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For Faculty, Keeping Up with Cheating Scams Is Full-Time Work

by on January 29, 2018 5:00 AM

In a conversation with a new colleague last week, I found myself questioning this hard, cold exterior of cynicism that I have developed after working with college students for so many years.

While most of the students that I have worked with are amazing, hard-working young adults who are eagerly preparing for their futures, the stories of those who weren’t stick with me. The twins who submitted the same paper and didn’t think I would notice. The student who used the tragedy on 9/11 to get out of classes. The student who lied about having cancer so his shoddy group work would be excused. The dozens of copied papers, plagiarized sources, and, one of my favorites, the students who turned in the exact same resume.

As they say, I was born at night but I wasn’t born last night.

Last semester, another colleague was given a doctor’s excuse to get out of classes. The doctor’s name was spelled differently on the same document which raised some red flags. She made some phone calls and it turns out, there was no such doctor. The phone number went to some random guy. The medical clinic listed on the excuse did exist but there were no records of the student being a patient there.

When I made a joke about students having others take their online courses for them, my new colleague, not yet stained by cynicism, looked at me as if I were crazy.  

For university faculty, it is almost a full-time job to stay ahead of the latest scam.

The internet is a wonderful thing; it has accelerated the way we can learn and gather information. It is also the perfect vehicle for cheating, scams and “businesses” that help students to try to beat the system.

On the internet, you can find people who will write papers for you. On the internet, you can find sites that will provide a “real” doctor’s excuse. On the internet, you can pay someone to take your whole online course for you.

An advisor from another department turned me on to the online course-taking scam. He heard it from another academic unit. I decided to give it a try. With a few keyboard strokes, I found a list of professional looking websites that offer the customer the promise of better grades. On one of the sites, the “About Us” page asks the visitor “Are your online classes a bore? Aren’t quite getting the grades to cut it? We specialize in completing your entire college online class from start to finish. Count on us to complete your entire semester!”

For an estimated cost of $500-1000 per undergraduate and $1200-$1400 per graduate class, one site advertises that they will “get you the grade you want in virtually any subject.” Services run from completing one project or paper to taking the whole course for you. They reassure the prospective customer that an expert who will prepare up to 8 hours to take the student’s online exam.

One of the websites offers an online chat. I didn’t identify myself as an instructor but asked “Lisa” from the site if having someone else take my course is legal. Her direct quote was “We don’t know your university rules.”

I’m guessing the rules on academic integrity and submitting one’s own work are pretty similar at most universities (to say nothing of elementary schools, middle schools and high schools).  

Raising the issue of morality and right versus wrong with a person who would buy a paper, create a fake doctor’s excuse or pay someone on a website to take a course for them would likely be a waste of time.  Wrong to some is only getting caught. How does one rationally address the issue of conscience and integrity when the end is used to justify the means?

So where does that leave instructors, students who do the work and the general university community?  It make us cold, hard and cynical. We have to implement outrageous course policies and spend time playing detective. We use programs like TurnitIN, which checks for plagiarism, and PROCTORU, which uses a multi-level security system to make sure the right person is taking the test.  We have zero tolerance, course policies, signed agreements and other tricks to make sure that the integrity of the education process is protected. For those hard working students, all this silliness is just another layer of work.

For the students who will look for short cuts, it hopefully puts up some road blocks and at least makes cheating a little harder.

In the end, it costs all of us more time and money and means some of us are a bit more cynical.


Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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