Considering how easy it is, cheating in online education is pretty rare

Trust me.
Trust me.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Kids cheat.

On quizzes, projects, homework, the SAT. You name it. In a 2013 poll conducted by the school’s student newspaper, 10% of Harvard students admitted to having cheated on an exam at some point, and 42% on an assignment. Detailed research studies exist on the creative cheating tactics of students across the country; some conclude that, as humans, we’re just wired to seek out paths of least effort and greatest reward.

Given that natural tendency, it’s surprising that online test-taking—where the potential for dishonest behavior would seem to be abundant—appears to see relatively little cheating.

Examity, a digital exam consulting company, reviewed 62,534 final exams of US college students that it helped proctor over the internet last fall. According to the company’s findings, released today (March 29), just over 6% of the group—3,952 students—broke test rules. That’s a much lower figure than e-learning opponents, who point to the often laughable simplicity with which online tests can be gamed, might have you believe.

One possible explanation is that companies like Examity are out there to monitor exam-taking with tools like keystroke identification technology and identity verification, and students might be sufficiently scared by the idea of being watched for funny business through their computers. Another contender: perhaps students taking online exams—often doing so while sitting alone—feel a greater obligation of ethical integrity than those scribbling answers among their peers in large lecture halls.

Of course, it’s also possible Examity’s review only managed to catch a fraction of the cheating going on. Most of the cheating it detected was carried out in predictable ways, like using a cheat sheet, hiding flash cards behind a keyboard, and asking Google for answers.

It did also catch some gutsier endeavors, such as an instance where “a mom hid underneath the desk of the test-taker to communicate answers,” and another in which a “test-taker faked a coughing fit to extricate a cheat sheet in the back of his throat.” Such examples suggest the company’s investigation was reasonably thorough.

They also prove that, even as schools and professors begin to embrace online education, some things never change: Desperate students will always go to great lengths.