Virtual schools and cheating

Why are educators so sure that virtual classes are good for cheating?

I was recently in a discussion with potential virtual teachers and that was one of the biggest parts of the discussion – how can we know that our students are the ones doing the work?

My response? Tell me how you know your student in a face-to-face classroom did the work? How do you know his older brother didn’t write that speech he’s delivering in front of the class? How do you know her friend who had your class last year didn’t give her a heads-up on a particular assignment?

You don’t.

I’m an advocate of creating curriculum in our classrooms that makes it so cheating doesn’t matter. Students have cheated as long as there has been something to cheat on. Whether they are in face-to-face classrooms, virtual classrooms, or being home schooled, they will find a way to cheat. The key is in making it so that even if they do cheat, they don’t benefit from it.

One way to do this is to create project-based assignments that truly assess individual student mastery. Throw away the tests, whether you give them online or on paper, all they really measure is your student’s ability to memorize something long enough to answer a question.

Another way to do this is to make only those things that assess final mastery a part of their grade. Assignments designed to assist them in learning the content can’t count toward that kind of a grade, so students will either cheat and not benefit at all, not do the homework (and not benefit from it), or they will do what they need in order to learn the content.

Those opposed to this way of thinking will say that students just won’t do work that doesn’t give them a grade. I think they are wrong. Yes, our students have been raised in a world where they have learned the way through the system is to do just enough homework to pass the class so that if they haven’t learned the content, they still get credit for their compliance. However, after the initial adjustment period from implementing the new system, students will eventually figure out that if they don’t do any of the work, they will not pass the summative assessments – or if they do pass the summative assessments without doing the work, it means they already knew the content.

I recently finished teaching three online speech courses over the summer. All of my students were new to this grading philosophy and during the first half of the course, they struggled to understand that they had control over what assignments they completed in order to master the content. Many of my students had already been through several courses that gave them knowledge of pieces of the curriculum and they figured out that they could fly through the modules that had that information in them, then spend more time with the new content. Others had no prior knowledge of any of the content and after initially thinking they could skip to the summative assessments, they realized they needed to be honest with themselves about learning the content.

Virtual classes really are not much different than face-to-face classes. My experience has been that my virtual students grasp and retain the content much better than my face-to-face students. I give credit to the lack of distractions and my own ability to focus on the teaching, rather than the classroom management.

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