Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Oh, look! A new way to cheat!


I'd never heard of doing this, though perhaps that's because my students don't write the type of papers that I'd need to check for this.

Is this new to anyone else, or just to me?

Do the standard plagiarism-checkers such as SafeAssign catch things like this? If they don't, then that's a very good reason to grade papers on the computer (where you'd presumably see a mass of words marked as misspelled) instead of printing them to grade.

So while we're on this subject, what's the most creative way that a student has cheated in one of your courses, or the most blatantly obvious cheating that you've come across, where you want to crack someone upside of the head not for cheating but for presuming that you'd be too stupid to notice the cheating?


  1. Most blatantly obvious happened in a friend's course. Two students downloaded an assignment by students at another university. Stapled their own cover page on it. Did not remove the cover page of the original, which of course included the names of the original authors.

  2. FYI: I had a student just this semester turn in a paper that legitimately contained such characters. The paper went through SafeAssign and was flagged as a possible instance of plagiarism.

    So, SafeAssign is equipped to at least call attention to such things.

  3. A variety of methods can be used to fool Turnitin and similar checkers. Another one uses macros to similarly obfuscate the data while making the visible portion look normal.

    In Word, the above example shows numerous misspelled words (red underline) that otherwise look normal. Macros are easy to detect by looking at the macros for the file, although they are similarly easy to detect by disallowing macros through the security settings. Both of these do require you to open the electronic file in Word, though I assume other editors have other methods, it does assume you look at the actual digital copy, and not just the image from Turnitin.

    Once tipped by the indicated multiple mispellings in the above example, I was able to ferret out the source by changing fonts. The 'o' character in the link above isn't a standard 'o', and renders differently in different fonts. Baskerville Old Face is one that shows the discrepancy. Other characters may require different fonts to ferret out.

    Lest you think this would be horribly difficult, the student wishing to hide a copied paper would only need to discover the appropriate character and then use find & replace to swap out all the 'o's.

    In the end, Turnitin and its brethren only catch the stupid cheaters. Some of the smart ones will be caught by paying attention, and some may never be caught.

  4. at some point wouldn't it be easier just to write the damn paper??

  5. I really want someone to suggest these techniques to students who are handing in hard copies. They would go to all that trouble, but then when I have to manually type a sentence into google to search it, BINGO.

  6. I had one where the student did a misdirection; their citation referred to a work by an author, but was a word-for-word copy from another article by that same author. (And, of course, many other straight copies throughout the document.)

    THAT was bizarre. WHY waste time with stuff like this, unless... the student is sociopathic. The student even asked later how I caught it and I wouldn't tell 'em. (SafeAssign found the problem(s), in this instance.)

    SafeAssign doesn't catch everything, though. Recently (as a third party), I used Google on word strings from a paper and that uncovered an incredible amount on a suspected student.

    [And, no... I don't try to catch people. In fact, I discuss plagiarism three times during the semester and have a page on it in my syllabus. Some just think "he won't catch this", I suppose.]

  7. This trick would never work if you check like I do, simply cutting and pasting from their electronic document. I like dealing with smaller chunks than the whole essay anyway.

  8. Not quite what you asked for, but I received an e-mail from a student from another college complaining that one of our students had stolen his work from a web page that his CS teacher had required. The student here noticed that he was in the same frat as her bf, so she e-mailed him to say so and to thank him for the essay. He forwarded her email, a link to his web page, and a pdf of the original essay with its date.

  9. So now we just require both printed copies and ASCII copies. If the ASCII copies are unreadable then BANG you're caught! The best part is some of the students mightn't understand what ASCII will show and give us a heads up about their cheating via an email "for some reason I cant get the ASCII to be readable do u know how to get it to werk thx".

    We could also change the font to wingdings and anything normal looking indicates a potential cheat.

  10. I WISH my students knew how to insert symbols in MS Word...or knew what cyrillic is. I can't even get them to use a degree symbol. No clue. I find that when I've had students cheat they've just copied the most ridiculous part of whatever article from the internet or the most assinine answer from their classmate...even with 100 students, I recognize it. Or in the case of papers, one paragraph will read like it was peer-reviewed for publication, followed by one full of errors, grammatical and otherwise.

  11. Well, there was the girl who sent me an electronic copy of the paper, and when I went to "show markup," it had huge chunks inserted by someone else. I Googled the someone else and he was a law student. Soooo ... I was so disgusted that I told her that one phone call from me to his Dean could get him kicked out of law school. That, I spared her.

  12. For research papers I love making up quotes that support my arguments perfectly. You just attribute them to some obscure author(s) so it's impossible to verify that the quote is legit or not.

    99% of the problem with research papers is just finding arguments that support you. Hence 99% less effort when you fabricate your own support.

  13. @ StockStalker - That can work, but won't necessarily work every time. You're playing with fire.

    If the term is short and the prof is in a big hurry, s/he won't be able to do much - even if s/he suspects something bogus. Grades are due tomorrow - let it pass. But if there's time, be prepared for follow-up questions. I've actually done that before. If it is a complete citation, it can be verified or shown not to exist. At the very, very latest, interlibrary loan or a call to a colleague can find this. If it is an incomplete citation, you invite a conversation in which you will be pitted against a trained expert and have to come up with completely consistent and plausible answers on the fly.

  14. The problem with Safe Assign is that it flags EVERYTHING. Literally if a line in a paper reads "Martire et al. (2000)..." It flags this as a match since in some other paper, someone also used the others name in this way. If it flags arbitrary things such as this, what is it really accomplishing? It seems to run on the basis of "Flag everything and then the instructor can check everything".

  15. Terguson wrote: " Or in the case of papers, one paragraph will read like it was peer-reviewed for publication, followed by one full of errors, grammatical and otherwise."


    I teach at a mid-size CC where 80% of the students are first timers, so we don't get sophisticated cheats. I just read along, struggling through the awkward, error-laden prose until, bingo! What is THIS polysyllabic, syntactically dense wonder I see here? Google that shit. Plagiarist busted.


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