Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cheating in the flipped class

Do students cheat in online tests?

I think that cheating in my BIS101 is not a major problem, but I am aware that students can easily cheat when taking an online quiz called MEQ (Module End Quiz). A student wrote me an email close to the course end wondering about the cost of honesty:
"I just wanted to bring to your notice that there are a lot of people in class that worked on MEQs and GPQs in groups. This heavily affects the curve for the class because people who got help from others that already finished the quiz had an unfair advantage over people who did not have any help..... I personally know people that have a grade much above the current average solely because of their quiz grades. ..."
GPQ (Graded Practice Quizzes) can be taken as many times and with as much help as desired. That is not the case for the MEQs.

MEQ: Module End Quiz

Figure 1. Structure of a module
MEQs are online capstone quizzes at the end of each of 15 modules in my BIS010 course. Collectively they are worth 63 of the 1000 total points. The students are instructed to take them as online midterm exams: alone, with closed books, off the internet, and with no help. You can see two example MEQs in this Course sample.

A cheating index

I decided to derive a cheating indicator by the following formula:
 MEQ cheat = % score in MEQ/% score in class exams
Figure 2. Cheating potential in online Module End Quizzes.
Scores >1 are consistent with cheating. 
The index compares performance in the MEQ to that of in class tests, both exams and clicker quizzes. Plotting the distribution of the index (number of students at each level) yields a bell-shaped curve with a majority of students close to 1. Students whose index is below 1 do poorly in the MEQ and much better in class tests. Students above 1 do the opposite. The fact that their success in the MEQ is not matched by corresponding success in the exams, suggests that they cheat.

There could be other explanations. Understandably, the student could be nervous in class. Time pressure is relatively lower for MEQ, for which students are given 90 to 120 minutes.

The most interesting finding is the relation of the "MEQ cheat index" to overall course performance. The next plot compares the MEQ cheat Index to the final course grade.
Figure 3. Cheating potential vs final course grade. MEQ_cheat > 1 suggests cheating
In the swarm plot each student is a dot. Clusters illustrate the distribution.  The "A" students make the most homogenous cloud. Progressively, the "B", "C" and "D" students become more dispersed. Surprisingly, two distinct swarms are formed by the C students.


Cheating index smaller than 1
These students perform better in the "in class" exams. I doubt they need a stressful environment. One explanation is that they use the MEQ experience to identify and address their deficiencies. This is exactly one of my objectives in designing the module structure. MEQ resemble midterms and provide a reality check without a large exposure to point loss. Alternatively, they are procrastinators who cram before exams.

Cheating index larger than 1
These students perform better in the online exams. It is plausible that reduced stress and additional time allowed enhance their performance. I prefer, however, the explanation that they cheat. They take the exam in groups or get the answer list from better students. The dichotomy displayed by the C students suggests that half of them are honest. The other half dishonest. If the interpretation is correct, students who are struggling are more willing to cross the ethical boundary of the honor system. B students may include a similar cheating component. Their MEQ cheat Index may be less extreme because they are simply more likely to do better in the in class exams. 

Impact of cheating
All together the MEQs count for 6% of the final grade. Students who cheat could be 1-2% ahead of their honest classmates. Unfair, but unlikely to matter in the long run. Cheating in other grade components is harder. In a form of poetic justice, students that take the MEQ challenge seriously and learn from it, may eventually perform better in the exams. At least, this is what I hope. 

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