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Cheating in Online College Classes: A Virtual Epidemic

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If you’re an online college student, chances are you know at least one peer that has turned in a plagiarized paper, used unauthorized notes for an exam, or submitted work completed by another person. Why is cheating so prevalent in online college classes and what can you do about it? Read on.

How Online Students Are Cheating

In a recent study, a whopping 72 percent of online college students surveyed admitted to cheating when taking online quizzes. Online students often cheat during unsupervised exams when they are asked not to use any books or notes, but choose to use them regardless of their instructions. Online students also cheat in more traditional ways, including purchasing plagiarized essays or asking another person to complete their coursework.

Why Online College Students are Cheating

Like traditional students, online college students choose to cheat for a variety of reasons. Some feel that they are incapable of succeeding honestly. Others do not plan to cheat but end up making the choice when they experience stress after procrastinating on their assignments. Some students do not fully understand the rules of their online class or program and are not aware that what they are doing is considered cheating.

Online Cheating and Athletics

In recent years, public scrutiny has been particularly focused on athletes and academic honesty. Several high profile cases have noted that coaches were encouraging athletes to take online classes for an easy grade and providing these students with access to unauthorized assistance. In some cases, athletes with extremely low GPAs were enrolling in online course, completing them in a matter of days, and receiving As for their work. In such occurrences, cheating was not only promoted by college employees – these coaches actually helped facilitate the dishonesty.

What Colleges are Doing About Online Cheating

Many online colleges are now clamping down on the cheating epidemic. Some online colleges are asking students to sign honor codes that clarify what is considered cheating and what the consequences for cheating will be. Many online programs are now eliminating some of the situations that make cheating more tempting (for example, the online quizzes). Instead, these programs are assigning work that requires more independent thought and cannot simply be copied from a book (for example, writing portfolios).

What Congress is Doing About Online Cheating

Congress has been particularly concerned about the detrimental effects of graduates entering the workforce without actually completing their own work. In 2008, they passed The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which included some interesting language targeted towards ensuring academic honesty. According to the act, an approved accreditor now “requires an institution that offers distance education to have processes through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the program and receives the academic credit.” Although online colleges originally feared that this section would lead to the use of invasive student surveillance (web cams, thumb print readers, etc.) they have thus far been able to meet the requirement without infringing on student privacy.

What You Can Do About Online Cheating

If you’re an online student, the most important thing you can do is make sure that you are honest in your own work. Do you fully understand your college’s honor code? Are you 100% honest with your work, even for online assignments that have little to no supervision? Escape risk of temptation by planning to complete your work on time and avoiding procrastination. By remaining honest with your coursework, you’ll get your tuition money worth and will avoid short changing yourself by taking the easy way out. You’ll also set the groundwork for having integrity in your field of employment. If you notice that another student is cheating, you may choose to let someone at your college know. The best person to talk to (or email) is your professor.

While online cheating continues to be a big problem in the world of distance learning, schools and students are finding ways to make sure that everyone is honest and able to receive a quality education.
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