Cheating is a perennial concern in education. All educators are aware of it, and all educators know they must monitor students’ behavior for signs of troubling activity. But in an increasingly remote and digital context, sussing out cheating is harder than ever. Instructors are generally savvy to the ways students game digital systems. But that doesn’t necessarily make those deceptive activities easier to spot.
More and more, instructors are looking to EdTech products to help solve the problem. That makes sense. After all, the more a product includes built-in protections against cheating, the less instructors have to worry about their lessons being undermined. Which means they can focus on teaching rather than policing.
If you’re working on an EdTech product with a focus on graded assignments, the time is ripe to prioritize anti-cheating methods. Security concerns are a very real threat to your product’s ongoing success. If instructors find that students aren’t engaging with your content the right way, they may be hesitant to use it at all. By beefing up your product’s anti-cheating capabilities, you can drastically increase instructors’ trust — and ensure that students are properly challenged in their coursework, too.
How to Prevent Cheating in Your EdTech Product
Take the following steps to increase your product’s security and head off cheating at the pass.
Make sure your code is buttoned up and secure
It may seem too obvious to mention, but if there are loopholes or bugs in your code that facilitate cheating (such as a shortcut to reveal answers early), your students will find them. Before you invest in other anti-cheating solutions, take the time to review your product’s codebase with an eye to security. Address any weak points as soon as possible to preserve instructors’ trust in your product.
Put yourself in students’ shoes
To prevent cheating within your product, you must first understand how students are using it in the first place.
Whatever you do, don’t assume your users are only interacting with your product in the ways you anticipated and intended. Research how your student users actually interact with your product, both inside and outside the classroom. When doing online assignments, do your students work in a group? Do they share answers with others in the class? Can previously completed assignments be passed down by last semester’s students? What tools do they use to answer questions or solve problems? Do they use your product in tandem with other digital products (EdTech or otherwise)? Are students engaged when using your product, or are they bored? (Boredom has clearly been linked to cheating.)
Incorporating questions like these into your research can give you valuable insights into how students use — and abuse — your product.
Implement anti-cheating measures that are right for your product
Once you have an idea of how students are taking advantage of your product, it’s time to identify mechanisms to reduce or eliminate cheating. As you weigh options, keep in mind that your goal should be to challenge students to learn the material without creating an unfair or frustrating user experience. The following tactics may be useful:
- Randomize assignment content. Randomization is an extremely common and effective way to reduce cheating. By randomizing assignment content at the user level within your EdTech product, you can challenge students individually while making it impossible for them to share answers. This method also disincentivizes the wrong kind of group work. Students may work together to discuss concepts (which is often a good thing), but they can’t explicitly share answers. You can randomize content at the assignment level or the individual question level. For example, you might opt to build question pools, or a series of questions that can be chosen at random for each question on an assignment. For multiple choice exams, you could also randomize the order in which the answers appear (so that the same correct answer might be “A” for one student and “C” for another).
- Set time constraints on assignments. Time constraints are a great way to reduce cheating, especially for higher-stakes assignments like tests and exams. Time constraints are an inherent part of traditional, in-person assignments. By applying time-constraints to a remote learning context, you can simulate the in-class experience. Limiting a student’s time on an assignment creates a sense of urgency, incentivizes preparedness, and makes it much more difficult for students to search the web for answers. If you decide to go this route, be sure students are aware of the amount of time they’ll have for a given assignment beforehand so they can come prepared with a game plan. In addition, build a countdown timer in your user interface and make sure it’s clearly visible the whole time a student is taking a timed assignment. This enables them to easily keep tabs on their remaining time, which can reduce student stress and create a more fair-feeling experience.
- Virtual proctoring software. Remote proctoring is a fairly new tool, but one that educators are increasingly adopting for high-stakes exams. There are several standalone services that allow live or digital proctors to flag instances of suspected cheating. Some programs also flag extra web browser activity occurring outside the assignment. If you are considering adding a virtual proctoring component to your product, keep in mind that you may meet resistance from your student users. Some students and others in education have (perhaps justifiably) raised privacy concerns about these methods. Extra user research can help you determine whether virtual proctoring is the right fit for your product. Finally, be aware that automatic flagging will almost certainly include some inconsistencies and false alarms.
Educate your users about your anti-cheating methods
Whether you are just now adding anti-cheating measures to your product or have offered them for years, make sure to educate your users about your product’s capabilities. That includes your marketing materials, onboarding materials, and relevant workflows (for example, any anti-cheating features associated with an assignment type should be accurately described during assignment creation). Anti-cheating features can also be a valuable sales tool. Make sure your sales team is aware of those functionalities so they can properly explain them to potential customers.
No one goes into the field of education because they want to police cheating. But all instructors know that cheating is a perennial problem, one that is only growing in the current era of remote learning. The more your EdTech product takes the lead in preventing cheating, the more your instructors can focus on doing what they love most — and the more loyal they’ll be to your brand.