College Guide


December 03, 2012 11:00 AM Online Education Invites New Ways to Cheat

By Jamaal Abdul-alim

When told about Strayer’s technology, Jason dismissed it as ineffective.
“If you’re aware of that system, all you have to do is gain contact with the person who knows that answer,” Jason said. “It’s a pretty stupid system.”

He repeatedly minimized cheating in online education and lambasted for-profit colleges and universities such as Phoenix and Strayer as being corporations - and not true institutions of higher learning - that are more concerned with the bottom line than helping students.

“They have no interest in education,” he said. “Their interest is in making money,” he said. “I think they have bigger things to worry about than one or two people cheating.”

Phoenix promises that it has “a lot of ways of determining if a student who logs in is that student.” Cosentino, of Strayer, said while a student enrolled in an online course may get away with an instance of cheating, say on an exam or a single assignment, it’s “nearly impossible” for a student to have someone else take an entire course and not get detected.

Cosentino, who reviews appeals of students accused of cheating, said she couldn’t recall any cases where suspected cases of cheating involved having someone else take an entire course.

The lack of actual cases of course-takers for hire being exposed makes it possible that the Jasons of the world are actually scam artists who know full well they cannot game the system. Or perhaps they’re good enough not to get caught.

In order to learn more about Jason’s operation, a few student journalists, posing as students interested in cheating, looked into the company affiliated with onlineclass365.

Ryan Arrendell, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism at Northwestern University said that when she called the number listed in the ad, the man who answered said he said he had been taking courses online for students for about five years. A statistics course, he said, would cost from $500 to $700. A statistics course at the University of Phoenix is on the “higher end” because the school requires six posts per week for a participation grade. “Their course is a pain,” the man said of the University of Phoenix.

When Arrendell asked about having the man take an online statistics course at Strayer University, he said Strayer’s course includes a discussion section and an ongoing project, is more straightforward and something he could do for $300.

The man, who would require half the payment at the start of the course and the other half after the final exam, said he could guarantee an A or a B grade

When Tamerra Griffin, a journalism graduate student at New York University, contacted the company she received a 13-word reply, sent from someone who purported to be Tom Galo. It read: “yes, I can help you to do entire course with guarantee an A.”

Galo indicated that Griffin needed to send him a syllabus to get an exact price, but that most courses would cost between $600 and $800 for him to take. Half the money should be paid up front, he said, and the rest upon completion of the class. He also said he could guarantee an A or B grade.

He assured Griffin that her professor would not find out that he was taking the course for her.

It’s unclear as to the extent to which technology actually catches or curtails cheating in online education. Both Phoenix and Strayer declined to give figures on how many cases of cheating they detected through their anti-cheating technology

Perhaps the greatest problem is that there’s a pretty serious disconnect between the type of cheating schools like Phoenix can detect using sophisticated technology (logging on using a different IP address) and the type of cheating that students seem to actually use (the real student just pays someone else to do all the work in the course). If the real student never logs on, the system can’t tell he’s not really taking the course.

Experts say there are things that instructors can do - technological as well as non-technological -to combat cheating in online education, but it requires meticulous effort, not just a lot of gadgets.

Frank LoSchiavo, a psychology professor at Ohio University - Zanesville and co-author of a study that found as many as three-quarters of students cheat during online exams by consulting textbooks or other course materials, said faculty should take responsibility for curtailing cheating in their online classes.

“Instructors that care about the integrity of their courses — online or otherwise — require that students complete proctored exams,” LoSchiavo said. “There are several high-tech options as well, such as having students take exams at home while in front of a webcam.

“No reasonable testing procedure is completely safe, but reasonable safeguards — such as requiring proctored exams, requiring identification — should stop most fraud,” LoSchiavo said. Image via]

Jamaal Abdul-alim is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer who specializes in coverage of higher education.


  • ceilidth on December 04, 2012 8:57 PM:

    What is equally likely and much harder to stop is when a family member using the student's computer does the work for them.

  • Laura DeSena on December 08, 2012 4:20 PM:

    Part of the conversation should include a distinction between synchronous online instruction and asynchronous online courses. Cheating by identity theft is harder to accomplish in a virtual classroom where students and instructor log on in real time to engage in critical discourse. The time commitment alone required of Jason and his ilk would be costly and prohibitive.
    I would also like to address LoShiavo's comment -- new assessments for 21st century learners who have access to e-resources should be generated. Students should have open access to resources on exams: exams should test synthesis of these resources and critical thinking skills. Instructors have to re-visit assessment in the 21st century and that is a good outcome of this issue: promoting higher level thinking skills in our students.

  • Brian on December 17, 2012 7:39 PM:

    That is the problem with mass education. You want to have as little as teacher involvement per student as possible therefore you use little value added testing that usually has no lasting long-term education value and allow cheating.

    Yet another reason why college degrees are become worthless.