Cheating is happening in the classroom as well as online. In a survey conducted by, 73% of students taking online classes admitted to cheating on a quiz, 56% of students in blended classes admitted to cheating, and 32% of students in traditional classes admitted to cheating. Research on cheating proliferates but much of the data originates from perceptions and focuses on a wide range of issues. The study only reports 2% of online and 5% of traditional classroom students were caught cheating. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is not happening, but what can be done?

In an interesting article in the Chronical of Higher Education, “In a Fake Online Class with Students Paid to Cheat, could Professor Catch the Culprits?” two professors created a fake class to try and determine how sophisticated online cheating services were and to see if they could identify a cheater. The professors even offered an incentive; if they were unable to identify the cheater, the students would be eligible for a $350 raffle. This article highlights the need for faculty to be more aware of the issue of cheating and to take precautions when creating assessments. It is not possible to completely eliminate cheating in the online environment just as it is not possible to eliminate cheating in a traditional classroom but armed with the right information faculty can inform students about the consequences of cheating and discourage the practice.

Thoughts on how to combat cheating:

  • Create a Test with randomized questions and answers. This can be done very easily in Blackboard
  • Develop Test Pools so there are more questions than needed for a test, to ensure that each student receives a different version of the test
  • Use Respondus LockDown Browser for quizzes and exams
  • Don’t reveal test answers until all students in the course have completed the test
  • Require students to use SafeAssign when submitting papers, which makes it more difficult for students to recycle work found online.
  • Consider having students sign an honor code for your class; it won’t stop cheating but it holds them accountable for academic honesty.
  • If students are caught cheating, there should be consequences and they need to be enforced. If a student hears that a classmate was caught and penalized for cheating, they may think twice before they do it themselves. They may also spread the word.
  • Are the results important enough to warrant a proctored exam? Be mindful that proctored rooms or testing centers are not always the best answer because they make it more difficult for certain populations to complete their degree. Adult students with jobs struggle to fit a trip to a testing center into their work/life schedule and students in remote or low-income areas can’t afford travel costs.
  • Remind students to manage their time so they aren’t tempted to cheat. Procrastination sometimes promotes desperate measures.

Many instructors are eliminating cheating temptations by assigning work that requires more independent thought and discussion to foster interaction. David Wangaard in his book, Creating a Culture of Academic Integrity, stresses that we shouldn’t be looking to police cheating more effectively but rather “highlight and promote a life of academic rigor, integrity, and values that promote learning” (U.S. News & World Report, 2011).


U.S. News & World Report. (2011, August). Promoting an Ethical School Culture. Retrieved from

Header image from Google images <>


What can I do with Video?

Including a video in your lesson does not have to be a snooze-fest. There are plenty of ways to create an active learning environment with video. Research recommends shorter videos, what I like to refer to as ‘snack-size’ videos – two to four minutes max. If you have a longer video, try pausing after a few minutes to ask a question or spark a discussion. You can use a polling application with longer videos to pose survey type questions before, during, or after the video to keep the class engaged.

Another option for using video more interactively can follow the Think-Pair-Share format. Have students think about their own knowledge or experience on the topic to be addressed in the video. You could even ask them to predict what could happen in a situation they might be unfamiliar with that will be addressed in the video. Tell students to pair up or put students with a partner and ask them to share their insights on the topic with one another. You can even ask a few students to explain their predictions to the class. After everyone has had a chance to digest the ideas, show the video. After viewing the video, have the partners get back together to reflect on their original predictions and to talk about their reactions after seeing the video. Call on a few students to articulate their thoughts to the class. Finally, close the session addressing any misconceptions and drawing attention to key elements you want them to take away from the lesson.

Another option for incorporating video could begin in the form of guiding questions. Provide students with a list of guiding questions before showing the video. Ask students to create one or two of their own questions based on the topic provided. Show the video and then take the time to review answers to the questions and address any misinterpretations. Adding the element of critical analysis takes the video from a view-only mode to an active learning situation.

Think about creating a meaningful experience using video. VCU supports Kaltura for video storage and creation; for more information on Kaltura or how you can incorporate video into your classes, go to <>

Slowing Down

I recently watched a TED talk by Carl Honoré entitled “In Praise of Slowness”  where the author talked about a new movement aimed at getting people to slow down. Are things happening too fast, especially at the end of the semester? Do you find yourself running out of time or are students begging for extensions? Brigid Schulte wrote in her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, “Living in an always-on technology haze leads to mental exhaustion.” As we enter into the home stretch of the semester, how do we combat technical fatigue? How can we help our students slow down as well?

One way to help students is to teach them how to examine information and make decisions on what is important and what can be put aside; this skill will prove invaluable in the workplace. Knowing how to quickly and effectively sort through material can help students avoid exhaustion from information overload.

President Drew Faust offered some suggestions for slowing down in a technology driven world in her speech “The Case for College.” She recommended:

  • Build in breaks
  • Require due dates for all elements of your class to give students direction

Many students have not learned the art of time management. You will be teaching them a lifelong skill by requiring them to get organized. Due dates for even small things help them to stay on task and hopefully keep a calendar. Regularly scheduled activities and assignments can help to combat procrastination because they have many items to accomplish rather than just one large project that can be easily put on the back burner.

  • Identify times when everyone should be unplugged (including yourself)

Although I do not have any magical answers to avoid end-of-the-semester fatigue, I believe it is important to identify times that you will not be available. Students are accustomed to 24/7 access to people and information, it is important to let them know that there are times when you will be offline and unavailable. You will have more to offer your students if you schedule the time that you will be unplugged, and truly take that time to do something not technology based. Encourage them to do the same.

  • Have students use a pencil and paper some of the time

There is a growing body of research indicating that people do not read and write online the same way they do on paper. According to a study published in Psychological Science, when people write longhand, they process information better. That is not to say that students should only take notes by hand because the study also goes on to say that they found people could type notes faster and, therefore, they had more notes to look back on. There is no right or wrong answer here, the idea is to take the time to think deeply, slow down and appreciate the process of education.

Good luck as you move into final exam week.


Faust, D. (2014). A case for college. Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Keynote Address. Dallas, TX.

Schulte, B. (2015). Overwhelmed: How to work, love, and play when no one has the time. Picador, London: England.


Open educational resources (OER) are resources available for teaching and learning, at little or no cost. Virtually any material, textbooks, learning games, test banks or other learning content, can be offered as an OER resource. Creative Commons is one source of OER licensed collections but there are many others; each resource is issued a license that explains in detail how that material can be used. Some OER materials must only be used in the original format while other resources can be changed or modified. The OpenCourseWare project started in 2002 at MIT offers access to full course materials online for anyone to use. MIT’s model has been replicated by other universities around the world. OER is not equivalent to taking a course and should not be confused with a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

A fascinating byproduct of the OER movement is that open resources can be modified and improved by a broad community of experts resulting in materials that offer new alternatives for effective teaching and learning. These “living” resources also promote collaboration as modifications are made. A downside to OER is the questionable quality and caliber of some of the materials. Not all OER collections provide a mechanism for feedback and sharing of evaluations or options beyond just a digital version of a textbook. Out-of-date resources can also present a problem; the value of a resource is dependent upon being up-to-date.

A report issued by Cengage Learning (2016) related that OER in higher education has the potential to triple in use as a primary courseware over the next five years. Open educational resources are being considered at many institutions as a way to address the rising costs of education. It may not be the complete answer but many educators agree that teaching and learning is improved when resources are more accessible.

Creating Communities

There is an increasing body of research that indicates the importance of student engagement in the learning process. Engagement is not only a commitment to the completion of tasks but also a psychological investment in learning (Newmann, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992). It is important to design your course to include a supportive community. Whether you are developing a face-2-face or online course, considering student engagement and specifically developing a sense of community is essential to student success. Fredrick, Blumenfeld, and Paris (2004) found that students who were engaged performed considerably higher academically than their unengaged peers.

Creating a supportive learning community involves dialogue; faculty to student, student to student, and student to resources. The faculty to student dialogue is straightforward in a face-2-face class but can also be included in the online setting through a video introduction and video or audio clips created for sessions or lectures. Instructors can also offer coaching and periodic reminder announcements.

Peer to peer engagement is a little more difficult to develop online. One strategy is to begin the semester with a personal introduction so the students can get to know one another. You should also include a personal introduction that contains more than your years in education and teaching philosophy. Don’t be afraid to mention your dog’s name or confide that you secretly like to relax in your hammock on Sunday. Include a photo that personalizes you.

Create an open forum for students to post questions or request help, this will be open for responses from you but you can encourage students to support one another through this forum as well. You could also set up a specific problem-solving forum and assign students to monitor and answer questions that are posted. Another option is to create small groups where students can assume responsibility for supporting each other on class assignments or with general motivation throughout the entirety of the course. I can tell you from experience, a community forum can be the only thing that keeps students from withdrawing from the class or dropping out of school completely. The support of a peer network is very powerful.

Some students may not be comfortable with a high-level of participation and may not choose to take advantage of the learning communities, but others may require that support structure to be successful. Vygotsky (1978) stressed the role of social interaction and believed that community plays a central role in the process of learning.


Fredericks, J., Blumenfeld, P., & Paris, A. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concepts, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59-109.

Newmann, F. M., Wehlage, G. G., & Lamborn, S. D. (1992). The significance and sources of student engagement. In F. M. Newmann (Ed.), Student engagement and achievement in American secondary schools (pp. 11-39). New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

What is the Purpose of an LMS?

The Learning Management System (LMS) provides a central repository for all course materials with one login, which simplifies the learning process in the online environment. An LMS can be used for blended and face-2-face courses as well. Videos, blogs, wikis, journals, and portfolios can be added to courses within the LMS expanding the students’ resources and offering collaborative learning possibilities. The LMS includes efficient tracking and recording tools for monitoring progress to ensure that students are meeting their performance milestones. If a learner is not able to successfully complete a lesson, you can offer supplemental resources.

Although students are tech savvy, they are not always tech knowledgeable. They do not always make the best decisions about privacy and we should not contribute to this delinquency by requiring students to visit or register for sites that are not vetted by the technology services experts on campus. The LMS organizes e-learning content in one secure location.

Some opponents of the LMS believe the focus of the system is the storage and delivery of content rather than having a learner-centered focus. This is actually more myth than truth; the LMS can be flexible enough with the mode of instruction, interaction, and assessment strategies to accommodate a variety of teaching strategies with the added benefit of one central login and privacy protection. Think about adapting the system to fit the instruction as opposed to modifying the instruction to fit the affordances of the tool. Our number one priority should be our students, and requiring them to learn a new tool and sort through new navigation for every class is not the most efficient use of their cognitive energy.
VCU is currently using the Blackboard Learn LMS.


A rubric is a great way to articulate your expectations for a project or assignment and it can help ensure consistency. A rubric clarifies for students the qualities their work should have. You can list the criteria and describe the levels of quality as you define them. The three important features to a rubric are the evaluation criteria (the elements that will be considered when grading the item), the definitions of quality (a detailed explanation of the skills or proficiencies a student must demonstrate in order to attain a level of achievement), and the scoring strategy (the scale you use related to the quality to judge the project or assignment).

Rubrics have the potential to promote learning and achievement in a student-centered approach, helping students understand the targets and the standards of quality for a particular assignment (Reddy & Andrade, 2010). You can develop your rubric to align with the course learning objectives so students can see how the assignment fits into the course goals. Blackboard offers the ability to create multiple rubrics and assign them to a variety of assignments. I usually start creating my rubric by looking at the highest and lowest points then I fill in the middle section. Break your assignment down into areas of achievement; if it is a paper, you may be looking at grammar, paper format, the topic sentence, supporting evidence, references etc. Each of these items would then be ranked based on how you grade each element and it would also include a description for what you consider to be full credit, partial credit, and no credit. You can divide the quality into as many columns as you need to define the criteria by which learning will be assessed. Rubrics provide transparency into your grading methodology.

For more information on rubrics, how to create rubrics or how to include them in your course, contact Learning Systems at or check our Learning Systems Academy video on Creating a Rubric.


Reddy, Y.M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(4), 435-448.

Active Learning

In any classroom, students need to be active rather than passive learners; it is especially important to engage the learner in the online environment. Getting motivated, energized, engaged, enthusiastic, and focused makes a fundamental difference in a student’s ability to learn and achieve results (Neville, Murphy, & Connolly, 2010). Successful learning experiences connect with learners; empower them to explore, experiment, and react in a learning environment that provides feedback, help, and guidance (Allen, 2011).

It has often been said that students retain more by doing rather than just listening; therefore, it stands to reason that active participation offers more opportunity for an engaging, effective, and efficient learning experience than would be possible by just listening to a conventional lecture.  Material that is learned passively is typically not well retained and is commonly not effectively applied; active learning is a process where the learner takes a dynamic and energetic role in the educational process, which adds to the retentive qualities of what is learned (Petress, 2008).  The focus should be on creating an atmosphere that encourages a deeper level of communication between students (Conrad & Donaldson, 2012). The problem then becomes how to motivate the student to want to be active.  When students believe that they have control over some aspects of their learning, they are more likely to be motivated (Jones, 2009).  Students do not always fully grasp the big picture and cannot relate activity to retention.  One thing they may recognize is that when they are more engaged they are more attentive, which empowers them to question and consider topics, ultimately resulting in comprehension of more of the lesson.  A student who is engaged in the class must use more problem solving and critical thinking skills offering another layer to the benefits of interactivity.  Getting students involved in their learning encourages them to take ownership of their education.

An effective engaging classroom requires a more student-centered approach, giving the student more responsibility for his or her own learning.  Active learning provides the student an opportunity to engage in a higher-order of thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Michael, Carter, & Varela, 2009).  The instructor takes on a new role of helping the student to turn information into awareness; encouraging the student to use the information; guiding him or her through mistakes, and offering feedback through each attempt.

Heritage University participated in a project that featured problem-centered learning and transparent assignment design with 1,172 graduate and undergraduate students – Transforming GE Courses from Predictive Contexts to Engage Unstructured Twenty-First-Century Problems



Allen, M., (2011). Successful e-learning interface; making learning technology polite, effective, and fun. San Francisco, California: Pfeiffer.

Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2012). Continuing to engage the online learner: more activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, B. D. (2009). Motivating students to engage in learning: the music model of academic motivation. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 21(2), 272-285.

Michel, N., Carter, J. J., & Varela, O. (2009). Active versus passive teaching styles: an empirical study of student learning outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly. 20(4), 397-418.

Neville, C., Murphy, M., & Connolly, C. (2010). The ultimate study skills handbook. McGraw-Hill International.

Petress, K. (2008). What Is Meant by” Active Learning?”. Education128(4), 566-569.

Can I offer a tip or two?

Tip: It may be helpful to encourage your students to get digitally organized.  Google drive is a great way to store documents and notes but it is important to ensure that course documents, assignments and notes are quick and easy to find. Modeling digital organization through how you create your modules or units in Blackboard provides students with a structure for how they can organize their materials.

By providing students with examples of what good organization looks like you give them the foundation that they need to develop a system that works well for them.


Tip: Another great tip, is to encourage students to use tagging for better recall of content.  I bet they are familiar with the technique of tagging because they use it with their social media but I wonder if they realize how useful it can be for school?  Tagging helps to connect related materials for easier searches.  It is great to get into the habit of tagging all documents as they are created, before saving a document add the tags that relate to the content so that days, weeks or even years later you can easily find what you are looking for.


Tip: Encourage students to create a Portfolio to collect the artifacts that make up their educational journey at VCU.  Students can share their portfolio with prospective employers, or as part of a graduate school application as evidence of the skills they have learned and their future potential.  Portfolios can be created in Blackboard outside of a specific course by accessing Tools in the menu in the top right-hand corner under you name.

Helping your students to get better organized will not only help them in your class but it will set them up to be more successful when they move beyond the University.

For more great tips or support adding technology to your classes contact us at

Are Students Ready for Online Classes?

The number of U.S. college students taking at least one online course was estimated to be 6.7 million, 32% of all higher education enrollees (Allen & Seaman, 2013).  In a Project Tomorrow report (2011) 43% of high-school students identified online classes as an essential component of their ideal school.  Pressure to obtain a college degree has increased the number of students entering college without the requisite level of academic preparation. With a larger number of students wanting or needing online classes, what can we do to continue to offer a quality university education?  Means, Bakia, and Murphy (2014) offer strategies to improve the success rate of under-prepared students.

Set prerequisites for taking online courses:

  • Administer an assessment of “readiness for online learning”
  • Require successful completion of an online orientation prior to course enrollment

Improve the pedagogy of online courses:

  • Ground teaching of a new concept or skill in a concrete context
  • Ask learners to apply key skills in multiple contexts
  • Use spaced, quick assessments of learning
  • Represent concepts in multiple media but avoid overloading the learner’s cognitive capacity
  • Include practice and assessment items that require students to generate answers and provide feedback as quickly as possible
  • Provide feedback that addresses the nature of a student’s misunderstanding and includes tips for remediation
  • Apply the Goldilocks Principle in selecting problem difficulty
  • Build in scaffold for developing self-explanations and self-assessment routines
  • Harness the power of peer-to-peer collaboration
  • Create a sense of instructor presence and responsiveness

Improve the support systems for online students:

  • Counsel students individually to clarify course expectations and set up needed arrangements before the course starts
  • Provide mentors for online learners
  • Institute “early alert” systems based on learner analytics and course progress measures.





Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Babson College, MA: The Sloan Consortium. Retrieved from

Means, B., Bakia, M., & Murphy, R. (2014). What research tells us about whether, when and how. New York, NY: Routledge.

Project Tomorrow. (2011). The new 3 E’s of education: Enabled, engaged and empowered: how today’s students are leveraging emerging technologies for learning. Congressional Briefing – Release of Speak Up 2010 National Data for Students and Parents.  Retrieved from