I have always been pretty sceptical about arguments over the difficulty of authenticating student work online, mostly because I structure my courses so that someone would have to make a pretty huge time commitment to complete the course for someone else.
Apparently I should worry a bit more. An article from the Atlantic starts with some pretty generic observations about buying papers--a reality since long before the Internet--but then moves to something that suprised me. The existence of at least one site where a student can hire someone to take a complete course.
Here is the paragraph from the Atlantic piece that interested me:
"And why stop with exams? Why not follow this path to its logical conclusion? If the entire course is online, why shouldn't students hire someone to enroll and complete all its requirements on their behalf? In fact, "Take-my-course.com" sites have already begun to appear. One site called My Math Genius promises to get customers a "guaranteed grade," with experts who will complete all assignments and "ace your final and midterm." And why should the trend toward vicarious performance stop with education? How long must we wait until some intrepid entrepreneur founds ""Do-my-job.com" or "Live-my-life.com?"
I visited the site referenced in this paragarph, and it is indeed more than a little scary for adovates of online teaching and learning like myself. Here is a quote from the home page; it comes from a featured box on the page:
"Got an Online or Distance Education Math Course? If you are taking an online math course with very little face-to-face interaction we might be able to find you a math expert to solve all your problems. Your math genius can simply log-in on your behalf complete the online assignments, exams and even the entire course for you!. You can be confident that when you pay your own math genius to do/write your online exam for you that the job gets done well."
One of the compelling arguments against anxiety about online cheating has been that most of the things folks seemed worried about happening online could happen onsite as well. Do I, for example, really know that my students in class are who I say they are? Can I guarantee the authenticity of student out of class work any more onsite than online?
But news of this web site forces me to admit that it is easier for students to cheat online than I realized. At least one site already exists that apparently could help a student work through an online class without doing any work and any learning. At a minimum, this seems to suggest that it would be far easier for a student to hire an online academic surrogate than an onsite academic surrogate.
Perhaps many of my online colleagues have already thought more about this than I have and have developed strategies for thinking about / responding to this challenge. But for me, this news means that the time has come to rethink this question...