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How to Stop Cheating in Remote Learning

cheating in remote learning
(Image credit: Unsplash: Jens Johnsson)

Dr. Stephanie Smith Budhai

Dr. Stephanie Smith Budhai (Image credit: Neumann University)

Trying to eliminate cheating in remote learning continues to be a daunting challenge for educators. From lockdown browsers to live proctoring, technical solutions abound to help keep students on the straight and narrow. Changing the approach to remote learning and assessments can also help reduce cheating.  

Educators should first be aware of the learning environment they’ve created, says Dr. Stephanie Smith Budhai, associate professor of education at Neumann University and author of multiple books regarding online learning. “It’s really important for educators to create a nurturing academic environment in which failure is used as a springboard for growth and where students are encouraged to really be risk takers,” says Budhai. 

Students should also be encouraged to show what they know without having to worry about grades. “It’s important for students and educators to have that symbiotic environment in which it just feels like a safe place to learn, and to learn from your mistakes,” Budhai says. “We all make mistakes.”

Budhai recently discussed other strategies and best practices for K-12 educators when it comes to cheating during remote learning.

Key Takeaways

Best practices. Educators need to discuss academic integrity with students from a young age, suggests Budhai. “They can start with talking about digital citizenship and what it means to be a good citizen in this online world,” she says. 

Teachers should also cover what ethics are and how to have ethical behavior, as well as information literacy. “They need to know what cheating looks like in an online course, and how it’s different than a face-to-face course, and how it’s the same,” she says. 

Students also need to learn how to become critical consumers of online content. “They believe everything, and they need to learn how to think more critically about it,” Budhai says. Teaching information literacy, such as how to properly cite sources and attribute credit, helps to improve academic honesty.  

Potential pitfalls. Educators and parents need to avoid putting pressure on students to earn high scores. “We really have to go back to what learning is about, and for me, it’s about growth and development, and everyone grows and evolves at his or her own pace,” says Budhai. Teachers should consider tools such as digital badges and leaderboards to focus on how students are making progress rather than focusing on getting an “A.” “Celebrate small wins and send them digital acclamations that say, ‘Hey, you did a good job!’” she says. The goal should be to get better, not be perfect.

Too many assessments that don’t necessarily correlate with what students are learning can be another pitfall. “Teachers might be using assessments that they use for face-to-face learning, but the pedagogical techniques for online learning are different,” says Budhai. Avoid over-assessing students, and focus on what they know.

Preparation is key. “I think students are less likely to cheat when they’re prepared,” says Budhai. “They feel more confident, and they know if they do fail, they won’t be in trouble and it won’t be the end of the world. They can learn from the experience and do better next time.” 

Being prepared also helps reduce stress on students. For example, rather than doing summative assessments at the end of units or lessons, put formative assessments into daily lessons to reinforce the learning. 

Tools such as digital polls and quizzes also can be implemented directly into lessons to quickly identify what isn’t being understood so that areas of weakness can be immediately addressed rather than waiting to do it at the end of a unit. “Then when they get to the end, they’re prepared, they’re confident, and they don’t need to cheat because they know the content,” says Budhai.

Add variety. One of the main pillars of universal design for learning is action and expression, so give students different ways to demonstrate their knowledge, says Budhai. For example, rather than multiple choice, consider a choice board so students can have curated options to demonstrate what they know.

Also consider questions that require higher-order thinking or more detailed answers that are more difficult to Google for a quick response. Open-ended questions also demand more academic rigor and effort, and provide an opportunity for partial credit, another cheating deterrent.

Partner with parents. It’s important to include parents as part of your cheating prevention, particularly for younger students. “Parents are part of the learning community--they help to set up Zoom or Google Meet, so they have to be part of it,” says Budhai, adding that it’s a great opportunity for educators. “Parents may not know what digital citizenship is--a lot of our parents are digital immigrants, versus our students, who are digital natives.” Reaching out to parents can be an opportunity to teach them what it is to be a good digital citizen and what academic integrity looks like. 

In addition, parents can help model and reinforce ethical, fair, and right behaviors online. “It’s a great way to build community,” says Budhai. “And if students know that their parents know what they’re supposed to be doing, there’s a better chance that they do the right thing and don’t cheat because they know it’s not just the teacher watching, but the parents as well.” 

Embrace a growth mindset. By focusing on student progress rather than fixating on grades, teachers can create a less stressful environment more conducive to learning than cheating. “We really need to model for our students,” says Budhai. “We need to show them how to cite sources, make mistakes right in front of them, and it’s easy to do virtually.” 

Game time. “Gaming can be a game changer!” says Budhai, who suggests scheduling some learning game time, such as once or twice per week, by using tools such as Kahoot! or Nearpod. “Technology is ubiquitous, and with so many learning games available, assessment can even be fun. And students think it’s a game but they’re actually learning and you’re assessing them and identifying those gaps, and there’s real progress being made.” 

Dr. Stephanie Smith Budhai is an associate professor of education at Neumann University in Pennsylvania, holding a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from Drexel University. Dr. Budhai has more than a decade of online teaching experience, and has published myriad books, articles, and invited editorials surrounding the use of technology and online learning in education. Her publications include Teaching the 4Cs with Technology, Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies, Nurturing Young Innovators: Cultivating Creativity in the Classroom, Home and Community, and Online and Engaged: Innovative Student Affairs Practices for Online Learners