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7 Ways to Assess Students Online and Minimize Cheating

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Emphasize Integrity

Start and end each test with an honor statement. As the first step of an online test, and again as the last, ask students to affirm that they are practicing academic integrity. Start each test with explicit instructions: “You may use your book and your notes while you take this test. Do not share your answers with anyone during or after the test. By clicking ‘Begin,’ you agree to the following statement: ‘I affirm that I am the assigned student taking the test, and this is entirely my own work.’”

As they finish, ask students to reaffirm that they completed it on their own. Bookending the test in that way can help nudge students toward integrity, especially when you’ve reduced the pressure to cheat in the first place with shorter, more frequent tests.

Ask Narrative Questions

Ask students to explain their problem-solving process. If you give students a set of problems to solve, some may search online for answers to similar problems. However, it’s harder to find student-generated explanations of the steps they took to solve those problems.

Adding a short narrative question to an online test requires students to do more than just provide the correct answer. This can be a short, open-ended test question that takes seconds to grade.

Know Each Student’s ‘Voice’

Get to know each student’s writing style in low- or no-stakes tasks. To prevent or detect plagiarism without relying on imperfect software solutions, ask students to complete brief weekly writing assignments. In the English courses I teach, I get to know my students’ narrative voices in their online discussion posts and journal entries. When I grade a paper that is weighted more heavily, I can quickly detect plagiarized text because it doesn’t “sound” like that student’s usual style.

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Admittedly, this approach works best in classes with limited enrollment (say, 35 students or fewer). But if you’re teaching a writing-intensive course, consider adding lots of informal tasks to get to know your students’ style (and provide them with valuable writing practice, too).

Concerned about the time needed to grade those written reflections? Assess them on a complete/incomplete scale. With practice, you’ll develop the ability to tell at a glance whether students have made a good-faith effort to reflect on your writing prompt. Use a simple rubric in your institution’s learning-management system, or LMS, to speed up your grading even more.

Make Use of Forums

Assess learning in online discussion forums. Don’t overlook the potential of online discussion forums as a valuable yet low-stakes source of feedback on whether students are learning the material.

Structure your discussion questions in ways that unearth what students know about a topic. Use the “post-first” setting to require students to submit their responses before they can read what others have posted. (But be aware: The post-first setting can increase student anxiety, so you may prefer not to use it.) Ask students to cite additional sources for their comments. In STEM courses, ask students to talk about where they see scientific and mathematical principles at work in the world around them.

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