Are students really more likely to cheat during online exams?
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Are students really more likely to cheat during online exams?

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Are students really more likely to cheat during online exams?

If someone asked you today if you think that your credit card is more protected when you buy a product on Amazon, or when you hand it to a teller in a department store, how would you answer? Odds are, today you would say that Amazon offers more security and protection. Rewind twenty years, and we bet your answer would be the opposite.

So what’s changed? 

The answer is that twenty years ago you probably had very little experience shopping on the internet, but you had definitely heard horror stories about the dangers of using your credit card online. That lack of personal experience created doubt in your mind, and allowed reports of online fraud to affect your perception of the safety of online shopping.

What exactly does this have to do with the widespread perception that academic integrity cannot be maintained in an online environment? As turns out, everything — as pointed out by Victoria Beck, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin and the author of "Testing a model to predict online cheating—Much ado about nothing”.

The truth about online cheating

In her paper, most recently cited in an article by Online Education, Beck explains that "The results from student surveys show a similar trend as was found in faculty surveys — those less familiar with online learning were more likely to ‘perceive’ cheating to be easier in online courses.” Additionally, beliefs as to increased rates of cheating online "have not been strongly supported by the scant number of empirical studies on this topic, most of which have focused primarily on measuring perceptions of online cheating… surveys of perceptions may only provide a summary of anecdotal information, influenced by the individual’s experience (or lack of experience) with online courses”. (Italics ours.)

Two additional academic papers back up Beck’s findings that experience affects perception.

In both “Communities of Integrity in Online Courses: Faculty Member Beliefs and Strategies” (McNabb and Olmstead, 2009) and “The Impact of Online Assessment on Grades in Community College Distance Education Mathematics Courses” (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009), researchers found that instructors without online teaching experience are more likely than experienced online instructors to state a belief that more cheating occurs online.

Using predictive models and direct comparative analyses rather than perception surveys, Beck found that, in fact, online students were no more likely to cheat on exams than those in traditional learning environments.

When it comes down to it, perception is everything. And much like the prevailing attitude ten years ago that making online purchases was riskier than going to a store, the reality doesn’t necessarily line up with the truth.

How to reduce academic dishonesty

This doesn’t mean that cheating doesn’t exist online, but rather that it exists no matter the mode of delivery. The myth of rampant or excessive amounts of online cheating is instead due to unfamiliarity or fear of technology. This perception — sometimes fueled by proctoring service providers that have a financial interest in promoting a misleading narrative — has propelled the myth that students are more likely to cheat in online assessments.

Dr. Beck’s study and others have identified various techniques that instructors can leverage to reduce academic dishonesty in online courses, including:

  • Clearly state expectations and penalties for inappropriate academic behavior (Chiesl, 2007; WCET Briefing Paper, 2008)
  • Ensure course learning objectives and exact grade requirements are known (Chiesl, 2007)
  • Use test banks and randomize the test questions, ensuring that each student receives similar, but different questions (Chiesl, 2007)
  • Present test questions one at a time, to prevent tests from being copied
  • Restrict the ability to go back and review previous questions
  • Use several tests with a lower value rather than less with a higher grade value (Chiesl, 2007)
  • Set tests to automatically submit when the allotted time expires (WCET Briefing Paper, 2008)
  • Prohibit and monitor the use of other browsers/browser tabs during testing (WCET Briefing Paper, 2008).
  • Use identity verification to ensure the student participating is who they purport to be (WCET Briefing Paper, 2008)

Maintain academic integrity with the right online proctoring solution

We mentioned that proctoring service providers are often the first to spread the myth of rampant online cheating. So why would Integrity Advocate, a company providing online proctoring services, bring this information to your attention?

Simply put, we’re tired of battling misinformation. Empirical, fact-based studies show that learners are no more likely to cheat online than they are in person. Despite this, proctoring services and institutions have used the specter of widespread online cheating in examinations as a reason to support aggressive surveillance tactics rather than applying the same level of vigilance to online examinations as they do for in-person exams. After all, support for invasive technologies and an assault on learner privacy can only be considered reasonable if online cheating far exceeds that of in-class testing.

Twenty years ago, you may have balked at the thought of using your credit card online, but today you trust that organizations employ all the safeguards necessary to protect your financial information. Today, we can say with confidence that you can maintain a high level of online academic integrity by following a few key best practices (see above!), and by leveraging a trusted, privacy-first online proctoring solution.

Contact us today and we’ll show you how identity verification, participation monitoring, and online proctoring can be completed in a manner that both protects academic integrity and learner privacy.