Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In online classes, professors can't tell who's really doing the assignments.

Surprised? Yeah, me neither. 

"Joey" emailed that he needed someone to take a 10-week accelerated course in introductory psychology, and inquired if the company was prepared to handle all aspects of the class. The company would not only take the whole course for Joey, its representative said, but promised to earn him an A.

Hi. I'm Joey.
I'm putting my college degree
to good use.
Throughout the course, the professors used Turnitin and Googled students' work to check for plagiarism. They also monitored the time that students spent completing their tests to see if groups of students were taking exams at the same time.

In the end, the professors caught several students plagiarizing material. But they did not detect that Joey Sanchez was a fraud. Both instructors gave him an A in the class.

"I certainly did not feel that 'Joey' was being 'run' by a cheating company," Mr. Malesky wrote in the paper. "If anything, Joey struck me as a conscientious and motivated student who wanted to get as much out of the course as possible."

"Instructors such as myself," Crow wrote, "may be ignorant to the fact that it is possible for an entire course to be completed covertly by a paid impostor."  

The article is paywalled, but this link should work for a few hours. 



  1. I'd be willing to pay somebody to attend some of the committees I'm on.

  2. There is no real-world system that can't be beat, if you're willing to invest enough time and energy and/or money. Frankly, the same thing could be done with live classes, in any class/institution large enough for some anonymity. I don't check IDs, and even if I did, lots of people look more or less alike.

    1. And that is, of course, exactly how Ted Kennedy got expelled from Harvard: he paid a friend to take a Spanish exam for him. In the modern, more diverse university, one might have to search just a bit further for a lookalike, but that's about it.

  3. No, I'm not surprised, but I'm pretty sure I've received work from face to face students that they didn't do. Either they paid someone else, or someone who loved them not wisely but too well (mother, girlfriend, etc.) did it for them. While I'm willing to take reasonable precautions against cheating in all delivery modes, my ultimate take on the matter is that I'm not really responsible for keeping students (or their family/friends) from depriving themselves of the education for which they're paying so much.

    It's interesting that the oral report came the closest to creating an obstacle to cheating in the online class in the study (because the cheating company wouldn't deliver it, only write the materials). My online class involves a good deal of group work, which I'd think would also present significant complications (either the actual student would have to do a lot of go-between work, or would have to hand a lot of contact/login info over the stand-in, who would have to be willing to engage in direct communication with the other students in the group). I also hold one-on-one conferences on the big final project, which I suspect would be hard to fake (though I do offer an asynchronous option for students in faraway locations/with really complicated questions, which I suppose might get around that difficulty).

    Bottom line: it sounds like online classes with more, and more complex/carefully scaffolded, student/student and student/instructor interaction make cheating harder (or at least more expensive). They're also better classes, in my opinion. Of course, they're also more expensive to teach, which keeps them from fulfilling the dreams of many administrators (sorry, Crystal's husband -- and I do know that "many" =/= "all").

    It's also, of course, harder to cheat in a smaller face to face class (if only because the proffie is more likely to notice any disparity between in-class and out-of-class performance).

    So we probably have some good ways to prevent this kind of problem; however, like many effective approaches to education, they don't come cheap.