Contributed by Karen White - The reality of the fact, according to a recent Sloan-C survey performed by Allen & Seaman in 2010, is that “the growth rate for online enrollment (17%) continues to outpace the overall growth rate for enrollments in higher education (1.2%)” (Emphasis mine). Who would have ever thought it, based on the difficult naissance process online learning had with higher education over two decades ago? The very idea of having college students learn, let alone earn degrees, “at a distance” was not only mocked, but initially condemned. The technology just wasn’t there, nor was the imaginative inclination. Progressive minded pioneers, however, forged ahead with the concept—using basic discussion boards, designed with innovation, from electronic tools far removed from the courses designed today by such educational software platform companies as Blackboard. Throughout its infancy, online learning basically required the nurturing of increasingly savvy technological tools and from individuals who believed in and foresaw the next era of higher education.
Its journey into adolescence not only received the nurturing it needed, but, as a result, online learning was the predecessor of new types of growing pangs. New policies were needed. Courses had to implement equivalent components that traditional courses already had in place, and educational officials and administrators had to find new ways to incorporate quality assessment for the purposes of accreditation. Yet, after all of the typical teenage angst, online learning has proudly grown into a young adult that now faces a new development as a result of such growth. “This trend presents new challenges for protecting academic integrity, particularly in online courses where instructors cover large quantities of fact-based information and typically rely on multiple-choice assessments for measuring academic performance (Jordan, 2003; Trenholm, 2006).”
Online learning environments have acquired a bad rap for academic dishonesty of several forms—cheating through plagiarism with a high level of information taken directly from the Internet and enrolled students having others take courses in their names. The growth of technology has risen to the challenge of the former approach through the creation of such anti-plagiarism tools as turnitin.com., grammarly.com, and searchengines.com., yet educators still grapple with the latter practice. Just how do you know the registered student is who they really say they are?
Sure there’s lots of free online video pc software, but we can’t expect every online student to purchase a video camera for synchronous lesson responses, or own a laptop with a built-in camera for identity verification. Yet, nearly all of us can recognize voices. So I put it to the test. I found that asking students to record their Introductions at the start of a term and, then again, to provide a longer recorded critique or essay near the middle and end of the semester allows me to more closely discern that the voice of the student is the same. It doesn’t guarantee validity of a person’s identity, but voice recognition comes close to it. We can take it a step further and request that all discussion posts be audio-based attachments. It seems like such an easy solution to a major ongoing problem, but it still doesn’t serve as a sound panacea. Only consistently synchronized audio/video based online learning environments can mitigate cheating of any sort. I suspect that if made mandatory, at some point in time, the distance learning population would decline. Many students prefer and even enjoy the anonymity that online courses provide, but it should never be at the disgrace of an honor code or the extended trust of any accredited online program or its instructors and staff.
Asking students to make a sound pledge of allegiance to academic integrity is what Kent State University administration proposed in response to the plight of plagiarism. Students are asked to swear, cross their hearts, and adhere to a pledge that reads: “On my honor, as a student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this academic work (K-State Honor Pledge, 2008).” After studies of their students and cheating, administrators realized a good number of important things in their numbers, but most importantly, especially for students at a distance, that they need interventions that underscore that they “believe in the long-term good of the learners (LoSchiavo, Shatz 2011)” This acknowledgement stemmed from the results of studies that have found “lower-achieving students who identify more closely with the school tend to engage in less academic dishonesty (Finn & Frone, 2004),” and that “helping students feel more closely integrated to their university may head off some academic dishonesty (LoSchiavo, Shatz 2011).”
What better way to embrace our online students than by asking them to let us hear and believe in their voices?
Academic Integrity vs. Dishonesty: E-Learning Faculty Modules. Dec 2, 2011. Research about College Student Academic Dishonesty inOnline Classes Retrieved Mar. 15, 2012 from elearningfacultymodules.org
Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2010). Learning on demand: Online education in the United States, 2009. The Sloan Consortium. Retrieved February 1, 2012, from http://www.sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/pdf/learningondemand.pdf
Finn, K.V. & Frone, M.R. (2004). Academic performance and cheating: Moderating role of school identification and self-efficacy. The Journal of Educational Research: 97(3), 115 – 122.
Jordan, A. E. (2003). Implications of academic dishonesty for teaching in psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 216-219. Retrieved Mar. 15, 2012 from
K-State Honor Pledge. Honor System. A Community of Integrity and Trust. Dec. 5, 2008. Retrieved Mar. 15, 2012 from
LoSchiavo, Frank M., Mark A. Shatz. (June 2011) The Impact of an Honor Code on Cheating in Online Courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Vol. 7, No. 2. Retrieved Mar. 15, 2012 from
Trenholm, S. (2006). A review of cheating in fully asynchronous online courses: A math or fact-based course perspective. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35, 281-300. Retrieved Mar. 15, 2012 from