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Student: Please Proctor Our Exams
Plus, more paid ad placements from essay mills. Plus, Italy bans ChatGPT. Plus, essay writing business slows down in Kenya.
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Student: Please Proctor Our Exams
A student at Middlebury College (VT), wrote a compelling op-ed in her student paper asking the college to start proctoring exams because cheating is common - because college policies and practices are so lacking that they actually encourage cheating.
It is a must read.
Importantly, it underscores the rift that happens when schools and teachers don’t address cheating. In particular, good students - the students who actually value learning and the college experience - resent it. By trying to create easy and permissive relationships with all students, they demoralize many.
For context, Middlebury is a true “Honor Code” school meaning it does not proctor or supervise assessments, leaving integrity to individual ethics and community-centered reporting. Students are expected to act with integrity and report on one another, should misconduct be encountered.
Some - relatively few - schools have such codes. This is very different from schools that use “honor codes” or “honor pledges” or other statements signed by students, pledging themselves to academic integrity. Capital letter “Honor Codes” are cultural and usually traditional. Historically, the Capital kind have been shown to have some impact on misconduct. Minor, but some. Lower case “honor codes” are window dressing. They do no harm but are pretty useless. Students and administrators see them as check-the-box formalities.
With that, our Middlebury student opens her essay:
In one of my in-person midterm exams this term, I observed cheating on an egregious level. With phones in their laps, four students copied down answers from their screens. They showed their exams to one another and copied down answers from each other’s papers. They whispered loudly to one another, discussing questions and answers as if there were no one else in the room. This went on for the entirety of the two-hour exam.
The fact that this group of students felt comfortable being so conspicuous with their cheating underscores the tenacity of the culture of cheating at Middlebury; they knew that their peers would be able to notice their cheating, but they still did not expect to get told on or punished.
Cheating in the open with zero expectation of consequence is a culture gone awry. And quite damaging.
Our student cites other examples of cheating, noting:
Usually, though, professors are oblivious.
She says that she does not want to report her fellow students. In an Honor Code setting, the lack of enforcement is partly on her. Still, she squarely blames the school for the lack of concern, action or support on cheating.
It shouldn’t be surprising that cheating is common at a college with such lax policies surrounding academic dishonesty. The Honor Code, written and implemented as is, does not actively prevent cheating nor does it create an environment where action against cheaters tends to occur.
Our student says correctly that such common and unsanctioned cheating incentivizes honest students to cheat and writes, matter-of-factly:
proctoring exams in every department is the most effective way to disincentivize cheating on in-person exams.
And here’s the section that begs for underlining:
By leaving exams unproctored, Middlebury is fostering an environment where cheating is permissible — even implicitly encouraged — and honest students lose out.
Zero doubt about it.
Not actively protecting academic integrity sends the message that cheating is “implicitly encouraged.”
The question I have is how long honest students will stay in a system that essentially punishes their honesty. How long before they discard their integrity, dismiss the system as arbitrary and absurd or just outright quit?
My indignation aside, it’s a good piece and our student author deserves enormous credit. I hope leaders at Middlebury and elsewhere have their eyes open.
More Planted PR for Professional Essay Mills
In Issue 202 we covered how the Charlotte Observer is now apparently making commissions on essay mill sales.
Since reporting it, The Observer has clammed up. They’re no longer responding to my inquiries. The articles selling cheating services are still on their page, under their masthead.
The “author” of those ads disguised as news is, according to the link in his byline, affiliated with a company called Paradise Media. The company pretty obviously contracts with companies to shoehorn their dubious content into otherwise reasonable news outlets, boosting SEO results and credibility. Essay mills are clearly among its clients.
I’ll have more on this if McClatchy (which owns The Observer), or The Observer or Paradise Media reply to my inquiries.
While I hold my breath, our friend Joseph Thibault wrote in to point out that the problem with Paradise Media and The Observer is not unique. Here’s his e-mail:
Ocasio Media - PR firm of the essay mills.
We initially found a sponsored article and traced it back to them (Ocasio Media). Each article is different, but very similarly worded. And each list of sites is also very similar, though only sometimes listing the same sites.
We found 8 sponsored articles by them. In the 8 articles, the following writing services were mentioned:
PaperHelp (8x), SpeedyPaper (8x), BBQPapers (7x), EssayPro (7x), GradeMiners (4x), 99Papers (3x), ExpertWriting (2x), EssayTerritory (2x), ExtraEssay (1x), IvoryResearch (1x), WiseEssays (1x), WritePaperForMe (1x)
Here are the sponsored articles we found that appear to be on City papers around the country:
Pittsburgh City Paper (Dec 2022)
Washington City Paper (Dec 2022)
KTNV Las Vegas (Jan 2023) TV station owned by Scripps Media
WTKR Northeast NC (Dec 2022) TV station owned by Scripps Media
Salt Lake Tribune (Dec 2022)
Twin Cities Pioneer Press (Sep 2022)
Twin Cities Pioneer Press (Oct 2022)
MediaWire (May 2022) This was a press release distributed by Primex News Network, which is India's largest news distribution service. But even when you hover over the links to the essay websites, the URL is directed from Ocasio.
It’s good to know, and a good reminder that people who sell cheating are engaged and spending money - often creatively and insidiously. In balance to their efforts: silence. The wheels of unethical commerce just keep spinning, uncontested.
Italy Bans ChatGPT
According to the BBC, Italy has banned ChatGPT - not just in schools, but from the country.
This is potentially big because the ban is based on legal data security and privacy issues, not cheating. Italy has decided ChatGPT may not comply with its laws and has blocked it entirely as it investigates.
Italy’s data and security laws are not too dissimilar from other European nations and, as a member of the EU, this action merits close watching.
AI is Taking “Ghostwriting” Jobs in Kenya
An outlet called Rest of the World has an interesting piece on ChatGPT and its AI relatives taking jobs and income from essay writers in Kenya.
For the past nine years, Collins, a 27-year-old freelance writer, has been making money by writing assignments for students in the U.S. — over 8,500 miles away from Nanyuki in central Kenya, where he lives. He is part of the “contract cheating” industry, known locally as simply “academic writing.” Collins writes college essays on topics including psychology, sociology, and economics. Occasionally, he is even granted direct access to college portals, allowing him to submit tests and assignments, participate in group discussions, and talk to professors using students’ identities. In 2022, he made between $900 and $1,200 a month from this work.
Lately, however, his earnings have dropped to $500–$800 a month.
The average income in Kenya is about $630 a month in US dollars. And the drop is news. But don’t be distracted by that.
Focus as much on the fact that “Collins” has been writing college papers for cash for nine years - even “granted direct access to college portals, allowing him to submit tests and assignments, participate in group discussions, and talk to professors using students’ identities.”
And a reminder - sorry, I cannot resist - Cal Poly Pomona said that using passwords to access exams was an academic integrity security feature (see Special Edition 3).
Back on topic.
“Last year at a time like this, I was getting, on average, 50 to 70 assignments, including discussions which are shorter, around 150 words each, and don’t require much research,” Collins told Rest of World. “Right now, on average, I get around 30 to 40-something assignments.”
Another paid essay mill writer told the paper:
Brian agrees that lately, work has been slow. “When I started last year, as a literal amateur, in the first month, I did 30 assignments,” he said. “As I got better, I was doing up to 60 assignments a month. The most I made in a month last year was 40,000 Kenyan shillings [$296].” In March, Brian got barely 10 assignments. “It’s not that I haven’t been looking [for gigs]. I didn’t even hit 10,000 Kenyan shillings [$74],” he said.
Again - the money is interesting but this “amateur” writer was doing 30 assignments a month. One a day. Then it went to two a day - paid cheating. From one writer.
I still don’t get the sense that most people in American schools have any notion of the size of the cheating industry.
Still, the slowdown is an interesting development and something we’ve been trying to watch - whether AI text-generators would dent essay mills. Smart people I know said that was likely; I was skeptical. We may both be right as “Collins” also says:
he depends on ChatGPT to generate the content he used to outsource to other freelance writers.
The piece quotes another writer in Kenya who says that as schools move to block or detect AI-written content, the work will come back to essay writers. He says even editing AI text is work, which it is.
A different source says:
Alfred Ongere, founder of consulting company AI Kenya, told Rest of World that the rise of large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT will disrupt the supply of academic writers in Kenya. “On one hand, writers and other freelancers have realized the powerful capabilities of LLMs such as ChatGPT, and are using them in their work,” he said. “This means they can now spend more time being creative, and have better articles because of the time ChatGPT saves them. On the negative side, this will mean [fewer] jobs as their clients and origin of supply shift to ChatGPT and other AI tools to have their work done.”
So, the job of writing essays for cheating will probably change - quality and efficiency will go up while overall volume lags. That sounds right.
The article reports further:
While 17 states in the U.S. have banned contract cheating, it has not been a problem for freelancers in Kenya
Nope. Until recently, the cheat business in Kenya was booming, driven by hungry American college students eager to cut corners and enabled by blind or ambivalent administrators and accreditors.
As mentioned, that may change but it’s not going to go away any time soon.