Understanding Cheating in Online Courses

Understanding Cheating in Online Courses

What is cheating? Do students do it more online than in traditional face-to-face courses? How do students cheat online and what strategies are instructors and institutions using to minimize it? How can course design and instructor/facilitator behavior impact student attitudes about cheating and academic honesty? What philosophical and psychological factors can inform our thinking about the subject? These are some of the many questions that will be explored in this course.

In this eight-week open course, you are invited examine philosophical and psychological perspectives on cheating; consider instructor, institutional, and student perspectives on cheating; learn about specific strategies and practices used by students to cheat in online courses; and develop a plan for cultivating a culture of honesty, integrity, and accountability in online courses. The end goal of the course is for participants to gain a deeper understanding of cheating in online courses.

Understanding Cheating in Online Learning Environments

Course/Week Details

  1. What is Cheating?
  2. Understanding Cheating in Online Learning Environments
  3. Exploring the Metaphors We Use for Cheating
  4. Exploring Reasons and Motives we use for Cheating
  5. Strategies for Cheating in Online Courses
  6. Course Design and Cheating
  7. Instructor and Institutional Factors that Impact Academic Integrity
  8. Putting it All Together

As an open course, each of us are coming with a variety of goals and interests in mind. In the spirit of self-directed learning, I invite you to nurture those interests and pursue those goals during this course and beyond. In the spirit of a learning community, I also invite you to share what you are learning with others, identify and pursue collaborative projects, take advantage of the community to build new connections and to learning from diverse perspectives. As a general guide for our learning journey, I propose driving questions for each week, but you are encouraged to ask and answer your own questions as well. Please do not be limited by the ones that I provide. Pursue what interests you, add new questions and outcomes for your own learning journey, and feel free to supplement the schedule with your own individual learning activities.

Week 1: What is Cheating?

Research Assistant Badge

Research Assistant BadgeAs we grow in knowledge about a topic, our vocabulary also grows.  We begin to notice nuances that we previously overlooked, and we start to have distinct names for those nuances.  When I look at a bed of flowers, I just see flowers.  My wife, on the other hand, sees daffodils, tulips, tiger lilies, and any number of bulbs. Given her interest in gardening and the outdoors, she has much greater depth on such matters, allowing her to notice what I miss, to grow what I would let wither.  So it is with academic integrity and cheating.  The word “cheating” is pretty broad.  While we intuitively have a sense of what does or doesn’t constitute cheating, many of us don’t have a robust vocabulary for it.  So, as an introduction to the topic, many of our week 1 readings and activities are intended to help us build a vocabulary that we can use throughout the rest of the course.  This will also allow us to notice things about academic cheating that we didn’t even know existed before now.

Question: What is cheating?
Outcome: Define cheating.

Week 2: Understanding Cheating in Online Learning Environments

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Investigator Badge

Years ago, I taught middle school students, and a group of them would often come to my class after school to talk.  I was amazed at how candid they were in these conversations, sometimes too candid.  One day, they started sharing the different ways that they had seen “others” cheat in classes.  The most common ways involved passing simple notes back and forth.  Hide the note in a pen, then ask to borrow a pen from the friend. Drop a tiny wad of paper on the ground that the other can pick up.  You get the idea. Thinking back on those stories, it leads me to wonder, “What is the online equivalent of that?” As we think about different forms of cheating in different learning environments (online, face-to-face, blended), we naturally want to compare cheating across contexts.  That is how our brains work.  When we encounter something new, we try to make sense of it by building upon similar prior knowledge. If you’ve had more than one or two conversations about online learning, then there is little doubt that you’ve heard the following questions:

  • How does it compare to face-to-face learning?
  • Is it as effective?
  • How do you know that students are doing their own work?

I propose that we focus our conversation this week on such a comparison, looking at how cheating is similar or distinct across delivery systems.

Question: Do students cheat more online than in traditional face-to-face courses
Outcome: Compare and contrast cheating in online and face-to-face environments.

Week 3: Exploring the Metaphors we use for Cheating

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Philosopher BadgeWhat is considered cheating in one class is expected and encouraged in another.
Consider the many different rules, instructions and expectations that students have in different classes.  In one class, an instructor may require that you do all of your work independently.  In another, it is expected, even required, that you complete assignments or projects with classmates.  In one class, you may be required to take a quiz without notes or any assistance.  In other classes, you might take an open book quiz, or garner the help of others.  These types of situations point out that much of what we think of as cheating is fluid…changing from one situation to the next.  We will explore this concept further this week.

Question: What philosophical factors can inform our understanding of cheating
Outcome: Compare different ways of thinking about academic cheating and the role of values in individual decisions about cheating and academic integrity.

Week 4: Exploring Reasons and Motives for Cheating and Academic Integrity

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Psychologist BadgeLast week we looked at metaphors for cheating.  This week we will look at motives and the psychological side of cheating.  Why do some people choose to cheat in a given circumstance and not others?  Or, under what circumstances are students more or less likely to engage in cheating? While there are many answers to such questions, exploring them can provide us with additional context from which we can make decisions about promoting a culture academic honesty and integrity.

Question: Why do some students choose to cheat and other students choose not to cheat?
Outcome: Analyze the beliefs, conditions and factors that influence student decisions about cheating.

Question: What psychological factors can inform our understanding of cheating
Outcome: Review recent and emerging research on the psychology of cheating.

Week 5: Strategies for Cheating in Online Courses

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Cheater Badge

So far, we’ve learned quite a bit about types of online cheating and the reasons behind it.  This week we are going to gain firsthand cheating experience.  You will be provided with a few pretend assignments, and your task is to try cheating.  Note that this is not actually cheating, as it is the purpose of the assignment.  In addition, it is important for us to keep certain ethical considerations in mind (like the fact that you should not do anything that will harm others or Canvas, the Learning Management System that we are using).  By the end of the week, you will have a chance to disclose your cheating strategies so that we can learn from the cheating strategies of one another.

Question: How do students cheat online?
Outcome: Evaluate a variety of current strategies for cheating in online courses.

Week 6: Course Design and Cheating

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Instructional Design Badge

Design matters.  How something is designed impacts how it is used.  The same thing is true when it comes to the design of online courses.  With this concept in mind, we are going to focus our attention on various online course design considerations and how they impact student choices and behaviors.

Question: How can course design impact student attitudes, beliefs and behaviors about cheating and academic integrity?
Outcome: Analyze how specific course design decisions impact student cheating and academic integrity in various online courses.

Week 7: Instructor and Institutional Factors that Impact Academic Integrity

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Teacher Badge

By this point in the course, it has likely become obvious that there are many factors that influence student decisions about cheating.  This week we will focus on the role of the teacher and how the teacher’s decisions, actions, attitudes and participation in an online course help or hinder the promotion of a culture of academic integrity and honesty.

Question: What strategies are instructors using to minimize cheating?
Outcome: Evaluate diverse instructor strategies for minimizing cheating in online courses (including the hidden impact of these strategies).

Question: What strategies are institutions using to minimize cheating?
Outcome: Evaluate diverse institutional policies and practices intended to minimize cheating in online courses (including the hidden impact of these practices).

Week 8: Putting it all Together

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Expert Badge

Consider all of the topics that we’ve explored so far in the course.  We started with building our vocabulary.  We compared cheating in online versus face-to-face courses.  We looked at metaphors for cheating and how they influence our thoughts and actions.  We examined the psychology of cheating.  We then spent the last two weeks exploring the design and teacher decisions and how they impact cheating.  This final week is a time to review, reflect, but also use our knowledge in order to plan for the future.

Question: How do you create a culture of academic honesty, integrity, and accountability in online courses and programs?
Outcome: Design a plan for creating a culture of academic honesty, integrity and accountability in an online course or program.