Rethinking Online Assessments

by Kristie Burk, DASD Coordinator of Blended and Online Learning

Last week, our article on “Curbing” Cheating in the Tech Era struck a nerve with many people who tweeted, emailed, and posted about the problems that they encounter trying to combat cheating.  One teacher from Downingtown West told me about how her students are using instant messaging on their Macbooks to share answers with each other during an online assessment. Another teacher from Marsh Creek told me about a student who had multiple screenshots of an exam on his iPad. An English teacher lamented about how students could click on a word during a vocabulary quiz and have the definition pop up.


We could return to paper and pencil tests, but let’s face it – students have been cheating for a long time.  Before the age of smartphones, girls would hide index cards in the hems of their skirts and other students would write answers inside the labels of a water bottle. Also, digital assessments also provide us with instant access to data that we might not otherwise have.

We cannot stop all cheating, but there are some steps that we can take to help reduce it.

First, think differently about online assessment. Traditional approaches to testing don’t work well online. That’s not bad; most teachers agree that rote memorization is not the most effective way to learn (or to measure learning).

In online courses, treat every test as if it were “open book.” Use questions that challenge students even if they use resources when forming their answers. This practice is more like our real life tests anyway.

Treat online assessments as part of the learning process, not the students’ “final chance.” Assessments should not only measure learning, but serve as part of the learning process.

Here are just a few other things that you can to do to reduce cheating when giving assessments:

  • Give proctored face-to-face tests when it is feasible to do so. Walk around the room through the test/quiz/exam, etc.
  • Employ an academic honesty statement into every assessment. For example, you can include the following true/false question (statement) into a Schoology quiz: “I pledge on my honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assessment.” Research has shown that these real-time reminders can actually reduce cheating.
  • Utilize a variety of question types (e.g. multiple choice, fill-in, and short answers).
  • Include several questions that relate directly to online or classroom discussions. These questions will be difficult to answer by someone who hasn’t actually participated in the discussions.
  • Consider other assessments for grading learners, such as papers, discussion participation, or projects.
  • Publicize the content and format to students in advance. Students will often cheat when they’re surprised by what is on tests.
  • Ask questions that require authentic application of knowledge. The most important way to overcome online cheating (and realistically assess student understanding) is to use application level questions. Essays, case studies, and other complex question types can be challenging to answer even if you are looking at the book.
  • Use questions that require some personal opinions from students. Ask students to provide examples from their own lives. These kinds of personal details are difficult to fake.
  • Consider mastery learning, which allows students to redo assessments if they perform poorly.

There are also some technical things you can do in Schoology to reduce cheating:

  • Give timed online tests or make online tests available for a limited period of time.
  • Randomize the order of the questions.
  • Randomize the order of the answers. (If you choose to randomize answers, do not use answers such as ‘all the above,’ ‘both a and b are true,’ etc. The randomization will cause these answers to be invalid.)
  • Deliver one question at a time to make screenshots harder.
  • Use question banks to deliver different questions to each student.

Not sure how to do these things in Schoology? Be sure to ask your instructional coaches for help!


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