Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Remote control

There have always been people who offer to write your essays or assignments for you at a price. It's inevitable that such services will now thrive on line and it's no surprise to read in Inside Higher Ed this week an article called Paying for an A. It highlights web services like We take your classes that offer to do your online courses for you while you concentrate on more interesting activities.

In the past such services offered to write a single assignment for you whereas now they can take the whole course. It's not cheap and is probably not an option for the vast majority of students but with so many online courses available today there must be plenty where identity checks are less stringent than they should be. Instead of being outraged and deciding that online education is wide open for cheats we should maybe look a little deeper at this type of scam and what it really says about education.

If you can let someone else do the course for you then the provider has definitely got serious quality issues to deal with. The article in Inside Higher Ed gives examples of colleges who have quite rigorous security checks on online students to ensure that the right person is answering the questions. Random questions, video sessions, bank-style personal security log-ins and biometrics may all feature in online learning before long. However we also have to look at the way many online courses are designed. Courses that are based on the transfer of information and are heavily content-based tend to have examination forms that lend themselves to cheating. The greater the interaction between teacher and student and between students the harder it gets to cheat like this. According to Kyle Johnson, an independent higher ed consultant:

“What kind of experience are we providing for students if someone is able to take an entire class for a student and we never figure it out from the interaction? At a pedagogical level, that’s my concern. Are we really just dumping information at them so someone can come in and take a couple of quizzes and they’re done?”

Two conclusions from this case then. We need to move from linear, content-based courses to collaborative, task-based courses where assessment comes from successful completion of projects and where networking and dialogue make cheating extremely difficult. We also need to find better ways of checking identity online and maybe more complex log-ins as described in the article may be part of the solution.

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