A Must-Read New Article: It Really Is This Bad
Plus, more than 1,100 cheating cases at University of Manitoba. Plus, EdSurge asks if ChatGTP will squeeze the likes of Chegg.
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It Really Is That Bad, Isn’t It?
The Detroit Free Press has what has to be the best academic integrity article of the year.
It’s brutal and accurate and I am delighted for it. If you have any time at all, go read it. The piece by Suzy Weiss really is where we are now, a reality not many people care to face and so many lack the motivation to change.
Personally, it’s great to read what I’ve been yelling about for so long in someone else’s voice. As the kids say, I feel so seen.
I wish I could just copy it.
It starts by stating the obvious - that online, unproctored tests are invitations to cheat. And that given the opportunity, students will cheat.
At Columbia University, a student tells Weiss that an unsupervised, online exam that was to be limited to one hour - but to be turned in within 24-hours - was a “free-for-all.”
Weiss, interviewing a Columbia student about the unproctored, online exam:
[the student] an economics major, said students texted each other answers; looked up solutions on Chegg, a crowdsourced website with answers to exam questions; and used calculators, which were technically verboten.
He finished the exam in under an hour, he said. Other students spent two or three hours on it. Some classmates paid older students who had already taken the course to do it for them.
“Professors just don’t care,” he told me.
It’s true and it hurts. But many do not care if their students cheat. They just don’t. The exam format makes that clear. If professors don’t protect it, students won’t respect it.
More from the story:
With college kids doing college from their bedrooms and smartphones, and with the explosion of new technology, cheating became not just easy but practically unavoidable. “Cheating is rampant,” a Princeton senior told me. “Since Covid there’s been an increasing trend toward grade inflation, cheating, and ultimately, academic mediocrity.”
After one hundred and ninety-three issues of “The Cheat Sheet,” I agree.
Remote testing combined with an array of tech tools—exam helpers like Chegg, Course Hero, Quizlet, and Coursera; messaging apps like GroupMe and WhatsApp; Dropbox folders containing course material from years past; and most recently, ChatGPT, the AI that can write essays—have permanently transformed the student experience.
Yes, a thousand times, yes.
Then there’s this gem from the University of Pennsylvania:
This past semester, in her Intro to Accounting class, students took the midterm online—but in a proctored classroom using a browser that alerted teaching assistants if anyone navigated out of the exam in search of illicit information. To access the browser, students had to log in with an individual code given to them after they showed up for the exam.
Sounds pretty airtight.
Not so fast.
No one checked IDs to make sure the students enrolled in the class were the same students taking the final. Cheaters in the class paid fellow classmates—the ones who stayed in the proctored exam room—up to $100 to send them the codes so they could log in from outside the room, where they were free to look up information on their phones or brainstorm answers together. In case the Olds got smart and thought to track students’ IP addresses—that is, where they actually were—students reserved study rooms in the same building as the exam room, Huntsman Hall, making it appear as though they were physically there.
She relays cheating stories from Cornell University, Tufts, Boston University - and this, from Dartmouth University:
an anonymous source told me that students have developed the habit of breaking into groups of four when given online multiple-choice quizzes. Each guesses a different answer (A, B, C, or D) to each question. Because students get two chances to take the quiz—why that is, no one seems to know—they all have the right answer by the time they take the quiz for a second time. And wind up with a perfect score.
They don’t even have to read the question. If you’re reading the question, you’re doing it wrong.
I’m stunned that Dartmouth is giving two chances to take an unproctored, online multiple-choice quiz. I am not stunned in the least to see how students are cheating it.
Then, Weiss gets into one of my favorite, most infuriating and least understood things about academic integrity - that professors and deans have major incentives to simply look away.
“I didn’t get into academia to be a cop,” a CUNY professor in the English department [said]
Let me translate: enforcing academic integrity is not my job.
Plus, it’s not necessarily smart to report bad behavior.
“Nontenured faculty have no real choice but to compromise their professional standards and the quality of the students’ own education to take a customer’s-always-right approach,” Gabriel Rossman at UCLA told me.
That’s because lower level courses, where cheating is more rampant, tend to be taught by nontenured faculty with little job security—the kind of people who fear getting negative student evaluations. “Students can be tyrants,” the CUNY English professor said. “It’s like Yelp. The only four people who are going to review the restaurant are the people who are mad.”
I had an adjunct professor at Rutgers University tell me once that she knew 80% of her students were cheating in an online music course. She told me she gave them all A’s because if she turned them in, the Dean would simply hire someone else to teach the class next time, and she needed the job. Deans like happy students, not paperwork, she told me.
And it goes on:
[a] recent Boston University graduate, recalled a class he took senior year—on world poverty—and all these underclassmen, who had never known a pre-pandemic college life, pressuring the professor into giving them 24 hours to take the exam. At home. “They pushed her to the point where they made cheating an option, and then they fully exploited that just so they could keep staring at their perfect GPA,” he said.
Another 24-hour, take-home, unproctored online exam. I mean seriously, why waste the time?
A recent Yale University graduate said his professors had encouraged him to get diagnosed with ADHD so he could get more time to finish homework or take exams. One student he knew received extra time for “academic-induced depression.” He smirked when he said it.
I am telling you - as clearly as this article says it - to many students, cheating is a con. It’s a game to get over on the professors, the school, the very idea of institution. They want to prove they’re smarter. They want to show that college is stupid. They know they won’t be caught and if they are, that the consequences will be irrelevant.
One student, at Dartmouth, said:
“Anything that you miss, you can just learn on YouTube,” he said.
Then came ChatGPT - which added kerosene to the brightly burning ditch fire of tech-enabled cheating. Already, websites have sprung up offering GPT services to write essays. One UCLA professor said such sites and the students who use them are “immoral.”
The creator of one of those GPT cheating sites told Weiss:
“The students that wanted to learn were always going to learn, and the students that didn't want to, and were just writing words to get a grade, are just going to be more efficient at doing that,” he said, adding excitedly: “I think this might be the real Web3.”
He’s excited to help students just write words to get a grade. Excited.
And that’s where we are.
I don’t think you can read this - or many of the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written about academic misconduct - and think the future of educational value is in good health. Not the value in learning, that will always be precious - but the value of the representation of learning, the degree or credential. That is seriously ill. It’s dying - undone by the apathy of the very people who provide it. They, in my view, simply don’t care enough about its theft and degradation to even try to stop it. Worse, they excuse it, enable it, blame their colleagues for it.
Unproctored online tests are not serious. And it’s hard to blame students for taking unserious things unseriously.
These schools, all schools, could secure their assessments and exams if they wanted to. They could demonstrate that their assignments and assessments are important and valuable and worth protecting. They just don’t want to. No wonder the students think it’s a game, a hoop to jump through.
But I’m overreacting. There’s always YouTube.
Please share that Free Press article. It really is where we are.
More than 1,100 Misconduct Cases at University of Manitoba
News from Canada that academic misconduct cases at the University of Manitoba continue to be highly elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels.
From the article:
The number of academic misconduct cases at the University of Manitoba continues to be significantly higher than it was before the pandemic, with inappropriate collaboration hitting a five-year high
There were 1,127 cases of academic misconduct In 2021-22. That's down slightly from 1,147 in 2020-21, but up from a pre-pandemic 706 in 2018-19
The school inexplicably said:
"The return to in-person learning and changes to assessment strategies may have reduced the opportunities for misconduct,"
The decline was twenty cases - a total of 1.7%. Nice job.
Two other quick things. The article notes that the penalties for cheating at the university:
included getting a mark of zero on an assignment, failing a course, temporary program suspension, as well as a notation on a student's transcript, according to the discipline report.
And, to be clear, getting a zero on an assignment is not a penalty (see Issue 29). Still, the article quotes a representative of the University of Manitoba Students' Union saying he:
doesn't believe zero on an assignment or an automatic fail is fair to students
Finally, another student quote is worth sharing. A second-year student at Manitoba said he:
wasn't surprised to hear of the increased cheating and plagiarism during the pandemic.
"Most people have more access and it's more easy to get away with this because it's all virtual now, so they can't really tell if someone's cheating or not during that time"
It’s easier to cheat now because “they can’t really tell if someone’s cheating.”
I say again - this is where we are.
EdSurge Asks: Will ChatGPT Make Students Turn Away From Homework-Help Services?
This week, EdSurge looked at whether AI-generation tools such as ChatGPT will cut into the highly profitable operations of cheating providers such as Chegg and Course Hero.
I think probably, which is what I told them:
Some instructors have opposed companies like Chegg and Course Hero, as trying to get content related to the courses they teach removed can cause a headache. The chatbots represent a new headache, for teachers and possibly also for homework-help companies.
That whole business could be threatened by free tools like ChatGPT, argues Derek Newton, who runs The Cheat Sheet, a newsletter that covers academic dishonesty.
For Newton, the primary motivation of a student using homework-help services is laziness or a lack of preparedness. And so having a free alternative that can give answers to questions — like ChatGPT — could shrink the number of students who are willing to pay, even if the answers are slightly worse or riskier, either because there’s a chance of getting caught by one of those AI detectors or of the information just being wrong.
Yes - teachers to tend to oppose companies that sell answers to their tests and homework assignments. And yes, that Newton guy is pretty smart.
It’s too early to tell if ChatGPT will dent Chegg and its irresponsible ilk - but I can’t really see how it won’t. I mean, if you assume you’re paying for garbage from Chegg, why not get garbage from ChatGPT for free, even if it is slightly worse?
At the end of the day, I think most cheating-prone students aren’t hung up on the quality of their fraud. Instead, they’re more likely to care how much it costs, how fast it comes and how likely they are to be caught and I think ChatGPT wins on at least two of those.
Anyway, it’s a good question to ask. And worth keeping an eye on.