Picture of an open bookPreventing academic dishonesty in online and blended environments is a challenging obstacle. An open-book assessment with challenging questions that refer directly to course content may be an effective technique in reducing academic dishonesty.

You can administer this type of assessment on the whiteboard, with a Word document, inside your Learning Management System’s test bank, or through discussion forums.

Remind students that open-book assessments require them to study

When students hear “open-book” they assume they don’t need to study. Sharing your expectations and the content it covers (i.e. lecture notes, videos, textbook chapters) as well as providing students with a review question or two to study with, will illustrate the importance of being familiar with ALL the information for the assessment.

Assess specifically on course content and lectures

Asking students to analyze concepts or theories, interpret the results of a specific figure or diagram, or solve case studies in a specific chapter, assists them in making meaningful connections with the content.

Incorporate subjective questions

Short answer and essay questions allow for creative, organized, thoughtful responses that illustrate a deeper understanding of the material. Students have to understand the material and apply the theories effectively in this scenario. Here are some examples of objective and subjective questions, as well as information about when to use each type.

If your assessment is a discussion in the Moodle forum, you can use the “Q and A” option. Students must first post their perspectives before they are permitted to view the other students’ posts. This type of forum encourages students to compose original responses.

Use test banks

Consider creating a test bank in Moodle. Questions can be grouped by any number of criteria, including topic, subject matter, question type, or by difficulty. A test bank will generate an assessment with randomized questions selected by you. Test banks can be created from new questions or questions in existing test banks.

Randomize questions for every test

When creating a test in Moodle, you have the option to randomize the questions. The result is that students are not likely to get the same questions in the same sequence, when taking an assessment. This strategy can address the issue of students who take an assessment at the same time to share answers. This is also helpful if you allow students multiple attempts taking the assessment. Each time a repeat effort occurs, Moodle will generate randomly selected and ordered questions.

Make multiple choice questions difficult

Use distracters that closely resemble the correct answer, or use application and analysis questions that challenge students to fully understand the content. Here’s a great post about creating good multiple choice questions.

Use the Moodle timing feature

Students will recognize the need to have familiarity with the material in order to finish the test within the set time limits. Make assessments available for a short period of time. For example, open the test up between 1pm and 3pm for the students. This decreases the possibility of them taking the quiz first and then assisting another student. The recommended time allotment in the literature for a recall test is between 45 and 60 seconds per question. Randomizing the questions and answers makes collaboration problematic and time consuming coupled with time limits.

Display questions one at a time

If a test has more than 5 questions, schedule the questions to appear one at a time. This coupled with a timed assessment, doesn’t provide students with enough time to copy and distribute the information.

Limit feedback

Limit what types of feedback are displayed to students upon completion of an assessment. Providing test scores is important feedback that indicates how well students have performed and should be made available. However, through a process of elimination, students may be able to determine the correct answer for each question if their submitted answers are identified as incorrect, or if the correct answer is provided. This is especially relevant if faculty have allowed students to repeat assessments. Each time an assessment was taken, students could attempt a different answer for a question that was previously graded as incorrect. Correct answers to all questions could eventually be accumulated and disseminated.

Providing feedback after the assessment is completed

Students like to see what questions they missed and what the correct answers are.

One way to protect the assessment from being copied and distributed is to provide the answers at one time to students who have completed it. Review the test in class as a conversation, this reinforces learning and invites questions from the class. Or, you could go over the actual test itself in class in front of the room, without passing out the test or opening it in Moodle.   Please note, the conversation can be recorded using these strategies. A modification of this technique is to review the answers individually with students during office hours. This is really the safest option (albeit the most time consuming).

For online courses, where the luxury of meeting in one place isn’t available, re-opening the assessment for a brief, specific time window provides the feedback students want without a lot of time to replicate it. Display each question independently for a minimal allotment of time to prevent screen shots from being made or content copied and pasted into another document.

Suggested Readings

Grijalva, T., Nowell, C., & Kerkvliet, J. (2006). Academic honesty and online courses. College Student Journal, 40(1), 180-185.

Lanier, M. (2006). Academic integrity and distance learning. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 17(2), 244-261.

Olt, M. R., (2002). Ethics and distance education: Strategies for minimizing academic dishonesty in online assessment. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 5(3), Fall 2002.

Stuber-McEwen, D., Wiseley, P., & Hoggatt, S. (2009). Point, click, and cheat: Frequency and type of academic dishonesty in the virtual classroom. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(3), 1-10.

Trenholm, S. (2006-2007). A review of cheating in fully asynchronous online courses: A math or fact-based course perspective. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35(3), 281-300.


Image by Flickr user George Thomas | CC BY-NC-ND

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Cheri Crabb, PhD

Cheri Crabb, PhD

I am dedicated to working with online faculty at Elon University and pride myself on designing quality curriculum advocating instructional technology usage. My career in academia is focused on instructional design and development using integrated electronic media systems. I earned my Doctor of Philosophy in Instructional Systems Design and Development from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University while representing NASA’s Office of Education as their first Graduate Studies Research Program doctoral fellowship recipient.

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