"The Cheat is On"
Plus, Pearson Sues Chegg. Plus, Those Lawsuits Over Remote Exam Proctoring.
The Cheat is On
UK outfit Education Technology ran a long, great piece on cheating this past week. It’s titled, as you may have surmised, “The Cheat is On.”
And it is indeed.
In the article, author Chris Warren poses as a student looking to hire a writer for a class assignment - an essay on the ethics of contract cheating, of all things.
Scourges of academic integrity, the contract cheating ‘industry’ is widespread, opaque and morally dubious. They’ve also been implicated in recent cases of blackmail, say the NUS, who’ve reported cases of students being bribed to keep contract writers from reporting their collusion direct to their universities.
But, demanding money with menaces aside, essay mills are completely legal – in 2018 it was estimated that 115,000 UK students were employing third-party writers – and driving the education sector, and student representing bodies, to distraction.
Whatever the discipline, from the humanities through to, (perhaps more concerning) engineering and medicine, if a student is assigned an essay, a dissertation, even a PhD thesis they can’t (or can’t be bothered to) write themselves, an essay mill can be hired to commission a professional writer from their database
The piece is well worth reading, as Warren shares some of his chat transcripts with essay mills and interviews a paid essay writer who’s a former journalist with a Masters in 18th Century Lit. He also interviews a professor in the U.K. who says,
Of course, it’s a minority of students doing this – but it’s significant. The reality is that for all the talk about academic integrity, universities, mine included, bury their heads in the sand when it happens on their own turf. It’s quite ridiculous. Everybody knows it’s going on but they’re reluctant to tackle it. The optics are bad.
It’s true. When it comes to cheating, most universities have their heads - somewhere. Buried in sand will do.
The piece is excellent and deserves attention.
Update on the Proctorio/Linkletter Legal Challenges
A year ago now, remote proctoring company Proctorio sued a learning specialist and proctoring critic at the University of British Columbia, Ian Linkletter.
The suit alleges that Linkletter, in criticizing Proctorio, shared some of their materials on social media, which the company said violated their copyrights. Naturally, many observers - especially fellow critics of exam proctoring - viewed the suit as an intimidation tactic. Linkletter sued back.
On the anniversary of the court filing, the student newspaper at UBC has an update on how it’s going.
Spoiler alert - it’s not going. Proceedings have been delayed, contested and the respective lawyers are now arguing over which side is delaying or not playing fair. It’s a mess.
Academic Integrity Tech May be Moving to HR
Companies having to move their hiring and recruitment systems online are importing and incorporating some of the technologies that colleges and universities have been using to prevent academic misconduct, according to a report in the website Financial Express.
The article is mostly about the software that hiring managers can use to recruit, evaluate and interview prospects remotely. But it has this interesting nugget:
Once the candidates are shortlisted in the preliminary round as per the company’s preferred means, the platform allows companies to conduct online assessment tests – like psychometric tests, aptitude tests, communication tests, and in some cases specialised tests like coding. These tests help in assessing the suitability of the candidate for the job. This aspect also includes an AI feature that assesses whether a student is cheating or not, as well as whether the candidate who has appeared for the test is indeed the correct candidate. This minimises the scope of cheating, the company said. As per the announcement, a plagiarism check has also been put in place.
I guess that’s not too surprising.
But should these technologies continue to spread as a gateway to career attainment, arguments against using similar resources in schools may become more difficult to make.
Pearson Sues Chegg
Publishing heavyweight Pearson has sued cheating provider Chegg, alleging “massive” copyright infringement.
According to reporting, textbook publisher Pearson accused Chegg of using the questions and problems it writes for textbooks without permission, using them to sell answers. There’s little doubt Chegg is doing that - selling answers to questions written by other people. The issue is whether using those questions in that way is an infringement on Pearson’s rights, costing the company - a point the courts may now decide.
In the news coverage, here’s an intriguing quote from the Pearson suit:
Chegg hires thousands of freelancers to prepare answers to textbook questions. Chegg then systematically publishes these answer sets on the Chegg Study website, where they are organized by the titles of the corresponding textbooks—using precisely the same unit, chapter, and topic orders and naming conventions for the questions employed in the textbooks—so that students can easily search for and find answers to the textbook questions they have been assigned.
I’ll highlight “Chegg hires thousands of freelancers to prepare answers to textbook questions” - “so that students can easily search for and find answers to the textbook questions they have been assigned.”
Yup. That’s what they do. And not just for textbook questions. Chegg sells answers to exams and classroom assignments written by thousands of professors around the world. They have a service that sells exam answers in real time, conveniently promising to deliver answers to academic questions in minutes.
Anyway, two things.
Given that Chegg has a market valuation of around $12 billion, Pearson, with a valuation of about $8 billion, may have the resources to really push their claim. That’s something that schools and professors are unable to do, even though they are arguably damaged more often and more significantly than Pearson.
And that’s the second thing. Even though it’s way, way outside my area, I wonder if - should Pearson succeed in convincing a court that Chegg cannot use their copyrighted material to sell answers - it will set a precedent that schools and teachers can use to sue also. Clearly, exams and assignment questions belong to the professors and schools that invest in creating them. Some IP protections must apply. At least I’d like to think so.
If a Pearson win opens a door for others, Chegg could be in real trouble. Not only is Pearson seeking damages, they are asking a court to order the destruction of the purloined material - the questions and answers that Chegg makes most of their money selling.
Maybe some professors who’ve had their exam questions used and answers sold by Chegg may want to join the challenge. Can they? Like I said, not my area. If you know the answer to any of these questions, let me know. I am very interested. And I know plenty of professors and others who probably would be too.
In the next “The Cheat Sheet” - Schools in New Zealand report major surge in cheating, up as much as 458% at one school. Plus, I’ll dig a bit more into this Pearson/Chegg suit. Plus, another example of essay mill marketing.
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