Many Coursera online courses have an exam component. This raises the question: How is a Coursera exam typically conducted?

It seems non-obvious to me how one would conduct an exam involving students who might be on different continents.

1 Answer 1


Having not used Coursera, I do not know what tools they use. However, I have been a part to online exams from both the student and instructor perspective using the Blackboard learning management system. I suspect that features like many (if not all) of the ones Blackboard supports are present in Coursera.

  • Time limits - The instructor has the ability to set a time limit to the exam (which discourages web browsing to find answers). The instructor can also choose to force the student to complete the exam in one sitting or allow students to leave and return.
  • Flexible scheduling - The exam does not have to happen at a specific time, but may be accessible over a time period, perhaps 24 hours or more. The instructor can still enforce time limits and so on.
  • Lockdown - The implementation of Blackboard my institution uses comes with Respondus Lockdown (there are other products), which prevents students from navigating away from the exam once it is started. These products can also prevent such things as minimization of the window, opening new tabs, etc.
  • Proctoring - I have proctored an online exam for another instructor. I had to enter my credentials and a code before the student could start the exam, and I had to enter a different code when the exam was completed.

Features like these give instructors flexibility in offering the exam to students around the world, while still making it harder to cheat.

They will "cheat", however. No online course management system can prevent the student from using their text, notes, or another computer or electronic device to look up answers. The best defense against infractions of this nature are well-written tests (the kind you might write for an open-book or take-home exam).

  • This is too biased. Coursera has programming assignments too. If the cheating is an aim, it can be done in many ways in a standard academic environment too. "They will "cheat", however" How do you know this ? Do you think students attending a regular class don't have access to solution manuals ? Or isn't it impossible for students to google the questions and find the answers and present them with careful wording like their own ? How many schools prepare new exam and homework questions every year ? If someone joins such a course I believe it is not for cheating.
    – user2792
    Commented Oct 6, 2012 at 12:31
  • 2
    @xyz - Thanks for the feedback. I mean cheating in the sense that students are not doing their own work and then submitting claiming that it is theirs. They do it in my bricks-and-mortar classes, so why should I expect them not to in an online course? The difference is that my bricks-and-mortar exams are proctored by roving human beings on the lookout for cheating. A student who cheats on my homework (which I am incapable of policing) will do poorly on my exam. If it is all online, you have to write better tests so that the answers cannot be found via Google, Wikipedia, etc.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Oct 8, 2012 at 22:22

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