MOOCs and the Honor Code

Teresa Sullivan. Photo credit: Virginia Business.
Teresa Sullivan. Photo credit: Virginia Business.

In an interview for its June issue, Virginia Business interviewed University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). University professors are teaching six MOOCs this year. On the positive side, Sullivan said, the experience is changing how the professors are teaching their classes on the Grounds and promoting the UVa brand around the world.

But there’s one knotty issue the university hasn’t worked out yet:

We have a special issue with the MOOCs, and that’s the honor system.  It is known that, in the online environment, cheating is rampant.  It’s been difficult to develop ways that you actually know who’s taking an exam.

That’s a legitimate quandary. As far as I’m concerned, the honor code is sacred. Inviolable. It’s a bastion against moral decay and it cannot be compromised. The University of Virginia has systems in place on the Grounds to indoctrinate students and enforce the code. That system cannot possibly be replicated for 20,000 people taking a course around the world.

UVa may have to settle for two standards — one for students physically enrolled at the university and one for everyone else. Unfortunately, if the university cannot vouch for the integrity of online students, it will be understandably reluctant to grant them degrees, as Georgia Tech plans to do in a program I posted about recently. It’s a big issue to work out.


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4 responses to “MOOCs and the Honor Code”

  1. larryg Avatar

    I think it’s non-issue for those serious about MOOC and here’s why.

    For those with GMAIL accounts and more and more other sensitive accounts, they have what is known as a two-step verification that can and is employed not only on initial log in – but on a random challenge basis.

    and it works like this – when you first register – you provide your cell phone (or landline) number.

    Later, depending on the folks on the other end , in this case, a University giving an exam – a “challenge” is issue and the account is blocked until you are sent a text message with an unlock code which you have to supply on login – and they’re expecting the answer to come from the same IP address that the challenge was issued to so you can’t have a confederate at another computer waiting for your phone call.

    the only way to defeat it would be to have the cheater sitting right next to you – 24/7 or whenever the random challenge is issued.

    this is just one way. there are others. you could be issued random numbers on various dates and the random challenge would require you to provide the number for a certain date.

    they could require a fingerprint login… etc… or even a video login when they have your picture on their end and match it via facial recognition.

    but I am amused that we have folks who support the MOOC but were unaware of the cheat issue … i.e. horse before cart!

    not something trivial but something that is doable with current technology.

  2. VCU offers its Masters program in Homeland Security and Emergency Management solely over the Internet.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Gee after gushing so much… about MOOCs.. we now learn the Cavalier Code still trumps all. Soo UVa… SOOOO elitist!

  4. larryg Avatar

    You will have this same problem – no matter which school including K-12.

    The ultimate solution to this might be to require a point of presence like you’d see with State certifications for Lawyers or Doctors, CPAs, etc.

    In other words, you have to prove who you are when taking exams and it may well end up that while the course is free – the final exam is not and it has to be taken at a physical location where your ID is verified – and the cost of the exam pays for the physical site an it’s management and operation.

    so MOOCs won’t be “free”. They never were anyhow because it costs money to provide MOOC – the IT infrastructure as well as the instructors.

    But as this evolves, and they get the identify issue under control and costs are realized and recognized – there will be along with it – the recognition that MOOC, will have a price – but that price will be less than on-Campus matriculation.

    People will have a choice. The kid in SW Va whose parents are barely able to pay for MOOC will allow their kid to get a degree – by taking the midterm and final exam at the nearest Community College.

    So… I predict that MOOC will not be “free” but will cost and unfortunately, UVA and others will charge what the market will bear and may even use MOOC to subsidize on-campus if MOOC proves too popular and on-campus starts to drop in demand …..

    In other words, MOOC is not going to be the truly “disruptive” technology that some believe it will be. It will be accommodated and MOOC will then become associated with the reputation of the provider. A MOOC degree from UVA or MIT is going to be a more trusted and respected degree than the commercial free-market offerings – at least until some kind of comparison of the quality of the education between traditional and commercial can be further quantified.

    Probably – we’ll start to see a separate category on the U.S. News and World Report.for MOOC.

    but I would expect the institutions that have the most resources to be able to leverage better – once they decide to get into MOOC.

    the wild card here IMHO, is Community colleges who are obvious locations for provide MOOC from the Universities.

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