In order to implement the suggested measures to improve accountability in online education, students, teachers, administrators, and proctors would need to learn a myriad of new techniques and methods. Students would have to learn to motivate themselves to learn in an unstructured and unsupervised learning environment. Teachers would have to learn to format online courses and assessments in a fundamentally different way from traditional classrooms. Administrators would have to learn to make use of tracking software to measure student progress through assignment completion in order to hold students accountable for their online education. Proctors would have to learn to verify students are the correctly registered students as well as ensure that students are not plagiarizing or cheating in any way. To implement a comprehensive policy that would effectively address the accountability issues in online education, multiple actors in multiple areas of the learning process will need to adapt their methodologies and strategies to succeed in the new era of education.
In order to receive a quality education from online courses, students will need to learn to foster “independent orientations towards learning,” become “highly motivated by intrinsic sources,” as well as develop “strong time management, literacy, and technology skills. (Cavanaugh & Clark, 2007).” Students need to be aware of the consequences that could result in plagiarizing, cheating, or hiring someone else to do coursework for them, and to take the steps necessary to ethically complete their assignments in a timely fashion. Students interested in online courses also need to determine whether or not they would perform best in traditional brick-and-mortar schools or in a virtual setting. Bird (2014) noted that discipline is essential to students of virtual classrooms. “Being an online student will work well for those who have the ability to self-motivate. Without a plan or some type of organization, [student] work will suffer in the online classroom, but if [students] set deadlines and prioritize [their] school schedules, [they] should see success.” Furthermore, students who find social interaction in physical classrooms distracting may find the streamlined online videos more easy to focus on without the disturbance of peers.
Teachers will have to bear the brunt of change in learning to accommodate students for online courses. Educators will need to understand the multitude of differences between teaching in a virtual classroom and a traditional classroom. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) (2011) has developed a set of standards after a thorough review of existing literature that touch upon online learning. The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching developed by the iNACOL is based upon the Southern Regional education Board’s (SREB) Standards for Quality Online Teaching and Online Teaching Evaluation for State Virtual Schools which had been in use in sixteen SREB states at the time of publication. The iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching helps ensure that educators are prepared to instruct students in virtual settings by including standards such as:
the online teacher knows and understand multiple strategies for ensuring the security of online assessments, academic integrity, and assessment data;
the online teacher knows and understand how the use of technology may lead to instances of academic dishonesty and is able to identify the risks and intervene in incidents of academic dishonesty for students;
the online teacher is able to select and use a variety of online tools for communication, productivity, collaboration, analysis, presentation, research, and online content delivery as appropriate to the content area and student needs;
the online teacher is able to apply online troubleshooting skills (e.g., change passwords, download plug-ins, etc.)
These are simply a handful of examples from the comprehensive 18 page of standards for online teaching established by the iNACOL. Clearly teachers, especially more senior educators who have not adapted well to the computer revolution, need to undergo extensive training and preparation programs in order to effectively teach students in a virtual environment. Fortunately, a number of services that provide “openly licensed educational resources,” which may be “used, modified, and shared without paying any licensing fees or requesting permission.” Organizations that provide such resources include the GNU General Public License, the Open Source Initiative, or the Free Software Foundation.
Administrators will need to learn to monitor, encourage, and enforce attendance of students enrolled in virtual classrooms by making use of tracking software and progress measuring programs in order to “comply with federal No Child Left Behind policies” as well as “state attendance and truancy issues (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender, 2013).” Enforcing truancy statues will prove to be an arduous challenge to administrators, and Archambault, Kennedy, and Bender report that “dedicated staff who are well versed in the curriculum, system tracking, and working with families to address potential problems” are essential to ensuring accountability in online learning. Communication is a vital aspect of monitoring student progress because it allows for early intervention (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender, 2013) should a student fall at risk of truancy or falling behind. Parents and guardians who may not be familiar with the concept of virtual classrooms because they are more familiar with traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms will need to cooperate with administrators in motivating students and holding them accountable for their assignments and their progress.
Proctors who oversee exams for virtual classrooms will also need to be informed on cheating behaviors and dishonest academic activity. Watson and Sottile (2010) found that it is 73.8% easier for a student to cheat on an online exam in a virtual setting than it is for a student to cheat on an exam administered in a traditional classroom. Although many online courses require students to take exams in a physical classroom, many students find that traveling to an on-site location to take an exam defeats the purpose of enrolling in an online course due to the inconvenience, expense, and time spent in traveling to the specified on-site location. As new strategies develop to help ensure academic integrity, proctors need to familiarize themselves with proctoring software such as VProctor which allows proctors to determine if students have opened “another browser window,” accessed their mobile device, consulted another person in the room, or opened a textbook (Venable, 2013). BioSig-ID measures “unique behavior characteristics of students using devices like a mouse or touchpad (Venable, 2013).” ProctorU connects students with live proctors via web cameras and will request verified photo identification as well as ask verification questions like “prior street address or zip code (Venable, 2013).”
Archambault, L., K. Kennedy, and S. Bender. 2013. Cyber-truancy: Addressing issues of attendance in the digital age. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 46 (1): 1–28
Bird, K. (2014, February 19). Online vs. Traditional Education: The Answer You Never Expected. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/college-life/online-vs-traditional-education-answer-never-expected/
Cavanaugh, C. & Clark, T. (2007). The landscape of K-12 online learning. In Cavanaugh, C. & Blomeyer, B. (Eds.), What works in K-12 online learning. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.
International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011, October 1). National Standards for Quality Online Teaching (Rep. No. 2). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from International Association for K-12 Online Learning website: http://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2.pdf
Venable, M. (2013, August 16). Online Student Verification: Is that you? Are you there? – OnlineCollege.org. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from
Watson, G., & Sottile, J. (2010). Cheating in the Digital Age: Do Students Cheat More in Online Courses? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, XIII(I). Retrieved April 25, 2016.