Smaller class sizes, and multiple ways of assessing students, may be helping to deter online cheating at Red Deer College.
A University of Calgary researcher recently said some Alberta post-secondary institutions have reported large increases in academic misconduct during the pandemic.
While no single factor contributes to, or prevents cheating, research shows that when students have a connection with their teacher, there is less misconduct.
“When teachers show they care about students, then students show they care about learning. When you have smaller classes, there’s often less incentive, because students feel like human beings,” said Sarah Eaton, an associate professor at the U of C’s Werklund School of Education.
At Red Deer College, about 80 per cent of students are enrolled in online classes.
Despite the switch to online learning, Maureen Toews, associate vice-president of teaching, learning and research at RDC, said concern about cheating has not grown among instructors.
“Most of our class sizes are in the 40- to 60-student range, so instructors really know their students,” Toews said.
“We try to use many different methods of assessment, depending on the course, so that we get a flavour of the student’s progression. Usually, instructors are pretty good at being able to flag when they see something that is problematic.”
She said to help prevent cheating, instructors can lock down students’ browsers and computer monitors during online testing. Student activity during tests can also be tracked via web cam.
“(The web cam) is available and used, but instructors do let students know that they can opt out from a privacy perspective. In cases where students aren’t comfortable using that tool, they can access an alternative assessment.”
Exams can also be arranged to give students just enough time to finish if they have properly prepared, she said.
Brittany Lausen, president of the Students’ Association of Red Deer College, agreed that cheating isn’t a big problem.
The students’ association provides support to students accused of cheating, or those going through the appeal process.
“It’s still early in the semester, but we have not had any cases, or anything reported to us, as far as academic dishonesty,” Lausen said.
However, she does have some concerns about the lock-downed browser. Students may be flagged for cheating for looking down at a piece of scrap paper, or if they leave to use the washroom and forget to send a message, she said.
The association is in the process of researching different online testing options.
“But any instances that have happened, Red Deer College faculty have been so accommodating. To my knowledge, there haven’t been any instances that weren’t cleared up with a simple follow-up conversation.”
Lausen said failing technology can also cause problems during exams, and insufficient bandwidth can force rural students to find somewhere to do tests in Red Deer, such as booking a space at the RDC library.
Eaton said misconduct data at the U of C was not yet available, but a variety of issues can play a role in cheating, such as students feeling stressed, parental pressure, the maturity level of students, and more.
“Many students have no experience taking online classes. There is lots of research to show that young people can have more ability with technology, but they have ability for things like gaming and entertainment and socializing.
“Those skills don’t automatically translate into learning, or learning in a school-like environment,” Eaton said.
There is also the misconception that all academic misconduct is deliberate, she said.
“Sometimes, they are student mistakes. They might make mistakes with citing or referencing. They might not know what they can share or what they can’t share, what’s OK to do.”
Eaton said cheating is a global problem that Canada has been slow to address, but last year, the Alberta Council on Academic Integrity was set up, and similar councils operate in Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba.
“We’re starting to build this momentum across Canada that will allow us to take these systematic and unified approaches.”