OTAAG Oct 9, 2014

This week’s topic is an extremely important one.  It’s relevant to teaching in any mode but a real challenge and point of potential weakness in online learning.

How do you verify and know that the work done in your online class is being completed by the student registered for the class?

For several years there has been a federal mandate to authenticate student identity through a specified method.  This method for ICC is the process by which our students are given an assigned username and password by the college to log in to Blackboard.  As long as we maintain a secure process to issue usernames and passwords, we meet the requirements of the federal mandate.  The liability is twofold.  The college must maintain the secure process to issue user credentials and the student must maintain the responsibility to keep those user credentials secure and private once he/she has them.

There are a variety of vendors wanting us to buy a commercial “solution” to identity verification.  There are video proctoring services where live proctors monitor webcams focused on students taking tests.  There are “biometric” solutions for capturing each user’s unique mouse usage.  There are fingerprint scanners to unlock content.  There are databases that ask security questions much like the ones your bank or credit card company would ask.  There are “lock down browsers” which stop a student from accessing content in a different program or browser on one computer.

I have seen the live webcam proctor in action and it seems to work for a testing environment. However, to me it’s not feasible to webcam monitor ALL of the work a student does, therefore at least a portion of the grade could be earned by someone else.  The biometric, fingerprint, or security question “locks” can be easily outsmarted.  I can unlock the content and then let you do the work!  And the lock down browser is fine when I am working on only one device, but a recent survey of ICC students indicated that over 80% of 180 student respondents have 2 or more web-enabled devices.  So while you’re locking me down in one computer, I just need my phone, laptop, tablet, or other web-enabled device to look up content in an “unlocked” environment.  And the no-print/no-copy code we used to use?  It takes only the camera on my cell phone to capture the on-screen content perhaps more efficiently and effectively than printing, anyway.

So all of this may seem like gloom and doom and a reason to stop teaching online.  It isn’t.  But we have to continue to work on developing high-quality, engaging online classes which defeat the “shadow scholar” (Chronicle article, November 12, 2010: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Shadow-Scholar/125329/).

How do you do this?  How do you know the “right” student is completing work in your online class?  How do you maintain the integrity of offering an ONLINE class with the needs to KNOW your students individually and authenticate their work?  What strategies do you have to share with others?  Post your comments to the blog or email me at phess@icc.edu

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