Although it may be difficult to prevent cheating entirely, faculty can implement steps to reduce its impact in the student learning assessment process for online courses. The following are some practical tips to prevent or reduce cheating for two common learning assessment activities, namely testing and homework assignments.
Use online testing, particularly objective test (i.e., multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false) for lower stakes assessment of student learning. In assessing student mastery of course goals and objectives, objective tests should be only one option considered among a spectrum of methods considered. Each type of assessment method may be designed to measure different indicators of student learning based on course goals and objectives. While an objective test can measure a student’s ability to recall or organize information, other methods can be used to assess higher order/critical thinking skills including understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (Krathwohl, 2001).
While online testing can include objective measures (multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false, fill in the blank, etc.), faculty can also include short answer or essay questions. This type of question is more subjective in nature and may demand a deeper understanding of the subject being tested. While mixing objective and subjective type questions may not discourage or stop sharing of information, it may limit the effect on the student’s final grade (Watson and Sottile, 2010).
Rather than using a fixed number of items that remain unchanged for each administration of the test, consider creating a question pool. Questions can be grouped by any number of criteria, including topic, subject matter, question type or difficulty of question. A pool will generate an assessment with randomized questions selected by the faculty member. Pools can be created from new questions or questions in existing tests or pools. Pools are most effective when there are large numbers of questions in one group. For example, one might have a pool of true/false questions, another of multiple choice and a third for fill in the blank. The faculty member could then create an assessment drawing a specific number of questions from each of the question-type pools. Faculty can also add new questions to pools each time the course is taught to expand the variability of questions. Conversely, older questions can be removed. Check the Teaching and Learning with Blackboard Question Pools web page for more details.
When creating a test in Blackboard, one test option allows faculty to randomize the selection of test questions as well as the order in which they appear. The result is that students are not likely to get the same questions in the same sequence when taking a test. This strategy can address the issue of students who take a test at the same time in order to share answers. This is also relevant if faculty allow students to repeat the test. Each time this occurs, a test will be made up of questions that are randomly selected and ordered.
Limit what types of feedback is displayed to students upon completion of a test. Available test options include test ‘Score’, ‘Submitted Answers’, ‘Correct Answers’, and ‘Feedback’. Providing test scores is important feedback that indicates how well students have performed and should be made available. However, through a process of elimination, students may be able to determine the correct answer for each test question if their submitted answers are identified as incorrect, or if the correct answer is provided. Students could lose the incentive to both prepare for testing or to seek out correct answers by reviewing lecture notes, assigned readings, or through group discussion after completing tests. Thus, faculty might reconsider whether to include ‘Submitted Answers’ as an option to be displayed to students. This is especially relevant if faculty have allowed students to repeat tests. Each time a test was taken, students could attempt a different answer for a test question that was previously graded as incorrect. Correct answers to all test questions could eventually be accumulated and passed on to other students, or to students of future classes.
Recognizing the fact that students taking an exam that is not proctored are free to use open book/notes, faculty may decide to use the ‘Set Timer’ feature in Blackboard. Students who adequately prepared for a test may be less likely to rely on open book/notes compared with students unprepared for testing. By setting a test with an expected completion time, unprepared students could have the most to lose as they spend time going over material, and risk not having sufficient time to respond to all the test questions.
If a test has more than 5 questions, do not choose the ‘All at Once’ option for displaying all the questions on the same screen. It is quite easy for students to take a screen capture of the displayed questions and share them with other students. While students can still screen capture pages with single questions, or even type them into a document, it is more time consuming and unwieldy.
Create assignments that require students to apply essential course concepts to a relevant problem. This may force students to seek relevant information beyond the assigned readings and lectures, and conduct independent research by identifying credible sources to support the development of their assignments. Students can be required to report their progress on a regular basis through email, or through the Journal feature in Blackboard. This documentation makes it easier for faculty to see the development of a student’s work from inception to completion, and possibly identify unexplained gaps that could occur if students used the work of others and claimed it as their own. Faculty can add input at any point in this process to provide guidance, and perhaps suggest new directions for students. Both documentation of progress through regular status reporting and occasional faculty input can add a greater level of scrutiny to students, making it more difficult to pass off the work of others as their own.
Create group assignments that require students to interact with group members regularly. Groups can be made responsible for determining the functional roles for each member, establishing a mechanism for accountability (i.e., submitting weekly progress reports), and sharing drafts of individual progress on a group project. For a project to be truly collaborative, each group member should be familiar with everyone else’s work, and be able to describe how every group members’ contribution supports the whole group assignment. Students who are using the work of others may not be able to adequately describe the significance of their ‘own’ work, or how it integrates with the group’s overall project.
Faculty with a Blackboard course can use the web conferencing tool, Blackboard Collaborate, to conduct a synchronous online session for class presentations. Students may be asked to submit a progress report or use a Journal to reflect on what they have learned in the past week that supports work toward the presentation. To further scrutinize work on the presentation, students may be asked to include time for questions and answers. Students who have developed the presentation should be comfortable answering a range of topic-related questions. CITL offers workshops and one-on-one consultations on the use Blackboard Collaborate.
SafeAssign is a plagiarism prevention tool that detects matches between students’ submitted assignments and existing works by others. These works are found on a number of databases including ProQuest ABI/Inform, Institutional document archives, the Global Reference Database, as well as a comprehensive index of documents available for public access on the internet. SafeAssign can also be used to help students identify how to attribute sources properly rather than paraphrase without citing the original source. Thus, the SafeAssign feature is effective as both a deterrent and an educational tool.
Create a Discussion Board assignment that requires students to demonstrate critical thinking skills by responding to a relevant forum topic. Faculty may also design a rubric that is specific to the Discussion Board assignments, and develop questions that require students to respond to every rubric category. Having assignments that are very specific makes it more difficult for students to use portions of a previous term paper or other sources that may only indirectly touch on the Discussion Board topic.
Faculty should consider including a policy statement regarding academic integrity in their course syllabus. In addition, faculty may want to reiterate academic policies to students taking an online course and clarifying guidelines for completing test and assignments so that students are not confused about what they can and cannot do. While this, in and of itself, may not be sufficient to change behavior, its acknowledged presence in the syllabus recognizes a commitment to honesty in the academic arena and establishes the clear expectation that academic integrity is an important principle to live by. Faculty may also choose to mention this policy using the ‘Announcements’ feature in Blackboard, or while conducting a live web conference session.
Preserving academic integrity is an ongoing challenge for traditional face-to-face, blended, and entirely online courses. While a number of expensive technology solutions, such as retinal eye scanners and live video monitoring are being developed to prevent cheating in online courses, the practical suggestions offered above can prevent or reduce the impact of cheating on assessing student performance in online courses. For more information on this topic, readers are invited to view the archived online workshop, Tips for Assessing Student Learning Using Blackboard.