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Online Courses: Cheating Loopholes and Frustrated Students Abound

Lifestyle & Opinion

 By Travis Stephens

The world has been moving rapidly in the last decade, especially when it comes to technology. One of the many popular by-products of this boom is the advent of college online courses. The idea is, of course, a good one, but did they know it could go completely wrong? Cheating (and not being caught) has become easier than ever with online courses. Student frustration from technical test scoring errors is rising, a common problem which can damage the grades of even the  most diligent students. There are band-aid solutions to a few problems, but with all that is at stake, is it worth it?

Obviously, cheating is easier today than it has ever been, especially in online classes. For instance,one student from USF had a teacher who gave her tests online. The tests allowed the student to take it twice. It was the same test, although upon completing it, you only were told if the answer you selected was correct. If it was incorrect, you were not given the correct answer. How much could a student cheat? Four girls from that very class came together on the phone and as a group effort, made sure to all pick different answers in the A/B/C/D multiple choice format. With the test rehashing the same questions, the second time around all four girls knew every answer on the test. According to another source, one student who had her fluent Spanish-speaking friend come to her house and do all her Spanish online tests. If this student was sitting in a classroom in 1995, he/she would not have had such an easy way to cheat. This is not something the college can fix easily. It would require complete removal of online courses or a major overhaul to their rules and implementation. Proctored mid-terms are only an option, not a requirement.

The system at SPC, with tests taken in ANGEL,  is also far from perfect. Of course, I am not endorsing cheating, so don’t take this as a how-to guide, but  the problem lies in statistics. A student is given a test with pool of 100 questions, 10 attempts and 10 questions per test. They are given the correct answer at the end, of course. The system has no code in place that disallows it from reselecting the same question from a given pool twice. This means that unless the teacher makes an absurd amount of questions to pulll from or limits the reattempts lower than they desire for a given test/quiz, the teacher is putting the statistical odds in favor of the student. Now, the statistics decide the student’s grade, instead of the students’ knowledge on the subject. With the example previously laid out in this paragraph, statistical odds say that by the time you get to the 10th attempt you have seen all the answers. Odds also say that if the stars align, you can get the same exact test on the second attempt – this shouldn’t be possible. In some classes, this may just be a matter of harming yourself when the quiz material is merely there for your own benefit. That is also not always the case though. I myself have seen these odds show their face in the light of major tests in math courses.

Online testing is not just a haven for cheaters but also an area of frustration to many legitimate students trying to pass the course the best they can. Yet again, online test taking has set forth more potential to make this a greater struggle than it may have already been.

Schools, such as USF and ours, also use tests that are not multiple choice and fill in the blank. These were supposed to be the more challenging questions back in the day right? Fill-in-the-blank has lesser odds than multiple choice to even get the answer correct. When a computer system is asking you to fill in the blank though, you can have greater odds of typing the correct answer incorrectly. To make an example for those who still are not sure what this means; If a fill in the blank in an online test says the answer is “Microsoft Word 2007” and the student types in “Microsoft Word ’07”, that would be an incorrect answer. That is pretty silly, right? Thankfully, most teachers are understanding and will go in themselves to correct fickle errors the computers are picky about if a student catches it. If a student catches it. In a course at SPC, the teacher had an entire system in place for students to follow when they needed to dispute test answers that ran the grey line just mentioned. While capital letters and technicalities like accent marks on Spanish words aren’t meaningless, sometimes the details do not matter.

What should all of this mean to you? If you are a teacher, you should take a closer look at your class and make sure there is nothing you can do to mitigate cheating in your online courses. To a teacher, this should also mean considering doing personal review of some test grading instead of allowing computers to do it. If you are a student, this should make you realize you are not alone if you find some aspects of online courses obnoxious and frustrating. This should come as a much larger red flag to the teachers than the students. If the solutions were ever looked into and put in place, both parties’ lives would be less frustrating in regards to the school.

A lot of potential has been discussed but, what is the reality? One SPC teacher said that she once had 1 out of 80 of her students blatantly trick the system on her tests, allowing statistical odds to ace the quizzes for her. In this case the teacher ignored it because it was mostly going to hinder the girl in the long run. I replied to my teacher that this is not necessarily about how many students practice cheating on a constant basis or how many take advantage of a loophole when they see it. The problem is allowing loopholes and flaws like this to linger. While not everything is within the college’s control, but if the college has such an earnest sounding anti-cheating academic policy, one would have to assume it is very important to them that the academic system can’t be easily exploited.

Originally published on Feb. 29, 2012.

Header photo from Penn State (flickr creative commons)








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