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Are MOOCs Easier Targets for Would-Be Cheaters?


WHO'S CHEATING WHO? Ongoing controversy over how to measure MOOC achievement speaks to both the rapid growth of the MOOC movement and our unhealthy obsession with measuring what we hardly understand.

In a detailed BBC summary of the challenges affecting the validity of online courses, grading at scale appears to be the most substantial issue -- there simply isn't enough human feedback to gauge quality of work for non-technical subjects.

Automatic-grading for technical coursework is hardly fool-proof, either. Avid blogger and MOOCer, Gregor Ulm, warns that auto-graded code submissions fail to gauge soft programming skills like code structure and complexity.

But beyond macro-scale grading, all other symptoms of online cheating appear embedded within K-16 culture, not newly minted technological capabilities.

In the brick-and-mortar world, after enduring several SAT cheating scandals in 2011, the College Board tightened security measures to the point that some well-intentioned students were not permitted to re-enter testing rooms. This year alone has seen allegations of widespread cheating spread from American public schools to the upper echelons of Harvard and Oxford.

There have been no reports of any substantial portion of MOOC-enrolled students gaining professional or academic advantages over their brick-and-mortar, tuition-paying counterparts, but somehow monitoring unfair advantages of access to free knowledge has taken center stage over understanding how to best implement it.

Before dragging the baggage of 20th century assessment into MOOCs and other ground-breaking edtech, it's a worthwhile task to look deeper into the motivations behind cheating:

  • Does cheating matter in non-credit, free courses? And if so, why do MOOCers cheat (guilty consciences vent here)?
  • Who loses out when cheating happens? Other MOOC students? Potential employers? Or how about the cheater?

We'd love to hear your thoughts. Weigh in!


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