Academic Outreach

Faculty Focused

Who is taking my class? Verification of Student Identity in Online Classes

Posted on: April 18th, 2016 by annek

Why is it important to be sure that the student completing all the coursework in my online class is the student who will receive the final grade?  There are official reasons, such as it is a requirement of the Higher Education Authorization Act and a guideline of SACSCOC for accreditation. Second it is to contest any negative perceptions about the quality and rigor of distance learning from or concerns about financial aid fraud. But most importantly, it goes to the heart of our academic integrity as educators and to the success of our academic programs.

The first step is to accept that students will cheat, as they are hiring other people to help them. There are many theories for why they would take this path. The course may not be interesting, the class is just a barrier to completing the degree, it is cheaper to hire someone to do the work then to take time off from work/family/play or even that today’s students are part of a participatory culture and they do not see a difference in learning the material on their own as opposed to working collectively. Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of fraud rings that enroll in an online course using someone else’s identity. The end result is that we can no longer rely on old methods to combat this academic dishonesty issue.

UM policy allows online courses to address this issue by the following methods:

  1.  Proctored assessments
  2.  Emerging technologies
  3.  Pedagogical practices

UM offers in-person proctors at all 5 campuses at no cost to our students.  We also offer students the option of taking a proctored exam online, where they are monitored by a live proctor. The secondary option requires students to pay.  Remote proctoring by individuals at other sites can be approved by the instructor.  We have been piloting other web-based proctor services that record the entire proctoring session, some with live proctors and some using an automated system with bio-metric authentication.

There are a wide variety of commercial vendors offering technological options for verification.  UM does not currently use any of these services.  Examples include: fingerprint scanners, facial or hand analysis, keystroke recognition or behavioral bio-metrics. Several faculty members do use technology in other ways to verify their students.  Instructors have individual meetings with their student via Skype or Google Hangouts and they will have conversations with them about course content to verify their knowledge.  Another example is a requirement to post a video presentations throughout the course. Others mimic the Acxiom verification system used by the financial industry.  The instructor will ask for information about the students that is personal but not private (i.e. high school mascot vs. mother’s maiden name) at the beginning of the semester, then the student is asked to resubmit that information at random times during the semester. We also recommend that all instructors require students to communicate via their official UM email address and to use plagiarism detection software for any papers submitted online.

The most powerful tool of an instructor is pedagogical practices. Some writing instructors require their students to submit their assignments in multiple stages, from the rough draft to the final assignment.  Another practice is to craft assignments that require students to reflect on personal experiences, including any practicum or experiential learning that is part of the course or program requirements. Instructors could also compare writing for changes in voice, skill, and flow of content from one assignment to the next.

Including verification in the design of your course will help combat the opportunities for your students to use someone else’s work in your course.

What methods would you use?


I hope you can all join as on Thursday, April 27, 2016 at noon for a faculty development workshop hosted by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning on this subject.