The development of online educational courses has resulted in changes in the educational environment. The online process has advantages and disadvantages. A major advantage is the increased access ability that is provided by online courses, providing education to students who may not be able to physically attend a college or university due to location or other lifestyle factors. A major disadvantage is a threat to academic integrity, with the educational establishment having a lack of control over the assessment conditions, especially exams. Both of these issues may be considered by Yates and Beaudrie (2009), when examining the impact that online assessment has on the grades of students.
Accessibility is an important advantage; it helps to break down many of the barriers which may otherwise prevent students from gaining further or higher education. There are many reasons why an individual may not be able to attend a course, barriers such as disability or commitments which may prevent scheduling classes may be overcome with the provision of online learning (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009). The provision of online education can have an empowering impact; the students will be able to schedule their own learning. As the online environment also has the potential to increase the capacity of the University, so more students can learn, providing online learning may also provide education to those who would not qualify for the more limited physical places within a university or college environment. Cluskey (et al., 2011), also point out that as well as benefiting the student, online teaching may also benefit education establishment, as traditional teaching methods, including proctor assessments, have higher associated costs. When undertaking an online assessment many of the overheads associated with proctor exams are avoided, there is no need for the facilities in which these terms will be taken as well as the cost of supervision. Therefore, it maybe argued that increased access ability provides students with many advantages, increasing their ability to learn, by reducing or overcoming many barriers, as well as increasing the overall capacity of an educational institution, and potentially lowering the cost.
While accessibility is a major advantage, one of the potential disadvantages is the threat that online learning may pose to academic integrity (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009). Online assessments provide students with the potential to cheat so that the examination is not a true reflection of their knowledge and/or ability. For example, in a remote environment where there is no supervision it would be possible for a student to use books or other resources, including input from a third person, when taking the exam. The exam may even be completed by an impersonator (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009). Furthermore, in cases where exams need to be taken within a set period time, usually within a 24 or 48-hour period, and may be the possibility for students to gain access to the question papers before they actually sit them (Yates and Beaudrie, 2009). It is widely accepted in literature that this is a significant threat, as the education establishment is unable to control the conditions in which exams are taken (Cluskey et al. 2011; Yates and Beaudrie, 2009; Lanier, 2006). However, the potential for cheating does not necessarily mean it is occurring. The research by Yates and Beaudrie, (2009) compared the results achieved by students who were assessed within a proctored environment, and students who undertook non-proctor and assessment online. The results were interesting, comparing 406 traditional students, with 444 online students, the research indicated that there was no significant difference in the grades that were achieved, arguing that this does not substantiate the worries found in other literature that cheating is taking place. The assessment is utilized argued that online testing is a viable approach. However, it maybe argued that this conclusion has a significant flaw, as an underlying assumption is that similar results indicate a general compatibility, if the students taking the online courses may have demonstrated a naturally low-grade, the correlation may be the result of increased seating, raising the scores to a coincidental level. Furthermore, the authors themselves recognize that the results are only reflective of a single educational establishment from which all of the students were drawn, possibly reflecting the specific culture for that organization. Lanier, (2006) found results the conflicted with those of Yates and Beaudrie, (2009), demonstrating that cheating was more widespread in the online environment, finding that just under a quarter of male students will cheat, and a fifth of female students will cheat. The problem this poses is that while the majority students may be honest, significant levels of cheating students will impact on the overall academic integrity of results gained by all students, and the educational institution itself. Cluskey (et al. 2011) argues that while there is a great potential for cheating, this can be minimized with a number of control measures. One option may be the use of remote proctor, but the cost associated with this may be prohibitive. Instead, basic measures may be implemented by colleges or universities in order to increase the potential for honesty, which may reduce the potential for cheating. When assessments are undertaken in an environment where there is no direct control, there will always be some risks, but with a number of controls in place, in maybe argued that the potential benefits of increasing accessibility may balance the risks, as long as organizations are aware of the risks and seek to counteract them.
Education, Vol. 23, No. 2, April 2009: pp. 1 — 14
Cluskey, G.R. Jr.; Ehlen, Craig R; Raiborn, Mitchell H, (2011), Thwarting online exam cheating without proctor supervision, Journal of Academic and Business Ethics, 4, 1-7.
Lanier, Mark M, (2006), Academic Integrity and Distance Learning, Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 17(2), 244-261
Yates, Ronald W; Beaudrie, Brian, (2009), the Impact of Online Assessment on Grades in Community College Distance Education Mathematics Courses, the American Journal of Distance Education, 23: 62 — 70, 2009
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