Catching Cheaters on Open Online Courses

Several hundred college level courses taught by top professors are now available online for free, and several million students around the globe are signing up to take advantage of the new phenomenon. The classes are called MOOCs, for massive open online courses, and they’re being provided by half a dozen startups that have ties to major universities like Stanford, Princeton, the University of California, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tune in to the PBS NewsHour Tuesday for a full report on MOOCs.

Arranging for these courses to offer college credit is the next big step in the MOOC world, and the companies are trying to figure out how to test and grade thousands of students who study out of their homes, from the Gaza strip to downtown San Francisco.

The biggest of the MOOC providers — claiming more than two million users — is Coursera, in Mountain View, Calif., just down the road from Stanford University. Coursera is in discussions with a company called ProctorU, over how to make sure online tests are secure and fair, requirements if colleges are going to give credit coursework done online. Coursera arranged for me to talk over the Internet with ProctorU’s vice president, Jarrod Morgan, who works out of Birmingham, Ala. Morgan explained and demonstrated how online testing would work, and how the system they’ve devised prevents — or at least curtails — cheating.