News and Notes – December 2020

By Derek Newton

#FakeNews on Cheating

In my first News and Notes, I wrote about the odd report, called “Snooping Where We Sleep,” which was a bizarre attempt to discredit online test proctoring. Specifically, I noted where the report writers say that cheating may be less common in online classes than in face-to-face ones, which simply is not true.

Anyway, I did manage to track down a citation the report used to make that claim (the citation they actually use in the report is wrong). Nonetheless, they do later cite this study from 2010 by two professors, Dr. Watson and Dr. Sottile, then at Marshall University.

That paper does say, “the results showed higher rates of academic dishonesty in live courses.” And that’s probably what the “snooping” people where pinning their report on. Even so, it’s pretty clear they did not actually read the Marshall paper.

Turns out, the paper they use to say cheating is less common online actually says it’s more common online. Oops.

Let me share a few lines from the report that the anti-proctoring people somehow missed:

“slightly more students admitted to cheating in on-line courses” 

“The results showed that students felt they were almost four times more likely to be dishonest in on-line classes than live classes”

“The data showed that students were significantly more likely to obtain answers from others during an on-line test or quiz”

Huh. That’s odd.

But it gets even better. The Marshall research says, and I’m not kidding, “Interestingly, students reported they were more than twice as likely to have been caught cheating in a live class.”

So, the report that the anti-proctoring people cite to say cheating is less common online actually says just the opposite. And it also says students were less likely to be caught when they cheat online, which is what proctoring does. It prevents cheating online.

And I’m not done. This, you won’t believe. The Marshall research literally, actually suggests using test proctors for online exams. Here: “Course developers should take extra precautions with regards to on-line tests or quizzes, either through having a test proctor, changing the type of assessment, or lowering the assessment’s value in relation to other course assignments.”

So, again the report cited in an anti-proctoring “report” actually says cheating is more common online, that students are less likely to be caught and suggests proctoring.  

Confused, I e-mailed doctors Watson and Sottile who wrote the cited report. I wanted to know who was reading it right – me or the “snooping” group. Did they really say cheating was less common online than in person?

No, they did not. Dr. Watson literally said I was reading the report correctly and that, “If I could go back and re-write the piece I would take out the sentence … as it is too often taken out of context.” He was referring to the sentence used in the anti-proctoring report.  

Sottile added, “I am surprised others are “cherry picking” (for lack of a better term) from the piece instead of reviewing the whole article.”

Yea, me too. Except that I’m not surprised at all.

70:1?

This surprised me so much, I even tweeted whether anyone else noticed it.

Submerged in the sea of higher ed data that’s now available – and it really surprises me how people still say that just making data available will improve consumer choices – is that the University of Phoenix has a published student to faculty ratio of 70:1. Yes, seventy to one.

I was not the first to see it. Dahn Shaulis over at College Meltdown was.

Still, 70:1? Are you kidding?

I thought it had to be misprint or a data glitch, so I asked the school and ED. Turns out, no glitch. But there is some math involved.

To calculate student to teacher ratio, ED asks schools to divide the number of part-time instructors by three. That seems fair. Since you can’t count one teacher who teaches four classes the same as one who teaches just a single class, you have to adjust. The other thing is that the math on that isn’t done by ED, it’s done by the school and submitted to The Department. The school confirmed it.  

But at 70:1, that tells me that University of Phoenix has some pretty large classes to start with as well as an incredible number of part time, probably contract, teachers. As Phoenix is nearly entirely online, the teachers they hire are probably from anywhere and everywhere, with very little connection to the school.  

I’ve written before about the correlation between contact, online teachers and their lack of motivation to police misconduct, which is to say cheating. Most simply don’t, and for good reason.

But the biggest take away from the 70:1 number is that having so many contract, part time teachers is really inexpensive. It’s probably the most effective way to squeeze more profit out of online education – write the curriculum once, farm it out to a lightly motivated, inexpensive caretaker teachers and turn it over – over and over again. It’s good profit, but bad education. And since the University of Phoenix is in the profit business and not the education business, no one should be surprised.

And yet, at 70:1, surprised is what I am. It’s a flatly stunning number.