An answer to UD’s questions.

2 09 2011

One of the “Ugly American” questions that I asked at the “Making the Move to Hybrid & Online Courses” seminar that I went to yesterday was that one I picked up from Margaret Soltan: Basically, how do you know that the person on the other end of the computer is the same person who’s registered for the course? I actually got a half-decent answer, although it raises another problem.

I’ll paraphrase: If you have a lot of money, you can buy students biometric equipment that will prove it’s them. You can also have the same kind of questions that you have to answer to get access to your online bank account pop up in the middle their exams – Stuff like “What is your mother’s maiden name?” In places where many students might be located in one place, like Afghanistan, you can set up proctored tests the old-fashioned way.

Apparently, the better way to phrase that question would be, “What is the online education industry standard for test security?” That issue hasn’t been settled yet.

During the break, our online education person told me about a service she saw at a conference in Madison (Go Badgers!) where if students pay $14.95 per exam, this company will send a 360 degree camera that they can attach to their computers that will make sure it’s them.

On the one hand, I’m glad to hear that some people in the online education industry are beginning to address this huge potential problem. On the other hand, I’m saddened that in order to address this problem, they have to look to George Orwell’s “1984” for guidance.

Funny how we don’t have this kind of problem in bricks-and-mortar education, isn’t it?




9 responses

2 09 2011
Middle Seaman

Education police?

2 09 2011
Paul Harvey

i’m enjoying all these posts, jonathan, keep it up. i’m learning blackboard this semester so I can learn something more about the enemy’s terrain.

2 09 2011
Jonathan Rees


You remind me of something I forgotten to mention about that seminar. I had to use both Blackboard and a clicker in order to participate fully.

Very scary. It’s as if the whole world has turned into one big focus group.

2 09 2011

Time to take online ed to the next level. Make students totally programmable with a Firewire port located a few inches below the sacrum. Boring textbook reading assignments and multiple choice tests will be replaced with intense, real time, data input/ identity verification sessions. Then the degree will really mean something, as it will be backed by the full force of a Microsoft copyright.

2 09 2011
Music for Deckchairs

Or, you know, call me crazy, but you could trust your students. You could decide that the extent to which they choose to lie to you is their ethical problem and not yours.

We do have this problem with bricks and mortar education. We have it in exams, and in paper assignments that are plagiarised or paid for or downloaded from the paper mills.

Online didn’t invent cheating. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

2 09 2011
Jonathan Rees


Certainly there are cheating problems in face-to-face education. However, I know of nobody who pays other people to go to college for them so that they can credit for classes that they don’t take. The online student substitution industry has already started. Who knows how big it is already?

As to trusting my students, I wish I could. I refuse to run my papers through programs like “Turnitin” because it assumes everyone is guilty. Still, I find enough plagiarized papers most semesters to ruin my day several times over.

Thankfully, making sure all my students are who they are supposed to be is something I never have to worry about.

3 09 2011
Jennifer Savage

“However, I know of nobody who pays other people to go to college for them so that they can credit for classes that they don’t take.”

Well, now, you do:

24 10 2011
Don’t ask, don’t tell: Online education edition. « More or Less Bunk

[…] 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. […]

21 02 2012
“They need leaders.” « More or Less Bunk

[…] of authority in order to make sure that learning occurs in classrooms? Even online universities are developing security provisions in order to prevent students from cheating at tests. Is arranging chairs and tables for proctoring […]

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