Cheating The Cheaters: 3 Effective Patterns To Reduce Cheating In Online Assessments

3 Anti-Cheating Patterns To Reduce Cheating In Online Assessments

Ensuring legitimacy of online assessments is arguably one of the key factors in keeping the assessments valid. On a broader scale, it is also essential for keeping the qualifications offered recognized by both academic and industry bodies. The challenge is by no means trivial. The online environment is known to be very ‘’inviting’’ for dishonest and misrepresentative practices; so, from the learners’ perspectives, temptation to cheat is hard to cross from the back of their minds. Furthermore, some choose online study and consequent online assessments over face-to-face ones due to a pre-planned masterplan to avoid the risk of failing these assessments.

The moment our online assessments become known (and reputation travels fast these days) as soft and unreliable due to a lack of validity, our e-teaching business is inevitably going to take a plunge. This is why it is important to keep the assessment valid and clear of potential cheating opportunities from day one!

In order to do so, I can suggest 3 "anti-cheating" patterns. Do note, that all of the 3 can be implemented at minimal costs and do not require particularly advanced e-assessment/delivery technical design skills.

1. Desktop Sharing + Video-Monitoring

The very basic measure that could be undertaken in order to make the cheating harder is to make it compulsory for the exam attendees to go into a desktop sharing mode, as well as to make themselves visible via a webcam throughout the exam. This alone can make cheating difficult to accomplish. As stand-alone measures, desktop sharing and video-monitoring are unlikely to be effective, as they both have "blind spots" that can be utilized by the cheaters-in-making. However, these monitoring methods complement one another very well and when combined they eliminate the majority of those "blind spots".

On top of gaining control of the examination space, the monitoring strategy is also going to have a great psychological impact on the exam attendees, as they will be fully aware that they are being watched and of the consequent risks associated with any efforts to cheat. While it is impossible to rule out that some may still attempt to "outplay" the anti-cheating monitoring system and prepare some sneaky method for gaining unfair assistance throughout the exam, the majority of learners will certainly be deterred from even thinking about trying to do so, as being caught in cheating would result in immediate fail and probability of being caught will be significantly higher than without the monitoring.

2. Randomized + Individually-Timed Assessment Tasks

Another source of cheating with e-assessments is "informal" exchange of the assessment-related information between the students. In some cases, this could even happen during the e-exam. Such "collaborative" practices clearly take a lot of validity out of the assessments and need to be stopped.

As well as effective monitoring (See Anti-Cheating Pattern #1) the collaborative cheating practices can also be combated by tailoring assessments that may have been developed for traditional examination practices (students attending exams at the examination centers) to the eLearning environment. Rather than having an identical set of assessment tasks provided to all of the students, it is advisable to have a range of assessments (aka a pool of the assessment tasks). For each of the e-exam attendees, a random selection of the tasks could be carried out. For instance, if there is a pool of 30 exam questions and each attendee has to answer 5, probability of half or more of the questions matching for 2 "collaborative friends" is rather low.

Timing each of the e-assessment tasks will complicate the collaboration process even further. Rather than provide all of the assessment tasks to students at the start of the exam, arrangements should be made to make the assessments available one-by-one with individual time frames set respectively. Having limited time to respond to each of the questions (e.g. 20 minutes per question) rather than 2-3 hours to complete the entire paper will be yet another nail into the coffin of the collaborative cheating practices. The "consistent cheating" (if only cheating can be consistent) throughout the e-exam would require ongoing communication between the collaborators rather than a one-off message.

Just like with the Anti-Cheating Pattern #1, implementation of the randomization and timing is a fairly trivial task as there are many eLearning platforms and applications that allow us to do so without getting engaged in advanced development practices and without adding extra costs to the assessment procedure!

3. Secure Assessment Administration Standards

Last but not least, we need to be extra careful when handling access to the assessment tasks, gradebook, and course administration in general. In many cases, cheating could be literally encouraged by our failure to manage the administration process. For example, it is quite common for educators to arrange settings of the eLearning platforms (such as Moodle) to have tutorial tasks released to students weakly. The tasks often come with solutions, but the solutions are not meant to be visible to the students till the end of the assessment period. However, inaccurate timing of the solutions’ release could result in correct answers being provided… when the assessment is still open for submission.

Likewise, we need to take extra care in ensuring that students are not able to access the gradebook and adjust their marks as they please.  Technology-wise, the administration problems are easy to handle but no e-learning platform can secure us from our own discrepancies in assessment management!

Final Word

When used in combination with one another, the 3 anti-cheating patterns outlined above tend to reduce probably of cheating during e-exams dramatically. As I have been pointing out to my clients:

No matter what anti-cheating measures we undertake, there is obviously no guarantee that some students will not attempt to cheat with the assessments. In some (very rare) cases, the cheating may even succeed. But we should at very least make sure that students find it easier to study for the e-exam and to pass it properly with flying colors rather than to mastermind a cheating operation!