|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Re: [Hangout - NYLXS] [ Docs ] COVID-19 has now let us raise a
|On 5/13/21 4:25 AM, Ruben Safir via Docs wrote:
Cheating at School Is Easier Than Ever—and It’s Rampant
Tawnell D. Hobbs
A year of remote learning has spurred an eruption of cheating among
students, from grade school to college. With many students isolated at
home over the past year—and with a mass of online services at their
disposal—academic dishonesty has never been so easy.
Websites that allow students to submit questions for expert answers have
gained millions of new users over the past year. A newer breed of site
allows students to put up their own classwork for auction.
“Consider hiring me to do your assignment,” reads a bid from one auction
site. “I work fast, pay close attention to the instructions, and deliver
a plagiarism-free paper.”
Some educators fear the new generation of cheaters will be loath to stop
even after the pandemic recedes. “Students have found a way to cheat and
they know it works,” said Thomas Lancaster, senior teaching fellow in
computing at Imperial College in London, who has studied academic
integrity issues for more than two decades. He said cheating sites
number in the thousands, from individuals to large-scale operations.
Concerned about his North Carolina State University students cheating in
a statistics class, Tyler Johnson launched a plan.
For the final exam, Mr. Johnson, a course coordinator, said he used a
computer program that generated a unique set of questions for each
student. Those questions quickly showed up on a for-profit homework
website that helped him to identify who posted them.
About 200 students were caught cheating—one-fourth of the class.
Overall, cases of academic dishonesty more than doubled in the 2019-20
academic year at NC State, with the biggest uptick as students made the
transition to online learning, according to the school.
Tyler Johnson of North Carolina State University caught about 200
students cheating on an exam.
Photo: Chet Strange for The Wall Street Journal
Texas A&M University had a 50% increase in cheating allegations in the
fall from a year earlier, with one incident involving 193 students
self-reporting academic misconduct to receive lighter punishment after
faculty members caught on, a university official said. The University of
Pennsylvania saw cheating case investigations grow 71% in the 2019-20
academic year, school data shows.
Dozens of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were caught
cheating on an online calculus exam last year, sharing answers with each
other from home. The school said in April it was ending a policy that
protected cadets who admitted honor code violations from being kicked out.
Educators say stress and pressure, both significant effects of the
pandemic, are a big reason why students cheat. “Especially in a time of
stress, they make poor choices,” said Camilla Roberts, president of the
International Center for Academic Integrity and director of the Kansas
State University Honor and Integrity System.
There is a line between students turning to homework help sites that
offer study resources and tutorials to better understand a subject, and
copying answers found on those sites onto homework and tests or hiring
others to do their work.
Erik Johnson, an 18-year-old freshman at Miami University in Oxford,
Ohio, who isn’t related to Mr. Johnson of NC State, said he knows
students who have used homework help sites for studying—and for
cheating. He said he hasn’t cheated himself.
He said students, including himself, are frustrated with virtual
learning because there’s less interaction with instructors and it’s not
as structured. “I haven’t struggled this way with learning material,
ever,” he said. “It’s just really difficult to learn and retain the
information just exclusively at your own pace.”
At the K-12 level, some schools block a range of homework help websites
from district computers to prevent cheating—though that doesn’t stop a
student from visiting the site from a different device. Middle-school
teacher Suzanne Priebe in Riverside, Calif., has put less emphasis on
testing during online learning to alleviate stress and the desire to
cheat. “We have no control of what is going on when you’re on a
computer,” she said.
Online cheating has boosted another industry: surveillance-type
companies that hire online proctors to watch students take tests from
home. The proctors look for suspicious behavior, such as a student
disappearing from camera view or being slipped answers. Some use
facial-detection software to check for wayward eyes and unusual movements.
Proctorio, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said it proctored 21 million
exams in 2020 world-wide, up from 6 million exams in 2019.
ProctorU, based in Hoover, Ala., said students are finding unique ways
to cheat. Some of its busts include a student suspected of trying to use
a drone’s camera to take images of a test to possibly share with others;
another who was trying to cheat by using information on sticky notes on
his dog; and a female student who sneezed and disappeared from view, to
suddenly be replaced by a male wearing a blond wig, impersonating her.
Among the newer ways to cheat are homework auction sites, which give
students a say in who does their work and at what price. Students post
their assignment on a website, along with a deadline; the website acts
as a marketplace for bidders who offer to do the assignment.
The bidders, who often refer to themselves as tutors, can tout degrees
and other credentials. Some companies allow students to rate their work
and post reviews online.
While educators can use software to check for plagiarism, such tools
aren’t much help against services that produce original work.
Select coverage from the WSJ's education bureau on the state of schools
and learning, curated by bureau chief Chastity Pratt and sent to you via
In February, auction website homeworkforyou.com featured one student
post looking for someone willing to do weekly school assignments, exams
and a project for a business class at York College in Queens, N.Y., over
a two-month span. The winning bidder would also need to pose as the
student and respond to classmates in a group assignment. The student
specified that an “A” was the desired outcome, and that the “willing to
pay” fee was $465.
By the next day, 29 bids had come in. The average was $479.41.
Homeworkforyou.com didn’t respond to requests for comment. It, like many
other sites, warns against users submitting work done as their own.
The Wall Street Journal put up a post on the site, titled “Wall Street
Journal Needs Help Cheating For Article.” The post noted the Journal was
reporting on cheating and was interested in talking to bidders, and
wouldn’t pay the indicated $15 starting bid.
Bids started rolling in within seconds of the posting—seemingly, without
bidders having read the description. Bids reached a total of 13, at an
average of $389.62, before the Journal removed the post about 30 minutes
into the auction. One bidder offered to do it for $2,005.
“Hey buddy, your assignment falls under my specialization. Kindly Allow
me to give you the best grade in this,” reads one bid.
Bidders contacted by the Journal didn’t respond for comment or declined
to be interviewed.
Responses from bidders to a Wall Street Journal post on
homeworkforyou.com. This is the private screen a user sees after posting
Lesley Vos, a blogger and content strategist for Bid4Papers.com, a site
where students can auction out writing assignments, said its terms
prohibit academic fraud and plagiarism. She said the site is for
educational purposes, with a hope to improve students’ grades using
methods such as guiding them on ideas, research and proper citations to
She said she supposes cheating can happen, but it would be on a
student’s conscience. “Students will never tell us how they’ve used our
writers’ help,” she said.
One self-described independent tutor listed as Daniel Amaro in a
Craigslist ad said in an interview by text message that business was
booming during the pandemic. The Craigslist ad noted services such as
doing students’ math work. The tutor disavowed the label of a cheater
for students, and said that the tutor helps students learn by providing
written tutorials and explanations for math problems.
“I suspect most of the students who reach out to me intend on turning in
my work as their own,” the tutor said. “But I don’t have control over
A student attends a remote learning class last fall.
Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News
The tutor touted bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia
University in the ad, but the university said it was unable to locate
such information in its records. After being asked about the
discrepancies by a reporter, the tutor said that Daniel Amaro was an
alias, and asked to no longer be included in the Journal’s article.
Students have filed complaints against services with the Better Business
Bureau for not getting the grade promised as well as for unoriginal
work, late assignments or billing concerns.
One student filed a complaint to the bureau in November about
allassignmenthelp.org, which promises to complete dissertations, essays
and other coursework, saying it did poor work and was misleading on what
it would provide. The student also claimed that the site made threats
about legal action and notifying school administrators about cheating.
“They make sure that their customers give them all info, including
street address, school login credentials, school name…to scam,
blackmail, threaten and extort if customers do not comply with their
demands,” the student wrote in the complaint.
The student, who claimed to have lost $1,000 in the transaction,
declined to comment through the Better Business Bureau.
Allassignmenthelp.org didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Other popular websites that students use to get help—by submitting a
question for an expert to quickly answer, or by searching a database of
previous answers—include Chegg and Brainly, which said they have seen a
big increase in users during the pandemic.
Officials at the sites said the majority of subscribers aren’t cheating
but trying to fill in gaps left by remote learning, with parents also
turning to the sites to help their children study. Rules on the sites
warn against cheating, such as copying content for use on essays or
other classwork, or asking for answers to active test questions.
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What can schools do to prevent online cheating? Join the conversation below.
“If you break any of those rules, your account can be deleted and you
can be banned from the community,” said Jakub Piwnik, Brainly’s
communications director. “Most of the kids out there know what is
allowed and what is not. It’s sad that some of them want to break the
Mr. Piwnik said world-wide users grew to 350 million monthly in 2020,
from about 200 million in 2019. The basic service is free, while a $24
annual subscription is ad-free and gives access to premium features.
Chegg, a publicly held company based in Santa Clara, Calif., prides
itself on a willingness to help institutions determine the identities of
those who cheat. It allows educators to report copyright information
found on the site. The company saw total net revenue of $644.3 million
in 2020, a 57% increase year over year. Subscribers hit a record 6.6
million, up 67%.
Chegg allows students to send in photos of questions they want answered.
Monthly subscription costs range from $9.95 to $19.95.
Mr. Johnson at NC State said Chegg helped identify the 200 students that
used its website to cheat on his final exam. Some students posted exam
questions to get answers while others accessed the information, all
traceable through users’ email addresses, IP addresses and the time of
‘A lot of the students responsible said, “It’s unfair to put us through
this, because we’re going through a pandemic,”’ said Mr. Johnson.
Photo: Chet Strange for The Wall Street Journal
Another website that students were suspected of using to cheat on the
exam to a lesser extent didn’t cooperate with the university, Mr.
The students were given three options: accept responsibility, meet with
Mr. Johnson over Zoom to review the evidence and go from there, or
dispute it with the Office of Student Conduct. The punishment would
include a zero on the exam and academic integrity probation, with a
second violation resulting in suspension for a semester.
“A lot of the students responsible said, ‘It’s unfair to put us through
this, because we’re going through a pandemic,’ ” Mr. Johnson said.
He said about half the students requested the Zoom meeting, with many
admitting responsibility. About 30 to 35 went with the hearing, he said,
and only one was fully vindicated.
Some parents threatened legal action, Mr. Johnson said. An online
petition with 786 signatures by April 1 criticized him, saying a
misinterpretation of instructions led to confusion of what could be used
to complete the exam. He disputes that.
Even after the bust, the cheating didn’t stop.
“In the fall semester, of 1,000 students, I still had academic integrity
issues with 70 or 80,” he said. “It’s still an ongoing thing.”
Write to Tawnell D. Hobbs at Tawnell.Hobbs-at-wsj.com
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