Digital Fingerprinting in Online Education

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Digital Fingerprinting

Is it possible to increase online education’s credibility while decreasing academic dishonesty? If so, we are a step closer to the future. The idea of digital fingerprinting (DF) is that upon enrollment in an online university, students purchase fingerprinting technology installed on a school-designated computer. This technology helps the university maintain proper identification of the students. And the pundits believe that if students have such technology it will help to reduce online cheating, an area where they believe that students may have others completing their assignments.

Academic dishonesty (AD) has been around for decades in several settings, ranging from traditional campuses to online classrooms. Howell (2010) pointed out the need for concern, as there has been a noticeable increase in AD over the last few decades. It is highlighted that in 1961 academic cheating was just over 25%, and by 1991, this percentage doubled to approximately 50%. This increase was noted particularly in the case of students copying from other students’ exams (Howell, 2010). AD is a common trend in the online environment where students are presenting other people’s work as their own research (intentionally or unintentionally). The idea of DF is to reduce AD by implementing a system that holds students accountable for their online education through protocols of secure identification upon login.

This technology has already been implemented at several universities and appears to be successful. Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee is one such university that has adopted this technology for both their graduate and some undergraduate students who desire an online education. At Vanderbilt, Coursework Authoring Packaging Environment (CAPE) and experimental Learning Management System (eLMS) are systems that provide a collaboration of coursework requirements, students’ outcome requirements, students’ input, and educators’ reflection in building their specialized technology to meet the needs of their organization. Additionally, Vanderbilt University’s “eLMS provides a sophisticated versioned content management system based on ‘digital fingerprinting’ of resources and the associations of content versions with versions of learning designs” (Vanderbilt, 2008). These high-tech elements sound amazing, but how can it be implemented cost-effectively in other schools that offer online courses?

Albeit, we can say that the future of online universities looks very promising, as the need to repudiate and validate data ensuring that students are getting quality education is eminent. Software development companies are now including extended forms of data repudiation software to both heighten users’ security and confidentiality.

Written By: Dr. Cynthia Brown Davis
Dr. Cynthia Brown Davis is an Assistant Professor in the College of Health, Human Services, and Science at Ashford University. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services with a Health Care Administration specialization from Capella University, and an MBA as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from American InterContinental University. She has spent over a decade in leadership roles in health care, hospitality and tourism, education, and information technology, creating and facilitating several training courses in both online and ground platforms. “My goal is to create diversity in and access to education. I believe that diversity acceptance builds intelligence and enhances students’ critical thinking skills.”

Howell, S. (2010). The new (and old) ways students cheat: What can we do about it? Retrieved from,10_MagnaSeminar.pdf Vanderbilt. (2008). The Courseware Authoring and Packaging Environment (CAPE) and experimental Learning Management System (eLMS). Retrieved from


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