibility of cheating. To find out how prevalent this issue is on our campus we conducted an informal, anonymous survey of sixty SOU students, 61% admit to having previously taken tests or quizzes in unauthorized groups or pairs. Moreover, 91% admit to looking up answers online while in the process of taking a quiz or test. Whether it’s the easy access to answers or the lack of faculty supervision, students are more comfortable cheating when the test being given isn’t the traditional pen and paper method. When asked if they feel less opposed to cheating online than in print, 68% of students answered yes, “I guess my biggest concern regarding online tests and quizzes is cheating” said Stonelake a math professor, who has occasionally given tests online but prefers assigning in-class tests.  He says he has noticed a disparity in test scores when students take the quiz independently versus with supervision. “I’ve seen a few students do so much better on the unproctored quizzes than the proctored exams that it’s hard to believe they are being 100% honest.”

In the same survey of SOU students, 65% of students stated that questions on their quizzes and tests have also been online, verbatim. One anonymous student explained that the popular website meant for studying, Quizlet, had several questions from his online midterm, word for word. This leads to the conclusion that some professors may derive questions for tests from the internet, making it easier for students to cheat. 61% of students also claimed that their professors’ directions in regards to online tests were not always clear, not explaining whether or not they were open-note each time.

All professors have different rules on online testing. Southern Oregon University Professor, Precious Yamaguchi, explains that she has methods that may differ from that of other professors. In regards to teaming up with a friend, Yamaguchi stated that it may assist students in need of help and doesn’t contradict her intentions for assigning quizzes. “We have students from several countries… and also students have different learning needs… I would hope that if students work together on quizzes that they are discussing the questions and figuring out the answers together. This could be very beneficial in engaging cross-culturally, which is great since (my class) is a course about culture and communication.” Yamaguchi went on to explain that she assigns online quizzes to show students what topics they need to study for more important tests later on in the course, and that she doesn’t have a set of specific rules because the quizzes are not a major part of her grading.

Even older studies about online education indicate this is a trend unlikely to turn back around, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011,” shows that more than 6.1 million students took at least one online class which indicated a 10 % increases over the previous year. Most of these classes have greater than 80% of the work online and there are typically no face to face meetings with professors or advisers.  Students we spoke with indicated they would be unlikely to change their behaviors when taking tests unless professors changed the methodology. It would appear the question around online quiz cheating has yet to be answered but one thing seems certain, online classes will continue.