Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Contract Cheating - What We Should Do About It

How Contract Cheating Works

Contract cheating providers make students believe that if they use the services they are being smart students who will deliver what their professors want such as a 10 page paper or an excellent score on the final exam. Students may also believe that if they use these services, they will be able to deliver what their parents want (good grades) and what employers want (a degree) (Gallant, Oct. 5, 2016).

Why Do Students Use Contract Cheating Services?

The underlying reasons may be complex and are shaped by individual and situational factors, but perhaps at the heart of it, contract cheating providers deliver services that we do not -“help” on their academic work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week (Gallant). Students often do not work on their assignments between 9 and 7, Monday-Thursday and 9 to 2 on Fridays, when the Student Success Center offers assistance in the Writing and Tutoring Center. So where else can students go when they need help?

Gallant (2016) wrote that students often use Google to find things and when she Googled “essay writing help”, the 7th hit was “strategies for essay writing” from Harvard’s Writing Center and the 25th hit was Purdue’s Owl site, but the rest of the hits were all possible contract cheating sites.

Essay “help” is just the beginning. Many of these contract cheating companies or freelancers, will offer to take exams or entire courses for your students (whether online or in person). Be aware that contract cheating providers exist, they exist to serve your students, and your students are using them. Brad Wolverton, in “The New Economy of Cheating” (Chronicle of Higher Education, August 28, 2016, subscription required), estimates that the annual revenue for one of the largest contract cheating providers is “in the millions”. The UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) “Plagiarism in Higher Education” (August 2016) report also posits that the industry is expansive, likely involving thousands of students every year (Gallant).

Should We Do Something About It?

We must do something about it! Gallant (2016) argued that this type of fraud perpetrated on the public, on employers, and on the government, could crash the knowledge economy. The knowledge economy is built on education credentials, specifically who has the grades and certifications needed to fill the jobs that fuel the economy. If these grades and certifications are fraudulent, the jobs are filled by incompetent people at best, and ethically challenged people at worst (Gallant).

Survey studies have found that people who cheat in school are more likely to cheat at work, and since the rates of cheating are high (as high as 41% in some studies), that means that at least 41% of those being hired have cheated in school. And since less than 1% of students at most schools are reported for cheating, that means that at least 40% of new graduates being hired have learned that cheating is a strategy for success, perhaps even for “excellence” (Gallant).

If students are taking grants and loans from the government to pay others to do their work for them, then our taxpayer dollars are being squandered. According to Gallant, we should be morally outraged about the fraud perpetrated by these contract cheating providers and the students who use them.

What Can We Do About It?

  • Respond to cheating when it is detected in order to leverage it as a teachable moment and to ebb the normalizing of the practice.
  • Refer students to the academic and language support services available through the Student Success Center so that they don't feel the need to do business with contract cheating providers.
  • Create your own bank of questions for exams rather than relying on question banks written by the textbook publishers. These test banks are often available on the internet and available for purchase or for free.
  • Utilize authentic and alternative assessments and link them to solid learning objectives and integrity standards.
  • Employ methods to ensure that the people taking your classes and exams are the same people enrolled in the class.

Join the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating

October 19th is Carnegie's Global Ethics Day. Join and receive an Institutional Toolkit with more specific tips and ideas for preventing and detecting contract cheating.

Click for more information about Contract Cheating visit the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. There are links to government reports, news reports, presentations, and research.

Information for this article is taken from:
Gallup, T. B. (Oct. 5, 2016). "We need a hero! How Contract Cheating Works". WCET. Retrieved from

Monday, August 29, 2016

Student Dependence on Technology - Interesting Facts

Today's college student has become increasingly dependent on technology which has changed the way colleges and universities go about recruiting new students and keeping them engaged.

Presta has gathered information from Mashable, Pew Internet, The Chronicle, Science Daily, Campus Tech and other reputable sources to create an infographic that reveals some interesting facts about today's modern college students and their dependence on technology. Below are just a few of those facts.

College Students and Technology

  • 73% of college students (sample size of 500) said that they cannot study without technology.
  • 38% of students cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking their email, tablet, laptop, or smartphone.
  • 70% of students use keyboards to take notes instead of pen and paper
  • 91% of students used email to communicate with their instructors
  • Digital textbooks cost approximately 40% less than printed textbooks

The Future of the Classroom

Textbooks and notebooks are not the only items being taken over by technology on the college campus. Online courses are becoming an increasingly popular option.
  • 12 million college students currently take one or more classes online with the figure expected to exceed 22 million in 5 years.
Click here for the full Modern College Student Infographic

Monday, August 1, 2016

Standards for Online Learning

Are you aware that there are regulatory standards to which online programs in educational institutions are held? From the federal government to national reciprocity agreements to regional accreditation agencies, universities that wish to offer online programming are held to a complex set of standards.

Distance Education vs. Correspondence as Defined by Federal Regulation

Federal law defines "distance education" and "correspondence" in section 600.2 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations as the following:

 Distance education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (4) of this definition to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. The technologies may include: (1) The internet; (2) One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices; (3) Audio conferencing; or (4) Video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassettes, DVDs, or CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this definition.

Correspondence course: (1) A course provided by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor. Interaction between the instructor and student is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student. Correspondence courses are typically self-paced. (2) If a course is part correspondence and part residential training, the Secretary considers the course to be a correspondence course. (3) A correspondence course is not distance education.

This distinction is important because according to Section 102 (a)(3)(B) of the U.S. Department of Education, an institution is not eligible to participate in the Title IV programs if 50% or more of its students were enrolled in correspondence courses during its latest complete award year. "So, if an institution of higher education wants to engage heavily in online learning, it behooves the institution to make sure it is truly providing 'distance education' and not 'correspondence courses' or else they risk losing federal financial aid" (Becker, 2016). The key is that there is "regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor" (DEA).

State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA)

Institutions that offer online courses and/or programs to out-of-state students must comply with consumer protection laws in the states where those out-of-state students reside. To avoid having 50 different laws, the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) was formed. Currently there are 34 states participating in SARA.

SARA has established guidelines for the evaluation of distance education that were developed by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC) in 2011. Those guidelines are a set of 9 principles that ensure that course design and delivery supports student to student and faculty to student interaction.

Each institution must indicate which states they are authorized to offer distance education courses in. For a list of the states that Idaho State University is authorized to serve visit the eISU page: eISU States Served.

Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Principles

1. Online learning is appropriate to the institution's mission and purposes.
2. The institution's plans for developing, sustaining, and, if appropriate, expanding online learning offerings are integrated into its regular planning and evaluation process.
3. Online learning is incorporated into the institution's systems of governance and academic oversight.
4. Curricula for the institution's online learning offerings are coherent, cohesive, and comparable in academic rigor to programs offered in traditional instructional formats.
5. The institution evaluates the effectiveness of its online learning offerings, including the extent to which the online learning goals are achieved, and uses the results of it evaluations to enhance the attainment of the goals.
6. Faculty responsible for delivering the online learning curricula are evaluating the students' success in achieving the online learning goals are appropriately qualified and effectively supported.
7. The institution provides effective student and academic services to support students enrolled in online learning offerings.
8. The institution provides sufficient resources to support, and if appropriate, expand its online learning offerings.
9. The institution assures the integrity of its online offerings.


The federal regulations, state reciprocity agreement guidelines, and expectations of accrediting agencies provide a comprehensive set of standards, guidelines, principles, and expectations for distance learning. The requirements for student and instructor engagement are quite comprehensive.

Institutions of higher learning will be held accountable for the quality of their online offerings. Those who are negligent may face complaints and/or lawsuits like the one recently filed by students at George Washington University.


Becker, J. (2016, April 17). The rules of engagement for online learning. Retrieved from 

Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC) (2011). Interregional guidelines for the evaluation of distance education. 

Eberhardt, R. (2016, April 13). Former students file class action lawsuit over quality of online program. The GW Hatchet.

U.S. Government Publishing Office (2016, June 27). Electronic code of federal regulations.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Academic Integrity and Cheating on Exams

Just as technology can be used as a tool for learning, it can also be used by students as a tool for cheating. Cheating appears to be part of life. Just when we figure out how to prevent cheating with one strategy, students come up with a way around it. Once it was sufficient to prohibit students from having their cell phones with them during tests, but now there are wearable technology devices that can be used to cheat (Adkins, 2016).

Do Students Admit to Cheating?

The Josephson Institute on Ethics surveyed 23,000 American high school and college students about their frequency and perception of cheating. More than half (51%) admitted to cheating on an exam one or more times in the past academic year. Fifty-seven percent of students surveyed agreed with the statement, "In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating." For more statistics and information visit Cheating in College: The Numbers and Research.

Students have indicated that they cheat by texting answers to other students, snapping pictures of an exam using their phone or other mobile device, using their device to search the internet for answers during an exam, purchasing term papers and test banks, hiring someone to take online courses for them, and creating fake test scores or letters or recommendation for college admission (Best College Reviews, 2016).

When asked why they cheat, students gave many reasons. Those reasons included peer pressure, to help a friend, the gains outweigh the penalties, academic pressure, low chances of being caught, no honor code or rules stated, low impression of the value of the class and/or tests and assignments, and not enough time to prepare. According to Adkins (2016), as we prepare our students to be competent professionals it is important to instill in them a mindset of integrity. In order to foster this culture of integrity, institutions have begun using services that authenticate learner identity and monitor student performance during exams.

Test Proctoring Perceptions

Many institutions have implemented test proctoring as a way to reduce cheating. The four most common proctoring modalities reported by faculty in the Annual Proctoring & Learner Authentication Survey are: an approved human proctor; test centers; instructor as proctor; and live-virtual proctoring. The survey found that faculty are most satisfied when they proctor their own exams or use a testing center located on campus. The lowest level of satisfaction came from the use of automated virtual proctoring. Faculty perceived an instructor proctored exam as creating the strongest psychological deterrent to cheating with virtual proctoring having the lowest deterrent.

Those faculty perceptions are echoed by students in the survey findings. Students reported that it is most difficult to cheat when an exam is proctored by the instructor. Students rated comfort and convenience as much stronger factors in their decision about a proctoring modality than cost.

Tools and Techniques to Prevent Cheating

Here are some ways that educators can reduce the opportunity to cheat:
  • Ban all electronic devices from the exam room (this would include watches, phones, calculators, and other mobile devices).
  • Check students hands as they come in for the exam - could be done casually with a handshake.
  • Use teaching assistants to monitor exam room if instructor is not available.
  • Randomly check student ID's in order to prevent imposters from filling in for students during an exam (especially if it is being proctored by someone who does not know each student)
  • Walk around the exam room to prevent students from communicating covertly.
  • Be alert to physical signals such as coughing and tapping.
  • Create fresh new tests to avoid the possibility of the answers being available online.
  • Keep test materials locked up and passwords unique and strong.
  • Create multiple versions of tests and alternate the distribution of the versions to the students or utilize the randomization feature in the Moodle quiz tool.
  • Remind students of the academic code of conduct before an exam begins. Having students sign a pledge before a test or exam can reduce cheating. For example, before a student can begin the online exam, they must open a separate quiz with only one question - do they agree to honor the academic code of conduct during the exam?
  • Use open book tests and have students explain their work on the exam. This approach allows them to use whatever study materials they want, but explaining their reasoning indicates their understanding of the concepts.
  • Prepare students for learning instead of just test-taking by indicating how the course learning objectives will be met.

How Can We Foster Academic Integrity?

  1. Stay informed about emerging technologies and their impact on testing integrity.
  2. Talk to students about the code of conduct for academic integrity. It is not enough to just bring it up on the first day of class when discussing the syllabus. According to Adkins (2016), one of the most common excuses that students make when confronted with a testing violation is that "no one told me that doing this was wrong." Make your expectations clear and go over the rules for each exam.
  3.  Teach your students about academic integrity. Training should affirm and encourage actions that are honorable and inform students about the actions that are not honorable and the ramifications both professionally and academically. Some faculty members have students sign an integrity statement as an early assignment in their course, and others have students sign one every time they take an online exam as a reminder of the expected behavior.
  4. Be involved in your course. When a faculty member is actively engaged in a course then the student is more likely to feel that cheating is a violation of that relationship. When the human element is removed from an online course, the student may feel that they are not letting the instructor down if they cheat.
  5. Take a multi-modal approach. It is a good practice to provide several modalities of proctoring and not allow students to do all their testing with just one. Be creative with this. It may be easy and time effective to re-use the same test banks over and over but students can easily share and/or purchase this information. Moodle makes it easy to build a large test bank of questions that can be rotated, modified and re-purposed.
Additional Resources:

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Suggestions for Developing Your Online Course

Whether you are a veteran online course developer or this is your first adventure into the world of online learning, the following suggestions may be helpful in developing a course that is student-friendly.

Provide Extra Detail in Your Online Syllabus

In most face-to-face classes, the first class meeting is devoted to going over the course syllabus and taking time to emphasize important information and answer questions as they come up from the students. In an online class, the syllabus must be specific enough to cover the details that may have been verbally highlighted in a face-to-face class. This is especially true for procedures and participation policies.

You can also save time answering questions by creating a discussion forum devoted to common questions about the course itself and encouraging students to use this forum for general course and syllabus related questions. This forum would need to be placed in the top block of the course so that it can be accessed throughout the duration of the course. Give the forum a descriptive name such as the "Question and Answer Room" or "General Course Questions".

For Moodle users, the Book resource is an excellent tool to use for the course syllabus in an online course. The Book tool allows you to create chapters for each section of the syllabus. Students are then able to click on the specific chapter that would address their questions about the textbook, or the late work policy, etc. without having to open and scroll through a lengthy document to find the information they need. The Moodle Book resource also allows students to print specific pages such as the course schedule.

Encourage Community Building Early On in the Course

Building a feeling of community and interaction is one of the most difficult challenges for the online course developer but it is so important for keeping students engaged and interested in the material. Discussion forums are an essential tool for building community and encouraging engagement with the course materials. However, the discussions should not feel like busy work for the students. The discussion topics should be pulled from material being taught in the course and should be related to the achievement of the course and/or unit objectives. Starting with an Introduction Forum during the first week of class is an excellent way to set the pace for forum participation throughout the course.

Use a Consistent Format for the Course

Students will look for patterns in the course to guide their actions. Design and use a template for each module/week and remain consistent with that template. For example, you might start each module with a list of module-level objectives, then list the resources available, then the activities. Create labels to identify each section of the module. It is also important for you to be consistent with due dates. For example, establish what day of the week students must post to the forum, when quizzes are due etc. so that students can establish a routine for the course. If you must make a change from the normal format, notify your students via an email or course announcement so that they do not miss new content or deadlines.

Design Content for Online Delivery

The online environment is largely visual and built on videos and Moodle-based activities such as quizzes, forums, and assignment uploads. Rather than just uploading the PowerPoint that you would have used during your face-to-face lecture, add audio and/or video to your slides. In order to encourage student use and to keep the file size small, break up your lectures into smaller sections of no longer than 15 minutes each. In order for the videos to be accessible to all students they should be captioned. For more information on captioning instructional materials, please contact the ITRC. You can also access the Step-by-step guide to Creating Narrated PowerPoint presentations.

If Someone Can Say it Better Than You, Then Let Them

Don't limit yourself and your students to content that you have created. It is not mandatory or necessary for you to develop every bit of your information from scratch - if there is an organization with a professional website that covers the information you are presenting, send your students to that site. Use the web to your advantage by curating content whenever possible. YouTube can also be an excellent source for information - just be sure that any videos you use have been properly captioned. Often the automatically generated captions are not accurate and need to be edited through a service like

Provide Content in Different Formats Whenever Possible

Take advantage of the many different tools available electronically to present information. Providing content in different formats will not only keep it interesting for your students but will also facilitate different learning styles and students with disabilities. A few examples:
  • Provide written lecture notes that accompany your PowerPoint presentation.
  • Direct students to an interactive webpage where they could participate in a self-check activity or quiz. For example: Are You Ready for Online Learning?
  • Add a link to a YouTube or Khan Academy video that explains the concept you are teaching on. It may be helpful for students to see the material from a different perspective or to have it explained in a different way.
  • Include a graph or visual representation of the material. Google Images is an excellent resource for these types of materials. Chances are - someone else has already created what you need and shared it on Google.
  • Share content through a podcast or screen capture with a free tool like Jing or Screencast-o-matic

Allow Yourself Plenty of Time for Development

All faculty members underestimate how long it will take to develop online content. Try to develop your content during the semester prior to when the course will be going live so that you have time to find the materials you need. Keep in mind that online instruction is a work in progress and you might need to try different tools before you find the one that works best to obtain the learning objective.


Orlando, J. (2014, March 3). Top 10 Rules for Developing Your First Online Course. Faculty Focus.