Verification of Student Identity

Verification of Student Identity in Online Courses in CUNY

The verification of student identity is essentially the confirmation of two conditions: 1) The right student has access to the correct course; and 2) that individual is indeed performing the work during the entire course duration. Fully online courses at the City University of New York (CUNY) are set up and conducted to meet both conditions, and in ways that rival or surpass established practice in classroom-based courses.

CUNY provides a unified CUNY Login service that provides a set of account credentials (username and password) for many University-wide applications, including CUNY’s Learning Management System (LMS). Underpinning the credentials for these applications is an EMPLID, a unique CUNY identification number assigned to every student, faculty and staff member in CUNYfirst, the University’s Enterprise Resource Planning system.

All students participating in online instruction offered by any CUNY campus must log in to their course sites in the LMS using their CUNY login credentials. To ensure compliance with FERPA privacy rules and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity recommendations, strict access controls including full encryption are in place for all LMS access.

This secure login is a student’s only means of access to the LMS. Students are registered in their online courses through CUNYfirst, which imports registration information directly into the LMS without any action on the part of students, faculty, or staff beyond the regular registration process. Only duly registered students and the instructor of record appear on the roster of any online course. Furthermore, every action within a course site registers on the extensive tracking features of the LMS, which track each user in terms of time and duration of the action and part of the site involved, even if there is no posting by the student.

Supplementing these technical means of verifying student identity and activity are high degrees of student and faculty interaction that characterize online instruction in CUNY. Students introduce themselves, often in terms of prior knowledge of and current interest in a course’s subject, and may write multiple posts weekly, including responses to one another as well to the instructor’s assignments and discussion questions. Students may also maintain journals, blogs and/or wikis individually or in group work. Indeed, such interactivity creates a high degree of familiarity and even intimacy within each course. Both student orientation and faculty development stress the importance of “social presence” through self-presentation and transactional interaction, including:

  • the use of e-portfolios
  • the use of student photos and videos, especially in self-introductions, and e-portfolios
  • participation in learning communities
  • work in groups and teams
  • plagiarism checkers (to ensure work submitted by the student is the student's own)
  • synchronous ("real-time") conferencing (by both voice and video)
  • asynchronous conferencing (by both voice and video)

Not all of these tools and practices are included in all online courses. For instance, some courses may have students who are all local and so in the same time zone, making the use of synchronous communication practicable, while other courses may reach across time zones and around the world, and so may restrict communication to asynchronous modes. Most but not all online courses have just 20-25 students, while larger online courses may use other means of creating intimacy and familiarity (e.g., work in teams and group projects as well as supervision of such groups or discussion groups by teaching assistants). Again, in all cases, the means of ensuring the verifiability of student identity in online instruction meet or exceed those used in in-person instruction.