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There are a few things universities and providers can do to make sure students are doing the work themselves. Proctoring exams - whether in-person or using webcams - can cut down on the chances of cheating. Software also can be used to monitor students’ computers during a test (to make sure they’re not looking up answers in another window), and instructors can randomize question order to make it harder to cheat.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily an impossibility for someone administering a MOOC to make sure the person taking the test is the one enrolled in the MOOC,” Johnson said.

Coursera spokeswoman Danielle Brunache said the company has a few strategies to prevent cheating. Students in certificate courses have to go through a “double verification” process each time they turn in an assignment, which includes taking a webcam photo of themselves and submitting typing samples. The company uses software that picks up on individual users’ typing patterns.

Like UVa, Coursera makes its students sign an honor code.

“We are aware that this is not a perfect solution, and cheating does happen, both on and offline,” Brunache said.

Coursera made headlines last month when it named a new CEO - former Yale University President Richard C. Levin. Many observers saw the addition, in part, as a way of raising the company’s credibility and prestige. According to a statement from the company, Levin’s experience launching Open Yale Courses, a series of online introductory courses, made him an ideal candidate.

Levin was unavailable for comment.

UVa still has its reservations, but McCance said the administration sees the potential of MOOCs as a teaching tool. Administrators have yet to decide whether this new tool can truly live up to the standards set by the university’s founder nearly 200 years ago.

“We believe they have enhanced UVa’s brand around the world and have provided new ways for our alumni to even further increase their engagement with the university,” McCance said. “Overall, we are still very much in the early stages of this experiment.”


Information from: The Daily Progress,