“Online courses are under scrutiny to show evidence of integrity in ways that face-to-face courses aren’t,” said Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University in South Carolina.

William Dornan, chief executive of Phoenix-based Kryterion Inc., which monitors tests for several schools and companies, said technology is up to the task. He contends that his webcam system reduces cheating far below its occurrence in regular lecture halls.

“Security is incredibly important,” he said. “If it’s known you can cheat, that completely dilutes the brand.”

Some students say no security measures are fail-safe.

UC Santa Cruz sophomore John Shokohi took a water issues class last spring that allowed webcam proctoring in his dorm. The 19-year-old environmental studies major said he did not know of specific cheating, but added that online education was a tempting target for desperate students.

“Because you are not around other students, you are not so worried about people watching you or getting caught,” he said.

Although online classes have existed for more than a decade, the debate over cheating has become sharper in the last year with the emergence of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

These usually are offered to students free of charge by such organizations as Coursera and edX in collaboration with colleges, and they can enroll thousands of students in one class.

Private colleges, public universities, and corporations are jumping into the online education field, investing millions of dollars to tap into the vast pool of potential students, while also taking steps to help ensure honesty at a distance.

Despite public suspicion about online deception, studies seem to show that there is not much difference in the amount of cheating that occurs in virtual and real classrooms. A 2010 study in the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration found that 32.7 percent of online students self-reported cheating at least once on tests, compared to 32.1 percent of those in on-campus classes.

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