Friday, October 03, 2008

Student Authentication

Hi Everyone-

Below is an email Julie Witherow from PPCC sent out to PPCC faculty on the implications of the Higher Ed Opportunity Act recently passed by Congress on student authentication. I think I previously mentioned a webcast on this topic sponsored by WCET with a panel of experts moderated by Rhonda Epper.

From Julie W:

As some of you know, the national Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOC)that passed this summer presents a potentially serious problem for online courses: student authentication. The legislation stipulates that colleges be able to verify that the student who registers for an online course is the same student who does the work and takes the tests. It is one sentence in a long bill, but we need to be prepared to defend our current practices and make changes if necessary.

First I want to review some course design techniques that help to ensure that enrolled students are doing their own work; we have discussed them before, and many of you are employing them already in the interest of academic integrity. Then I will summarize other possibilities that came from our Learning Technologies Conference last February and from a webcast presented this week by the Western Cooperative for Educational Technology (WCET).

(The webcast, moderated by Rhonda Epper, is archived here:

Course Design Techniques

Include a variety of assessments for each class: exams, individual and group projects, discussions, papers, etc.
Change paper and project topics frequently
Provide clear information about what plagiarism is and how it will impact a student’s grade in a class
Ask students to turn in papers and projects in stages (working outlines, for instance)
Randomize questions on objective tests; randomize order of responses for each question in a multiple choice test
Use essay and short answer exams
Base some of the answers on tests on information that comes from online discussions and blogs
True “closed book” tests are impossible online, but time tests appropriately to make it difficult for students who are looking up answers to complete all the questions within the timeframe
Send students to a testing center to take exams in a proctored environment

In short, make it as difficult as possible for someone to step in and complete the work for someone else. Sending students to a testing center is the simplest way to control exams, but since our centers have limited hours and capacity, math and science classes should get first dibs on that option at this point.

One of the webcast presenters pointed out that legislators in general know very little about distance education, and potential solutions from the webcast focused on testing controls rather than on course design:

Browser lockdown software that prevents students from accessing the rest of a course or the Internet while taking an exam (I think we need to look into this)
Software currently used in online banking, for instance, that asks several authenticating questions of each student before and sometimes during an online test
(These questions are not based on information from the school. There is a lot of information about all of us on the web, and the software draws from that. Scary? I have seen a demonstration of Acxiom, a produce that provides this service. The student can access an exam only after he answers enough authenticating questions correctly. One of the webcast speakers said that the cost for this is $10 per student per test.)

A camera (not inexpensive) that students must purchase so that instructors can watch them as they take an exam

That next thing that will happen, probably, is communication from accrediting bodies, in our case North Central. Beyond that, it is difficult to know whether the government will pursue the topic. The best thing to do now, I think, is to incorporate as many of the course design suggestions as possible in our courses. The testing center issue is not a new one , but this legislation has the potential to make it even more critical.

With the exception of course design, all of the solutions are expensive. I will keep you posted as I hear more about the issue, and I hope you will share your ideas with me.

Julie Witherow, PPCC

No comments: