Over the past few years, the number of students participating in distance learning and online courses has steeply increased. However, monitoring whether students are relying on outside help to complete online classes has been difficult.
A new policy under review by the university, designed by the Southern Association of College and Schools (SACS), wants to verify that the students enrolled in the courses are actually the ones taking them.
The proposed policy states that enrolled students “may be asked to personally verify their identity prior to performing any educational assignment or assessment in a format and time to be determined by the USF System,” and that one or more verification methods, such as secure log-ins and passwords or proctored examinations must be used.
Steve RiCharde, associate vice president of Institutional Effectiveness, Academic Planning and Review, said the policy has been mandated by SACS, as a part of a new reaccreditation policy released in 2008.
“These are federal requirements that we are trying to parse out and see what changes may be part of our student verification policy,” he said.
Student verification is becoming a major issue in accreditation, especially since the number of online classes being offered continues to increase.
Beth Garland, chief business officer for Innovative Education, which houses USF’s distance learning operations, said USF continues to see a growth in the number of students who are registering for online classes.
Currently, USF offers 25 online graduate degree programs and seven part-time ones. In addition, USF has 11 partial undergraduate degrees, and of the 100 graduate certifications, 60 to 70 of them are partially or fully online, she said.
Student demands for online classes are causing a huge shift in online education, she said.
Last year, more than 62 percent of students took at least one online class and 10.3 percent of sections in the Tampa campus were online. This year, the number has grown to 11.1 percent, Garland said.
Rebecca Karlen, a freshman majoring in math education, said she thinks stricter methods of student verification will be an important step forward in maintaining academic integrity.
“If you are taking classes online, then you can meet up with your friends and take tests online,” she said. “When it comes to test-taking online, then I definitely think the tests should be proctored.”
Karlen said she took a strictly monitored pre-calculus class online that did not allow students to access or open other Internet windows while completing online assignments.
Other classes use specific browsers that prevent students from accessing information during tests and online assignments.
“There are classes, such as business calculus, which has a specific browser on which you can access the coursework – opening up any other browser or program is not possible,” Harsh Patil, a sophomore majoring in biomedical science, said.
But with the push for online education becoming more augmented, some worry that the quality of face-to-face education will not be replicated through online classes.
“We are looking at online education and are seeing how the whole classroom experience can be shown in online class,” Alex Campoe, director of the USF Office of Information Security, said.
“This is one of the biggest challenges we face – to be able to make the online experience such that it can be as good as face-to-face instruction,” he said.