Online Exams and Cheating

The results of a new meta-study on cheating, published in this fall’s edition of the Journal of Distance Learning Administration, indicate that online courses that rely heavily on unproctored, multiple-choice exams are at greater risk of being cheated on than similar face-to-face courses. And while there are mechanisms available to forfend dishonesty in online exams, they can be costly and inconvenient, and may not be widely used.

The meta-study, conducted by researchers at University of Connecticut and Union Graduate College, looked at three prior studies examining cheating as it applies to online courses versus face-to-face, and three studies that looked at cheating as it applies to proctored exams compared to unproctored ones. “The six studies, considered as a group, imply cheating risk is less correlated with instructional format (online v. face-to-face), and more correlated with unproctored online assessments,” the authors write.

The problem, of course, is that online assessments can be hard to proctor. There are companies that offer proctors and testing centers where online students can go to take the exams in the same controlled environment as traditional students customarily use, the authors note. But those centers and proctors come with fees. And since many online students choose distance learning because they need the flexibility of a program that is asynchronous and non-placebound, having to show up at a certain time and place to take exams tends to defeat the purpose.

The efforts of many online programs to enroll international students might also undermine the secure-site method. For an online student taking a course from some far-flung locale, showing up at a testing center could go beyond mere inconvenience.

Software companies provide some potential fixes for the problem of proctoring online exams. Starting at $2,000 for an institutional license, a company called Respondus offers a product, which can be downloaded remotely, that integrates with the institution’s learning-management system and locks down an online test-taker’s ability to browse the Internet while taking an exam.

Of course, this does nothing to prevent students from Googling answers on another computer or on their smartphones — which is why another company, called Software Secure, Inc., offers similar anti-browsing software with its Securexam Remote Proctor — along with a $200 piece of hardware that takes periodic fingerprint readings as well as audio and 360-degree video recordings of the test-taking environment to make sure test-takers are not being fed answers the old-fashioned way.

Read the entire article.

New Learning Platform from the University of Phoenix

In an effort ambitiously dubbed the “Learning Genome Project,” the for-profit powerhouse says it is building a new learning interface that gets to know each of its 400,000 students personally and adapts to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of their “learning DNA.”

Unlike analog forms of student profiling—such as surveys, which are only as effective as the students’ ability to diagnose their own learning needs—Phoenix’s Learning Genome Project will be designed to infer details about students from how they behave in the online classroom . . . If students grasp content more quickly when they learn it from a video than when they have to read a text, the system will feed them more videos. If a student is bad at interpreting graphs, the system will recognize that and present information accordingly—or connect the student with another Phoenix student who is better at graph-reading. The idea is to take the model of personal attention now only possible in the smallest classrooms and with the most responsive professors, make it even more perceptive and precise, and scale it to the largest student body in higher education.

. . . [I]n order to make the platform as flexible as it needs to be, Phoenix plans to phase out its current in-house learning management system and build the new one with open-source tools. It even plans to share some (but not all) of what it builds with other institutions . . .

Being so attentive for all its students at once will require a lot of data processing; whether the system—as Phoenix envisions it—can work reliably at scale remains to be seen. In any case . . . it will be expensive to make. And then there are the inevitable privacy issues: Some Facebook users have become more guarded in recent years about the personal data they feed the system due to concerns about how that data might be used; one could imagine a similar backlash against an online learning platform built on the same principles. A for-profit company that collects data not only on what students like but also on how their minds work might make some people uneasy. (. . . Phoenix is committed to “ethical use of the data” and letting students choose how much information they submit.)

Read the entire article.

Results of 2010 Campus Computing Survey

Blackboard keeps losing market share to competitors. Information technology departments keep losing money to budget cuts—though not as many as last year. E-books, despite modest gains, are still marginal. Mobile apps and lecture capture are poised to explode.

These are among the findings of the 2010 Campus Computing Survey, the latest edition of the Campus Computing Project’s annual census. The organization released the new data, which are based on questionnaires filled out over the last month or so by technology leaders at 523 different nonprofit institutions, amid the hubbub of the EDUCAUSE 2010 conference.

Read the full article.

Arizona State Announces Partnership with Pearson to Deliver Online Learning

With budgets tight and the commercial market flush with companies willing to take on various tasks that come with running a university, it has become relatively common for institutions to outsource parts of their operations to outside companies.

It is less common for a public university to entrust an outsider with such a wide swath of duties that it calls that private company an equal partner in online education. But Arizona State University announced on Monday that it is doing just that with Pearson, the education and media company.

Under the agreement, the Arizona State faculty will teach online courses through Pearson’s learning management platform, LearningStudio, using the tools embedded in that platform to collect and analyze data in hopes of improving student performance and retention. Pearson will also help with enrollment management and “prospect generation,” while providing more “customer-friendly” support services for students, the university says.

Arizona State, meanwhile, says it will retain control over all things academic, including instruction and curriculum development.

Read the full article.

Battle for the Lecture-capture Market Heats Up

As higher ed technology leaders convene today in Anaheim for the annual meeting of Educause, the battle for the lecture-capture market is growing more intense—and the definition of the market may be changing as well.

At Educause a year ago, there was still debate regarding how to win over faculty members skeptical of lecture capture—a service in which class lectures are recorded and preserved in a digital library, frequently with additional materials such as relevant slides, quizzes or summaries. This year, the pre-meeting buzz has been less about debating whether lecture capture will take off than over which companies and which approaches are mostly likely to succeed. Some lecture-capture companies are aligning themselves with big publishers—while others say they are content not to.

One publisher-lecture capture partnership—Macmillan and Panopto—will today announce a plan to start pushing a business model in which individual faculty members would be sold on lecture capture and pass on the costs to students in the form of a low-cost licensing fee ($10 per student per course). The professors would assign a lecture capture purchase much the same way a textbook is assigned. While some in the industry see this as a way to expand lecture capture quickly beyond institutions that will pay for institution-wide licenses, others question whether this could anger students, and in turn frustrate professors who want to use the technology.

The Macmillan/Panopto push (which is a collaboration, not a merger or purchase) comes a week after McGraw-Hill Education purchased Tegrity, a lecture-capture company. . . .

The companies involved in lecture capture did tens of millions of dollars of business with higher education in the last year, and are expecting significant growth for the next five years, as more faculty members and more institutions embrace the concept.

Read the full article.


Making Online Learning Accessible to the Blind

Online learning is often heralded as a way to make college an option for people who would not otherwise have the money or mobility to access it. But for blind students, online learning can present more obstacles than opportunities — especially as e-learning materials become more technologically sophisticated. . . .

That new types of course content being developed for online learning might create accessibility problems is not a new revelation. But the courts have made little progress toward defining and enforcing accessibility standards for online education in the last decade, even as online degree programs have proliferated and been adopted into mainstream higher education. Only in the last few months has the federal government hinted that online education, and technological innovations associated with it, might soon face legal scrutiny.

In the meantime, advocates for the blind are worried that it is becoming harder for the assistive technology used by blind students to keep pace with advances in educational technology. “Dynamic” e-learning content — e.g., graphics that change as a user rolls over or clicks on different parts — could present huge challenges to blind students, says Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation for the Blind, or NFB. Figuring out how translate static tables and diagrams for blind students was trouble enough, he says; it is not yet clear how to deal with newer, more interactive e-learning objects that may soon pervade online education. . . .

The chances of a successful lawsuit might become clearer sometime in the next year or two. The Department of Justice has suggested that it might soon articulate exactly what kind of legal recourse blind and otherwise disabled students have with respect to the accessibility of online courses. Last month, the department issued several notices, saying it is collecting public comment on a number of topics related to accessibility and the Web in preparation to lay out the specific obligations of various institutions under federal law.

In June, the Justice Department and the Education Department jointly released a “dear colleague” letter to colleges, warning them that the government plans to crack down on institutions that require disabled students to use emerging technology that does not comply with federal accessibility laws. This, again, did not explicitly mention online education, but Bridges says it was a shot across the bow.

Read the full article.

Continuing Debate Over Online Education

A new paper by the Community College Research Center has re-examined and challenged the studies that theDepartment of Education used in a meta-analysis that stated “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction”—a conclusion that received much attention and applause among advocates for online education.

But the Education Department’s analysis was flawed, according to Shanna Smith Jaggars, lead author of the CCRC paper and a senior research associate at the Columbia University center. Based on its review of the data, the CCRC concluded that online learning in higher education is no more effective than face-to-face learning.

The CCRC report states that the Department of Education analysis’ flaws lie in the student populations studied and the conditions of the online courses. The meta-analysis examined the results of 51 published studies that looked at the effects of online versus face-to-face education. Of these, however, only 28 compared face-to-face courses with fully online courses. (The third option, hybrid courses, had most of the students experiencing as much face-to-face class time as they would in a normal course.)

The paper also states that most of these 28 courses studied contained conditions unrepresentative of typical college classes. Most of them looked at short educational programs (as short as 15 minutes) instead of semester-long courses, and some examined online learning in elementary schools or with postgraduate professionals. As a result, Jaggars narrowed the pool to only seven studies that accurately reflected fully-online learning in a college or university setting.

According to the report, these seven online courses “showed no strong advantage or disadvantage in terms of learning outcomes among the samples of students under study.”  . . .

But comparing online to face-to-face learning may not be the best approach to assessing online education, says John Bourne, executive director of the Sloan Consortium, a group of colleges and other organizations that work on online education issues.

“I am exceptionally dubious of studies that tend to compare online education and on-the-ground education without even an attempt to understand the differences in the mechanisms of teaching,” he said, adding that he thinks both reports are flawed, albeit interesting. “The jury is absolutely still out on this, and I don’t believe for a minute that it’s about the delivery mechanism, but what the affordances are of the delivery.”

Read the entire article.

New Study Questions Effectiveness of Online Learning

Is online education as good as traditional, face-to-face education?

. . . Since a Department of Education meta-analysis last summer concluded that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” many advocates now consider the matter closed.

Not so fast, say researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Education Department’s study was deeply flawed and its implications have been overblown, say the authors of a working paper released this month by the bureau.

“None of the studies cited in the widely-publicized meta-analysis released by the U.S. Department of Education included randomly-assigned students taking a full-term course, with live versus online delivery mechanisms, in settings that could be directly compared (i.e., similar instructional materials delivered by the same instructor),” they write. “The evidence base on the relative benefits of live versus online education is therefore tenuous at best.”

In spring 2007, they randomly assigned 327 volunteers enrolled in an introductory microeconomics course to either attend the class lectures live or watch them online. Both groups would have access to the same ancillary materials and access to office hours and graduate assistants; the only difference would be the mode of lecture delivery.

They found no statistically significant differences between the academic performances of the two groups generally. However, they did find that Hispanic students, male students, and low-achieving students in the online group fared significantly worse than their counterparts in the live-attendance group.

These findings do not exactly refute the conclusions of the Education Department’s meta-analysis. Nor is the new study without flaws of its own, which the authors enumerate in detail — though not the most obvious, which is that videotaped lectures are a relatively primitive form of online teaching, and, where they are used, are usually only part of the package.

But Rush says the main takeaway of the bureau’s experiment is not that he and his co-authors are right or that the Education Department’s study was wrong; just that there is much more work — much more precise work — to be done before any firm pronouncements can be made on the merits of online education relative to the face-to-face kind.

Read the full article.

Google Launches Cloud Based, Open Source Learning Platform

Google has launched an open-source learning platform called CloudCourse. Built entirely on App Engine, CloudCourse enables anyone to create and track learning activities. CloudCourse is available as an open source codeset and will be evolved as developers experiment and extend the functionality.

Find out more about CloudCourse here.

Can Twitter be used for Training & Development?

Twitter is a free social networking tool that keeps people connected with one another and with sources of information. Twitter users submit updates, called “tweets,” about what they are doing at the moment. These text-based tweets cannot exceed 140 characters. Twitter traffic is exploding and recently reached 50 million tweets per day. If you do a quick search using the tool, many brand name companies use Twitter as another way to connect and communicate with customers, partners, analysts and employees.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of “friends.” Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, SMS text, RSS, or through any ever-growing number of applications such as Twirl and Facebook for mobile devices.

Can Twitter be used for training & development? How? A few ways to consider:

Provide real-time nuggets of learning
Even faster and more digestible than rapid e-learning, Twitter tweets could be used to distribute real-time/just-in-time nuggets of information as needed. Consider a Twitter network of geographically dispersed sales people who can instantly and constantly share competitive information and insights AS THEY OCCUR IN THE FIELD. Articles, news items, YouTube videos…almost anything can be shared instantly (and easily using the “shorten URL” feature).

Follow-up/archive method
Twitter is a great tool for communicating and asking questions on conference calls and webcasts. Another benefit: using Twitter enables you to keep a record of the questions and comments in a format not unlike a chat or blog post.

Reinforcement & reminders related to processes, policies and procedures
Twitter can be used to reinforce new content because it allows you to send and see quick snippets of information…ideal for sending out reminders, how-to’s, examples and clarifications…all important when it comes to maintaining consistency related to new processes, policies and procedures.

Are you using Twitter in the workplace? Is it a viable tool for learning and development? Post your ideas and comments below.

BTW, follow eCornell on Twitter at