How To Stop Cheating In An Online Class

You Can't.

Sorry, it's true.  However you can get pretty close!

For those that don't know, at the time of this writing I work as an instructor.  I teach courses in computer science.  Currently, because of Covid, we are online.  As a post secondary teacher, the concept of cheating has always been a thing.  It has always been around and will never go away.

Being online is a completely different set of challenges.  The temptation for students to cheat is so much greater.  Assessments (tests etc.) that in person would have been easy to "police" are near to impossible to stop cheating.

Everyone is in their own homes!  How can I realistically expect someone to not google an answer?

If cheating has been around forever and it is never going away and students are currently in an environment where the risks of cheating are dramatically greater, how do we combat it?

In this post I draw on two fundamental security concepts.  I explain how these concepts can actually help us(teachers) in the classroom.

1: Analyze the Risk

You have too use a concept that we use a lot in security "Risk Mitigation."  Before that you have to do a Risk Analysis

For me the Risk formula works like this 

Risk = Probability X Severity

The risk we are dealing with is cheating

Severity, what happens when people cheat?  Academic misconduct, ruined reputation, lack of trust moving forward, expelled etc etc.

Probability, how likely is the cheating to happen?  In the online world, it is dramatically high.

So with this formula as we have it there is a HIGH risk that cheating will occur.

Risk mitigation happens when we reduce the probability.  We can't change the severity, you cheat your reputation is going to be poor.  This will always exist.  However, with proper implementation we can reduce the risk.  Even move it down from a HIGH to a MEDIUM and dare I say it! LOW!

***You will not be successful reducing cheating until you do a proper risk analysis of your course.***

2: Risk Mitigation

So we know that to reduce the risk of cheating we have to change the probability of it happening.

First: Look at your assessments

What kind of assessments are you running?  Classroom presentations? Reports? Tests? The list goes on.

Each of these assessments carries it's own RISK.

Let me pick on an easy one. Multiple Choice Tests

You read the question you and you pick the correct answer from a list.  Boring.  But popular.

The risk of cheating on MC tests in an online environment is off the charts.  Is there a option for SUPER HIGH RISK!?

Look at your assessments.  Are they an authentic measure of skill?  If someone crams for a MC test, do they truly understand the content?  How can we change this assessment so that we can increase the chances that the student will actually come out of it with knowledge gained.

When I moved online I pitched all my MC tests straight into the garbage where they belong.  Even when I am back to Face-to-Face I will not do another MC test.

Second: Embrace the Culture

Embrace those things that made your teaching life hell and turn it around for good.

I understand this one is weird.  

If Googling is a problem, how can we turn it around so that it is advantageous?  If Discord, allows for students to share "too much" with one another; How can we turn this from a cheating tool into a collaboration/knowledge gaining tool?

Example Assessment:

Assessment:  Detailed User Manual Report On Security Application

Student Numbers: 30

Risk: Plagiarism resulting in academic misconduct 

Highest Probabilities:

A) Large number of students select same application and copy off each other

B) Copy and paste from Internet

We have two elements that impact the probability (same apps, copy/paste).  

This is one way you reduce risk in this scenario

A) All students must pick unique application, there can be do duplicates.  Boom, they can't copy off each other because they are all doing something different.  Added bonus is you don't have to read the same thing over and over.

B) Include a tangible demonstration.  If you are online have a video recording of student actually explaining how the application works.  How can they copy and paste that?  Yes, they could watch a video on YouTube but when you watch a recording made by someone you can tell if they really truly know something.

So did we stop the cheating risk? No, but we reduced it.  Risk will always be present.  How much risk are you willing to tolerate?

Wrapping Up

We talked about the risk of cheating, and sadly it's a beast that will always be present in an education setting.  There will always be a risk with any assessment that cheating can/will happen.

Through understanding risk analysis and risk mitigation we can dramatically reduce it's probability.

Thanks for reading!!



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