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Online university courses

Posted by Francis O' Toole on October 31, 2012

Imagine taking a university exam in your own home, under the watchful eye of a webcam or with software profiling your keystrokes or your syntax to see whether it really is you answering the questions.

Online university courses have become the Next Big Thing for higher education, particularly in the United States, where millions of students have signed up for courses from some of the most upmarket universities.

With spiralling costs and student loan debts crossing the trillion dollar barrier this year, the online university has been seen as a way of reaching many more people for much less money.

But a major stumbling block has been how such digital courses are assessed.

When students are at home how do you know whether they are cheating? How do you know the identity of the person answering the questions?

For the online courses to gain value, they need a credible way of assessing students and an important part of that is preventing fraud.

Home exams

The Open University in the UK has been a pioneer of distance learning.

“It’s a common problem across the sector – how do you know that the individual taking the exam is the right person?” says Peter Taylor, chair of the Open University’s academic conduct group.

An important attraction of online courses is that students can study where and when they want – and he says the university is looking at ways of letting people take exams at home.

Anant Agarwal
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