How to Prevent Kids from Cheating in Your Online Course
Kids taking classes from home have more opportunities to cheat when they’re not under your supervision. Here’s what to do about it.
Educators around the country are confronting a new twist on an old problem: how to prevent kids from cheating when they’re taking their tests from home. When students cheat, teachers aren’t able to gain a clear assessment of their abilities, or how much they learned. This can cause problems for the teachers in the short term, if their performance is based on student scores, but it causes even bigger problems for students in the long run, if they aren’t able to demonstrate their learning.
While there’s no silver bullet to solving this problem, there are steps educators can take to mitigate it. Here’s where to begin.
1. Define cheating and establish the expectations you have for their behavior.
To start, be sure your students understand what cheating is and why it’s wrong. Depending on the age level of your students, they may or may not have encountered a situation in school where cheating was a possibility, and cheating on a test looks very different from cheating on a playground—especially as what is or isn’t acceptable often relies on context.
Discuss when it is or isn’t acceptable to talk about the test with their friends and classmates, look up answers online, or get help from their parents. Talk about why doing so is wrong, and ask your students to agree to an honor code where they agree not to cheat. Cheating often happens because of peer pressure. Make it socially unacceptable to cheat, and your students think twice before suggesting it to their friends, or doing it themselves.
2. Communicate with parents and guardians about what is and isn’t allowed.
Ask parents and guardians to be your allies. Communicate with them about how you’re running your tests, what you’re expecting from your students, and ways they can help ensure their kids are playing by the rules.
For more serious tests, you may want to ask parents to be proctors, or to check a “parent verified” box when their child goes to submit the test. Let the parents know what this means—from sitting in the room with their child during the exam, to simply removing their cell phone to be sure they can’t text. If parents know what you’re asking of them, they will be more willing to step in and help.
3. Make their test open-book.
One concern teachers have is that the kids in their course will turn to Google to find the answers, instead of learning the material themselves. The easiest way around this problem is simply to let them. Even better: encourage them. Then set more difficult questions, with the understanding that they will be searching for answers online.
You students will have to do more research to find the answers they’re looking for—a process that challenges their critical thinking and leads to a richer learning experience. As a bonus, your learners will gain some useful practical knowledge in how to effectively search for information online.
4. Include subjective questions that require them to draw on personal experiences.
It’s hard to cheat when you’re being asked to write from personal experience. Asking learners to give examples from their lives in answer to a question not only personalizes the project but helps instructors spot when the stories don’t match the student.
While writing and reading classes are the most obvious choice for personal experience questions, they can work for a variety of courses. In a social studies class, you could ask learners about a time they encountered a law or policy that affected their lives. In a history course, you could ask learners their opinions on a historical figure. And in a science course, you could ask learners to describe an observation they had that illustrated a certain scientific principle.
It’s hard for learners to share answers for these types of questions, and finding a similar answer online requires enough knowledge of the subject matter to identify the correct example.
5. Have students take more frequent, lower-stress quizzes.
Cheating becomes more tempting the higher the stakes are. Make a single test worth half a student’s final grade, and even well-intentioned students might crack under the pressure. Putting a lot of the course grade on one test also makes it easier for learners to put off studying until right before the exam, and then resort to cramming or cheating to try to get through.
Instead of one big exam, create smaller, micro-quizzes throughout the course that test a student’s knowledge and helps show them what they are or aren’t understanding. A 5-question review quiz isn’t significant enough for learners to try to cheat on, but is still an effective means of testing their knowledge. And a confident student who has passed review quizzes and feels they have mastered the material won’t risk cheating for a grade they think they can earn outright.
6. Use random questions from a question bank, set timers, and have students take the test at a specific time.
Although many of the best anti-cheating strategies are to design a test that makes cheating impractical, there are other strategies that make it harder to pull off. For instance, you can randomize quizzes by creating a large question bank, and then only having learners draw from a certain selection of them.
Randomized quizzes prevent students from sharing answers with each other. Setting a timer on quizzes means that learners who take too long to look up answers won’t have time to finish the test, and if you administer at test at a set time, it will keep some students from taking the test early and sharing the answers with their peers.
Taken together these measures mean that it is very hard for an individual to cheat without help from multiple peers, and if parents are on the watch, that is hard for most students to pull off.
7. Employ more aggressive anti-cheating software.
If cheating is a big problem in your classroom, there are other strategies you can use. If you suspect a student of plagiarizing a written assignment, you can run it through a plagiarism checker to see how it holds up.
You can also have students use certain anti-cheating browsers that prevent students from browsing while they’re taking tests—although this wouldn’t prevent them from hopping on their phone.
Trust between students, teachers, and guardians is the only way to stop cheating.
At the end of the day, while more aggressive measures can make it harder to cheat, they’re still relatively easy to get around from the home. When working with younger students, it’s better to follow strategies that will make cheating undesirable:
- Educate your students about what cheating is and what the consequences are.
- Make cheating socially unacceptable by asking students to follow an honor system.
- Enlist the help of parents to monitor children in the home.
- Lower the stakes to reduce the pressure to cheat.
- Allow students full access to study resources, but enforce a time limit.
- Make questions personal, and employ question banks for randomization.
If you employ these strategies, you won’t make cheating impossible, but you will make it impractical. And with the support of parents and guardians, you may even have better luck preventing cheating at home—where kids are away from their peers and more closely monitored—than at school.
And when you do need to deploy some of these anti-cheating strategies, the advanced quizzing functions of LearnDash include timers, question banks, and randomization. That means you can focus more of your energy on delivering the best instruction possible, and worry less about cheating.