Like many of his peers at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), Melvin A. Greene had anticipated that teaching online courses would be expected of him at the Adelphi, Md., campus that specializes in adult and online education. The prospect that students might resort to cheating or plagiarism didn't worry Greene too much because he focused more on getting his teaching techniques to fit the online format.
"I was feeling my way through the course," Greene says of the first online teaching experience he had this past spring.
Greene did happen to notice on a question-and-answer exercise he had students to complete that some of the answers of a few students appeared to have been lifted from sources, possibly from Web sites.
"I could tell the answers were not their own," he says.
Realizing that he had failed to advise students against turning in work that was not their own, Greene treated the incident as a teaching lesson for himself and has vowed to instruct students in detail about plagiarism and university policy on it in future courses.
"I'm not sure that most students really know what plagiarism is," Greene says.
While online distance education has found wide acceptance in higher education over the past five years, there remains concern among administrators, faculty and accreditors that the potential for abuse by cheating students is a serious threat to the integrity of online education. The fears of educators have largely revolved around the anonymity of the online teaching and learning process. When students are unknown face-to-face to their instructors in an online class, they are believed more likely to have others to sit in for them during online instruction and exams, and more likely to resort to plagiarism, according to the conventional wisdom. This belief has attracted strong criticism and opposition by many who have been either teaching or administering online courses and have discovered the opposite about online education.
"Most of the doubts about today's online education can be traced to the 1960s, when fraudulent correspondence schools gave a bad name to distance education," says Dr. Wallace K. Pond, chief of academic affairs at Education America Online, a 20-campus for-profit virtual university system.
Pond takes the position that …