09/23/2013 07:30 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2013

Whom Do You Trust

Nearly three-quarters of college students surveyed said that they would lie on their resumes to get a job they wanted. When the employment services company ADP checked employment, education, and credential information on resumes, it found discrepancies 46 percent of the time. Add that to the number of job applicants who cheated to get the degrees and credentials they do have, and there is enough doubt to keep any prospective employer awake at night.

As the day approaches when degrees can be earned through massive open online courses (MOOCs), internet technology offers an increasing opportunity to get a diploma dishonestly. Fortunately, that same technology may provide a way for schools to maintain the integrity of their online courses by making it harder for students to scam the system.

The International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting a culture of integrity in education, has been working with Software Secure, Inc. to create a "Trusted Seal Program" to certify that a distance-learning program has done everything it can to prevent cheating. ICAI provided a peer-reviewed rubric to measure whether a program has implemented the best available practices to maintain its integrity, while Software Secure developed technology to proctor online exams. [Full disclosure: Victor Dorff teaches at a high school that is a member of the ICAI.]

Using Technology for Good

Nothing can prevent cheating 100 percent of the time, but Remote Proctor PRO promises exam security by virtually occupying a student's computer during the test. The program locks out the internet and any other program a student might use to cheat. The proctor receives audio and video data from the computer's microphone and camera, and every keystroke is recorded for biometric analysis. Software Secure also offers scaled-down versions of its software, to meet a variety of needs.

Effective proctoring is not sufficient to earn the Trusted Seal, however. Long before any student takes a test, the design of the course itself has to meet certain standards. To begin with, students must be made aware of the institution's policies and procedures regarding academic integrity. The ICAI also recommends that integrity be made part of the curriculum itself, by assessing students' understanding of the rules and engaging them in a discussion of the importance of integrity in the field or discipline being studied.

The Trusted Seal of Integrity combines peer review and advanced technology to provide a standardized method of measuring the integrity - and with it, the quality - of education offered through the internet. It extends the kind of certification to MOOCs that is already available to bricks-and-mortar institutions through the ICAI's Academic Integrity Rating System (AIRS).

The AIRS program is the latest incarnation of a metrics and rating system that was first developed by ICAI in 2001. By design, it provides benchmarks that schools can use to demonstrate the success of their efforts to curb cheating and encourage academic integrity. It also provides a public measure for comparing schools by providing a rubric and scoring system that can be verified independently. The ICAI will certify a school's score, if the institution presents a self-evaluation along with the evidence it collects on a number of criteria.

Measuring a School's Integrity

In addition to having specific policies and procedures on academic integrity in place, a model school has faculty and student groups and committees, as well as internal structural resources dedicated to promoting and protecting academic integrity. Ongoing education of students, faculty, and administration is provided through training sessions, and integrity is emphasized in communications with the general public.

When the ICAI reports AIRS results, it also designates the school as having achieved Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum status. The goal is to have schools include AIRS evaluations as part of their re-accreditation process, both to institutionalize the review and to indicate the level of importance assigned to integrity within the greater campus culture.

Such a ranking of institutions on the basis of academic integrity might go a long way toward helping future employers (and others) interpret the value of a degree when reviewing resumes and sorting through job applications. Students who graduated from schools with the Trusted Seal or a high AIRS rating would stand out from the competition... at least, until it was common for schools to be earning certification for excellence in integrity. And isn't that a problem everyone should look forward to facing!