The online course and the easy A

A Civic Project story: high-tech cheating at IUP (II)

“Natalie Blomberg,” IUP senior business major, boosts her GPA by enrolling in online courses. Photo by Alyssa Gould.

“Natalie Blomberg,” IUP senior business major, boosts her GPA by enrolling in online courses. Photo by Alyssa Gould.

By Alyssa Q. Gould

INDIANA -– As her spring 2016 graduation approached at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Natalie Blomberg, 21, a senior business major from Hershey, Pa., realized that she completed about a quarter of her required 120 credits in online courses.

Blomberg (not her real name; she requested anonymity because she said her job prospects would be diminished if her real name were published) said she struggles to find classes in her major that are offered in an interactive classroom setting. She resorts to taking at least two of her five classes online each semester.

Blomberg said she is happy to receive all A’s in her online classes. But she would have gotten more out of face-to-face learning.

“Sometimes I wish I would have just stayed at home and worked while earning an online degree,” Blomberg said during an Oct. 14 interview at her off-campus apartment. “At least that way I could have saved money.”

THE NUMBER of IUP students who, like Blomberg, have enrolled in at least one online class has increased, Cindy L. Varner, assistant registrar in Clark Hall, wrote in an Oct. 22 email. Enrollment rose to 2,274 in fall 2015 from 1,586 in fall 2012, an increase of 43 percent in three years.

The fall 2015 online enrollment represented about 17 percent of total IUP enrollment of 13,775, according to Dec. 9 budget documents provided by the administration. Fall 2012 online enrollment of 1,586 represented 10 percent of total enrollment of 15,379.

The Registrar’s Office, the Office of Extended Studies and the Office of Institutional Research were unable to provide online-enrollment data before fall 2012.

IUP enrollments in online classes parallel national enrollment trends. U.S. students enrolled in at least one online class increased from 2008 to 2012, according to the Online Learning Consortium, a non-profit headquartered in Newburyport, Mass., that is dedicated to integrating online education into the mainstream of higher education. Enrollments rose to 7.1 million in 2012 from 4.6 million in 2008, an increase of 55 percent.

Distance education is popular among students who find that it requires “less commitment” and yields higher grades, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Students are figuring out ways to cheat that allow them to ace online courses with minimal effort, the Chronicle reported in a June 3, 2012, story about high-tech cheating.

The online academic environment also has been a boon to plagiarizers. A 2005 study from The Center for Academic Integrity (formerly at Clemson University, now at Duke University) found that 40 percent of nearly 50,000 undergraduates surveyed have admitted plagiarizing from the internet, up from 10 percent in 1999. Moreover, three-quarters of those surveyed said plagiarism was not a serious problem.

Plagiarism is a violation of the IUP academic-integrity policy.


BLOMBERG, the IUP business major, said she takes almost all of her quizzes and exams online. She admits to relying on the internet to find the answers that help her ace those exams and quizzes.

She said she uses Quizlet, a tool that enables students to study whatever they want, according to Quizlet’s mission statement.

Using Quizlet does not accord with IUP’s Academic Integrity Policy.

“Using unauthorized materials or devices, such as crib notes, during examinations or quizzes” is cheating, according to the policy.

But the line between “cheating” on exams and “open-book” exams online is thin, according to Blomberg.

“Quizlet is a tool I know a lot of students use for online classes,” Blomberg said. “I don’t think it’s looked upon as cheating to us students.”

Meanwhile, almost every IUP academic department has at least one professor who teaches an online course.

Stanford G. Mukasa, an IUP journalism and public relations professor, has taught six online classes, he said.

“Cheating is always a concern,” Mukasa said during a Nov. 11 interview in his Davis Hall office. “We implement ways to minimize cheating, like timed tests with scrambled questions.”

Alyssa Q. Gould is a Journalism and Public relations major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.


Sidebar: IUP academic integrity policy

Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s academic integrity policy outlines judicial procedures for such violations as cheating and plagiarism. Among the 12 violations subject to punishment are:

  • Providing or receiving unauthorized assistance in coursework, or with lab work, theses, dissertations, drug examinations (including qualifying and comprehensive exams), or quizzes
  • Using unauthorized materials or devices, such as crib notes, during examinations or quizzes
  • Plagiarizing papers, theses, dissertations, essays, reports, speeches and oral presentations, take-home examinations, computer projects, or other academic exercises by misrepresenting or passing off the ideas, words, formulas, or data of another as one’s own
  • Using the same paper or work more than once without authorization of the faculty member(s) to whom the work is being submitted
  • Possessing course examination materials before the administration of the exam, without the prior knowledge or consent of the instructor
  • Buying, selling, stealing, or engaging in unauthorized exchange of, or improperly using, any assignments, papers, or projects…. 

    Sidebar: For More Information

    For more information about online courses at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, contact the following:

    Ms. Cindy L. Varner
    Assistant Registrar
    Registrar’s Office
    321 Clark Hall
    Indiana University of Pennsylvania
    Indiana, Pa. 15705
    Phone: 724-357-2217

    Timothy S. Moerland, Ph.D
    Provost and Vice President
    Academic Affairs
    John Sutton Hall, Room 205
    Indiana University of Pennsylvania
    Indiana, Pa.15705
    Phone: 724-357-2219


    Sidebar: To Get Involved

    To get involved in online cheating and related issues of academic integrity, contact the Student Government Association:

    Vincent J. Lopez
    212A Hadley Union Building
    Indiana University of Pennsylvania
    Indiana, Pa. 15705


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