Don’t ask, don’t tell: Online education edition.

24 10 2011

As I promised on Saturday, this post takes up the second of the “Myths of Online Education” as outlined in this IHE article from Friday. Here’s what one member of a panel of edtech experts assembled in Philadelphia last week had to say about cheating in online classes:

Does online education enable cheating?

Philip D. Long, a professor of innovation in educational technology at the University of Queensland, in Australia, suggested many issues that endanger the integrity of online learning, such as assessing individual contributions to group projects, are not unique to online education.
Issues that are, such as identity authentication and proctoring, stand to become less salient as technology such as Proctor U — a technology that allows universities to monitor test-taking students via Webcam — becomes standard.

I’ve encountered the first part of this answer before. To me, it’s the functional equivalent of placing your hands over your ears and humming loudly. Just because cheating occurs in face-to-face classes does not mean that giving people greater opportunities to cheat in online classes is somehow OK. The direct supervision inherent in a face-to-face education is a natural impediment to cheating. It’s human nature to expect more students to take advantage of the opportunities to cheat that online education gives them which they wouldn’t have otherwise. Excusing this because other kinds of cheating occur in face-to-face classes anyway is nothing but a cop-out.

I’ve heard the webcam part of the response to the cheating issue before too. My original problem with that answer was the obvious 1984 implications of cameras everywhere. Yet there’s something about the wording of that particular answer which has led me to an epiphany that may be even worse than that first concern: Who exactly is watching the feed of all these online students taking tests?

Is there a master screen through which the instructor can observe all of their charges taking the exam at once? I doubt it. In fact, if the class is given asynchronously, watching them all at the same time is impossible. Does the instructor go back and check to see if any of their students cheated while taking the test? Do you realize what a time suck that would be? Or are they expecting the students who cheat to turn themselves in?

Since it’s the appearance of propriety that matters most to the online education industry, not actual propriety itself, I’m guessing that these web cams are unmonitored. Setting up a police state is extraordinarily expensive, yet the purpose of the online education industry is to save money. Something’s gotta give, and I’ll bet you anything it’s not the money.

At the end of the day then, both these responses – the “two wrongs make a right” argument of there will always be cheating and the 1984 solution – suggest a throwback to the early days of the Clinton Presidency: We won’t ask if you’re cheating, if you agree not to tell us. Colleges get tuition dollars. Students get good grades.

Who’s being hurt? Only the rest of higher education.

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3 responses

24 10 2011
Music for Deckchairs

Thing is, there are three separate assessment practices here that don’t really mesh into one when it comes to comparing opportunities and incentives for identity fraud: participation, papers, and tests.

Your focus here is on tests, to which my answer is that I really don’t mind the opportunity to rethink the benefit of testing of this nature in any mode. What do tests test?

But the problem is that we’re being pushed towards tests and exams because they service two converging agendas. Firstly, big publishers want us to use more testing because they can supply (at a cost) the content, the tests and the analytics, and at this point honestly we might all consider going home and leaving the students and the publishers to it. Secondly, our employers want us to use more testing because it’s faster to grade than standard college papers (this is a problem that’s more acute in the humanities and social sciences, obviously) so we can potentially take on more students, or recoup more time for countable research, either of which is a productivity gain to the institution.

These are the issues bothering me.

As for students, identity fraud and the online thing: plagiarism in student papers has increased significantly since the advent of the typed assignment, and the class size that’s too large for the one-on-one feedback conversation. What are we going to do? Back to sherry in the office, and cursive script? The credits on that particular college movie have rolled, I think.

12 12 2011
“It’s good to be king.” « More or Less Bunk

[...] a) No purely online courses. A purely online education is an inferior education if for no other reason than that the connection between student and teacher (despite what Clayton Christensen says) is less-human by definition. Therefore, everyone would have to show up in a classroom for at least some part of the semester. Preferably this would include test time so that my kingdom wouldn’t have to be a police state. [...]

11 07 2012
“[S]olitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” « More or Less Bunk

[...] Just because I have a cynical view of human nature doesn’t necessarily make me a Hobbesian. I think it makes me a realist. Just because some people are willing to show uncommon altruism when encountering the state of nature that is online ed doesn’t mean that the rest of humanity is going to behave as magnanimously as they are. After all, are you going to let your students take their online exams on the honor code? Oh, wait a second, lots of schools basically do. [...]

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