Q&A: How do you prevent cheating in online classes?

Answer: The short answer is, as long as there have been grades in school, there's been cheating, but the Internet has made it easier. In the old days, you had to do something ambitious, like join the one fraternity that had a good filing cabinet full of old tests. These days, a quick Google search will find many sites dedicated to helping you cheat (for a price, of course).

There's more, though. In many ways, the format of online education makes it easier to cheat. In a traditional classroom, if you take part in discussion, you have to be able to put the concepts into your own words. Online, the discussion is often written. You could copy and paste words from somewhere else, and get away with it…for a while. And it happens. In November of 2011, the Government Accounting Office released a report documenting some serious abuses. So, yes, it happens.

But here's the flip side of that. It is also easier to catch people cheating. When papers were written on, well, paper, a suspicious instructor might have to do a lot of detective work to track down the sources of plagiarized papers. Now, a few seconds with Google, or a quick submission to Turnitin, and the cheater is busted. Some schools run papers through plagiarism checkers automatically, so the instructor doesn't even have to spend any time on it. Some schools also ask students to sign honor codes, or require tests to be taken with proctors, to reduce the chance of cheating.

So, cheating happens, and like everything else online, it happens faster and in new ways…but so does prevention.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.