Why would a student who does his work honestly in face-to-face courses cheat in an online course? Confidence in not getting caught, of course, but also other reasons–changing demographics among college students, the large size of many online classes where a professor never interacts with students, a belief that core curriculum classes unrelated to the student’s major are a waste of time / irrelevant and therefore (by some strange logic) it’s okay to cut corners, etc. Here’s what a recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education had to say about the why behind one student’s online cheating:

he is juggling a job and classes, and he wanted to find a way to add an easy A to his transcript each semester.

So what about the how of online cheating? If an exam is open book and accessible from any computer without a lockdown browser–technology that prevents the student from opening any other applications while the test is in progress–it’s really not cheating to use the book or to run a Google search, unless the directions expressly forbid it. But if you don’t have the book and you haven’t read any of the lectures, you’re kind of stuck. You can have someone else take the exam for you, as long as the online course doesn’t have sophisticated identity checks (yes, some colleges make you scan your fingerprints or take an exam with a webcam on the whole time)…well, here’s how the anonymous student in the Chronicle article managed an “A” in a basic science class:

four friends and a shared Google Doc, an online word-processing file that all five of them could read and add to at the same time during the test.

This particular class permitted students to take exams twice, and students were told whether or not their multiple-choice answers were correct as they moved through the test–the group from the article kept track of the right answers, which made sure that everyone got 100% on their second try.

As classes go high tech, so do the methods for cheating. In ENGL3043 you’re learning to use Google Docs for professional purposes, but as with most things, social media can be used for evil as well. As students continue “trying to game the system” in pursuit of a grade and a credential rather than an education and increased knowledge, universities will have to monitor their ever-expanding online course offerings very carefully.

Work Cited

Young, Jeffrey R. “Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 3 Jun. 2012. Web. 4 Jun. 2012 <>.


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