In high school, when you arrive to class for an exam, your teacher pushes your desk away from your neighbor’s and hands you a multiple-choice test. When the due date rolls around for an essay, you drop your assignment on the teacher’s desk at the start of the lesson before anyone can copy. In college, however, course evaluation is different; in online college classes, it’s radically different.


What course materials do I need for an online course?

  • Internet access
  • Computer, laptop, tablet, and/or mobile device
  • A quiet space to work
  • Any materials specified on the syllabus

Is participation graded?

As an online student, you may have to prove that you are actively participating in the course and interacting with the materials. Of course, you won’t do this by showing up to class and answering a roll call, but you may be required to post your response to the class readings on a discussion board, for example. You may have to take a weekly quiz as a follow-up to a webinar. It may be that your professor checks how frequently you log on to the class portal, so don’t think you can get away with “skipping class” for a few days. Your professor will clarify just how this virtual interaction with the course affects the participation component of your grade.

How do professors check online submissions for plagiarism?

If your class requires that you respond to short answer questions or essays, it is possible that your professor will submit your response to a plagiarism-detection website. These websites cross-check your work with texts on the web to verify that your answers weren’t copy-and-pasted. If you did not plagiarize someone else’s work, you have nothing to worry about.

How might I take exams remotely for my online class?

Professors at online colleges may not proctor your exam the same way your high school teachers did, but they have innovative ways of evaluating your performance and preventing you from cheating. Your syllabus should clarify just how your teacher plans to proctor your exam, so there should be no surprises come test day. If your professor uses a webcam proctoring service, for example, you will know ahead of time.

  • Online proctoring services: Occasionally, students in online classes will ask or pay someone else to take their exams. They might believe that since their faces are hidden behind computer screens, their professors won’t know if other people were to do the work for them. That’s not always the case. Some professors who don’t trust the honor system employ online proctoring services to ensure that students are taking their exams honestly. If your professor chooses this method, you will know; you will never be recorded by your professor without your knowledge.
    • Webcam proctors: Some professors have begun using webcam proctoring services, such as ProctorU, to guarantee their students’ integrity. If your professor requires you to use ProctorU, a test proctor will monitor you during your test via webcam. Since you don’t have to meet your proctor in person, you can take your test from any private location with an internet connection. The proctor may ask you to spin your laptop in a 360° circle around the room to prove that you are alone and that no one is helping you with the exam. The proctor will also ask you to hold up a mirror to your computer to show that you don’t have any sticky notes with information stuck there. When you use ProctorU, you are also granting access to your desktop, and proctors will know if you open Google or other web tabs, for example. You’ll be required to show a picture ID. After the exam, your proctor will submit a report to your professor that outlines any suspicious behaviors, such as whether your eyes were focused away from the computer screen or if someone else entered the room during the exam.
    • Robotic proctors: Other professors will use virtual tools, such as ProctorFree, that don’t employ live proctors. ProctorFree verifies the identity of a test taker by using constant facial recognition technology throughout the entire exam. ProctorFree also provides its own browser which lets students access only the specific websites or applications that are required for the exam, such as a calculator. It also uses technology to check for abnormal behaviors which suggest cheating.
  • Live proctors: Instead of using an online proctoring service, your professor may require that someone actually be in the room with you while you take your exam. Generally, this person cannot be a family member and must be identified to the professor ahead of time.
  • Restricted browsers: To restrict a student’s access to online course materials and resources, your professor may ask you to use a special web browser, such as LockDown Browser, which works with Blackboard, Moodle, and many other course platforms. When you start a test, LockDown Browser will immediately display your test full-screen and block your access to websites, printers, and other applications. You cannot exit the test until you submit it for grading, nor can you copy and paste, screen capture, or right-click.
  • Keystroke recognition: New technology tracks a student’s typing patterns and speed. In other words, it identifies how many words per minute you can type, how long you hold down keys, and how long you wait between keystrokes. This information comprises your typing fingerprint, also called your keyboard biometrics. If an online class uses keystroke recognition technology, it often requires that you submit a typing sample at the beginning of the semester. Every time you take a test, it will compare your keyboard biometric information with your first submission to ensure that they match and that the same student has taken both or all exams.

Are there any course evaluation techniques that are already familiar to me?

  • In-person testing: In some online classes, students are required to show up to campus or a testing center with an ID and take the test on-site. If that isn’t feasible for your situation, you may have other options, but you’ll need to talk to your professor beforehand to arrange an alternative.
  • Timed tests: Professors often adjust the amount of time you have to take a test to make sure you aren’t combing the internet for answers. The duration of the test should ensure that you have enough time to thoughtfully answer the questions but not enough time to do outside research.
  • The honor system: In college-level courses, professors are more likely to trust that their students want to be there to learn and apply themselves. At the beginning of the course, you may be asked to pledge no to cheating by signing an honor code. Note that your professors may ensure you keep to your promise by running your work through a plagiarism checker.
  • Open-book tests: If your professor allows you to use your readings, textbook, or the internet on a test or essay, make sure you are especially clear on the expectations. Will there be a time limit? Can you confer with other students?

Professors at online colleges don’t take these measures to intimidate you and drive you out of the course. They want you to succeed, which means you’ll have to put in honest hard work to learn and think about the material.

How do I know what is expected of me?

Always check your syllabus or ask your professor exactly how he or she will calculate your final grade. While you’re at it, you may also want to ask how he or she will proctor your exams. Know the course expectations ahead of time.

Is it easier to cheat in online courses?

Most of your learning is done alone; it is your responsibility to watch the webinars and complete the readings, for example. Despite this, you should never assume that you can surf the web or flip through your textbook during an exam, even if it is online. Online classes do not make cheating more acceptable, nor do they make it any easier.

You’ve heard it before: If you cheat on a test, you’re only cheating yourself. If you’re paying for a class, professors want to assume that you are motivated to do the work and learn.

Page last updated: 09/2017