Don't Underestimate Cheating in Online Courses

July 23, 2020
 
 

I am a fan of Doug Lederman's work, and have found you to be deeply knowledgeable about online learning. So I was disappointed in your story “Best Way to Stop Cheating in Online Courses? ‘Teach Better’.” I saw no reference to the many researchers who have found research evidence of cheating in online courses. There has long been a belief that “well designed online courses” eliminate cheating.

Self-report studies about unethical activities have questionable measurement accuracy, and in addition have produced conflicting results. Studies that compare the actual test scores on the same exams taken with and without proctoring have shown a 7-15 percent grade differences when proctoring is used. Comparable differences have been found on the time taken to complete tests with and without proctoring.

Multiple articles in the journal Online Learning, the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, and other leading journals have found similar results.

Certainly cheating can be reduced by many of the actions recommended – and still exist in a significant way that systematically harms students who choose to not cheat. There are also mixed findings on the effects of Honor Codes.

Full disclosure: I had a minor role in a few articles on cheating in online courses. When articles like this one support the belief that good course design is a panacea that eliminates cheating, I don’t think it helps the field of online learning. Many of the suggestions in the article certainly improve instruction; others (such as repeated exhortations to practice academic integrity) may not. I do not believe there is valid evidence that they eliminate cheating. It would be great to see both sides of the story presented.

--Beth Rubin
Dean, Adult & Online Education
Campbell University

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