Student assignments and course materials turning up on the internet is an ongoing problem for instructors as it facilitates cheating. After finding our quiz questions in decks of “flash cards” on Chegg and our students’ assignments on Course Hero, we began investigating creative solutions.

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Student assignments and course materials turning up on the internet is an ongoing problem for instructors as it facilitates cheating. After finding our quiz questions in decks of “flash cards” on Chegg and our students’ assignments on Course Hero, we began investigating creative solutions.

While we are unlikely to stop a determined student from contributing their materials to a study site, we can deter students from contributing material by making the act of contributing inconvenient, time consuming, and high effort. If students are not composing their assignments in conventional formats, such as Word documents, they will not have an assignment on their computer to easily contribute to a study site in the future. Operating under this assumption, we set out to redesign our course assignments using three interactive, cloud-hosted Web 2.0 tools.

Drag-and-drop worksheets

One solution was to convert a worksheet into a drag-and-drop activity using Padlet. We provided “sticky notes” on screen for students to type in a list of important concepts they had identified at the end of a course of study (Figure 1). (The number of sticky notes can be increased to match the amount of content being analyzed.) Each student would include a sentence about why they decided on the level of importance they assigned to each concept. For example, they might state that this concept is one of the most important because other concepts assume an understanding of this one. Next, students would drag each sticky note into one of three circles: least important, somewhat important, and most important. We instructed students that the most important circle should contain the fewest number of concepts.

On the right, three concentric circles, labeled, from smallest to largest, "most important," "somewhat important," and "least important." To the left, an array of sticky notes with the words "type here" inside.
Figure 1. Example of a drag-and-drop worksheet in Padlet

We provided students with a sharable link to the assignment’s template; each student then used Padlet’s “remake” feature to copy the template to their account. Their assignment remains on the Padlet server, and we instruct students to submit their Padlet’s web address to us for grading. While we cannot stop a student who plans to download their Padlet assignments and upload the files to a study site, the inconvenience of a student not having the Padlet file readily available their hard drive may deter them from uploading old course files to a study site in a future semester.

Pop-up critical thinking prompts

A second solution was to embed the assessment into the cloud-based video host Playposit. We used Playposit to embed existing quiz questions and reflective prompts along the video timeline. This transformed passive viewing experiences into engaging ones in an undergraduate statistics course. The course primarily caters to education majors and focuses on statistical literacy—the appreciation of statistical thinking and statistical information that we can find in daily life—rather than statistical computation. A six-minute TED talk on correlation, particularly the idea that correlation may not necessarily imply causation, included five questions embedded throughout the video. We designed most of the questions to be applications based and thought provoking to see whether students could appreciate the dangers conflating correlation with causation (Figure 2).

Playposit screenshot. A pop-up box that says "Enter response here" appears alongside a YouTube video of a TED Talk titled "The Danger of Mixing Up Causality and Correlation."
Figure 2. Example of a pop-up critical thinking prompt in PlayPosit

Because the quiz questions or reflective prompts are embedded in the video player and pop up individually at various intervals along the video timeline, capturing the quiz questions and reflective prompts would be time consuming and require effort on the part of a student who planned to contribute the quiz or reflection activity to a study site. Aside from being an excellent tool that reduces academic dishonesty by limiting the opportunity for students to upload questions and answers on study sites, Playposit supports students in actively engaging with the content presented.

Video responses

The third solution was to convert a written assignment into a video presentation using Flipgrid. We awarded full credit to students who responded to all the components from the assigned prompt, referred to a source that supported their stance, and demonstrated critical thinking and application of concepts. We asked preservice teachers to respond to another person’s video with a one of their own. A rubric provided examples and non-examples of sufficient engagement to help the preservice teachers succeed with this new assignment format (Figure 3). We drew connections between the practice of providing meaningful peer feedback in Flipgrid and the feedback they may one day provide to their own students.

Image is all text. The top reads: "Full credit is awarded to those who engage with a peer and specifically reference thoughts, ideas, or revelations from the peer's video and then expand on or connect to the thought, idea, or revelation." Two columns follow, one providing examples and the other providing non-examples.
Figure 3. Example of the rubric used to assess student work in Flipgrid

Students record their video directly in Flipgrid using their webcam. Although Flipgrid allows users to produce a video file on their hard drive, one they could upload to a study site in the future, the personal appearance within the video may serve as a deterrent to selecting the file for upload. Within the context of the classroom, however, the video responses created a sense of community for students in online courses or a pandemic-impacted semester, letting them visually interact with one another when they might otherwise go through the course without meeting face to face.

When we redesigned our assignments using popular Web 2.0 tools, our students no longer submitted their assignments in traditional file formats (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) that they could easily upload to study sites. We believe this is an added benefit of using interactive, cloud-based Web 2.0 tools in addition to the established research on student engagement, active learning, and collaboration. Additionally, these tools allowed our students to interact with and respond to content in innovative and often applied ways.

While many of us were already using some of these tools, the motivation to impede student ease and convenience in contributing their coursework to study sites increased our use of these technologies. Our efforts are unlikely to completely prevent our students’ work appearing on study sites. A student who sets out with the goal of contributing materials to a study site will plan accordingly, putting specific and directed efforts into these types of contributions. A student who is given an opportunity to contribute materials retrospectively after the semester has ended is more likely to search for files conveniently located on their computer’s hard drive. We aim to reduce this possibility by removing the element of convenience, at least when it comes to our courses and our students.

Sarah McCorkle, PhD, Suzanna J. Ramos, PhD, and Erinn Whiteside, PhD, are clinical assistant professors; Joyce Juntune, PhD, is an instructional professor; Hector Ramos Garcimartin, PhD, is a lecturer; and Sean Kao, MA, is a PhD student in learning design and technology in the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University.