Easy A’s may be even easier to score these days, with the growing popularity of online courses. Tech-savvy students are finding ways to cheat that let them ace online courses with minimal effort, in ways that are difficult to detect.

writes Jeffrey R. Young in his article “Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech”. Students have been cheating in traditional classroom courses as well. The difference is that to cheat online might require to be tech savvy. Of course, it is an asset to be tech savvy these days. But don’t use your knowledge to cheat. “To cheat means to rob yourself of your own hat.” You get an easy A and then you claim you have the education you don’t have. “You can’t cheat everybody all of the time.” Someone will eventually discover your minuses in your claimed education.

The main purpose of a college education is to learn, to acquire some knowledge from every course you take. If you get a grade that does not reflect your knowledge of the subject matter, it is going to show sometime. College needs fair play, and honesty.

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Some professors formally require that their online students adhere to an honor code of conduct. And it is indeed an honor issue. Online tests and quizzes are open books and you have the Internet to search for an answer. But usually you don’t have enough time to search for the answer, unless you had previously read that textbook well enough before the final exam. If you need minor help, that’s ok, I think. But if you are going to “cut and paste” all your answer, that means cheating.

Most students try to cheat in courses which they don’t like, or don’t understand. Still, it is better to look for help and clarify your questions before tests and exams are given. A problem with an online course is that you don’t have office hours (usually) but you can e-mail the instructor and ask well pointed questions. A question well asked already means that things are going to become clearer. Besides, no question is a stupid question.

Then, of course, professors are looking for clever ways to detect fraud in online courses. Researchers are looking for ways to discover the identity of online students; to detect plagiarism, or to devise tests which are not multiple-choice questions.

Do students cheat more in online courses than in traditional classroom courses? The article cited above does not answer this question. I believe the answer is “no”. If they want to, then students find a way to cheat either online or in class. But this is dishonesty.

If the students use technology to cheat online, then the professors and the researchers fight back and use technology to prevent or discover online cheating.

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