Digital Cheating

Male student cheating off of female student

Cheating in online courses is becoming a big problem, and educators are searching for a solution.
Image: Shutterstock

Plato’s students probably plagiarized on their philosophy homework. We know Shakespeare cheated in his studies. Our grandparents wrote test answers on the bottoms of their shoes and the bills of their hats. Cheating and plagiarism have always and will always be obstacles on the academic landscape.

Cheating is, perhaps, at an all-time high now. Cheating is an industry today–and it’s not just upperclassmen selling off old essays and answer keys to freshmen. Freelancers and whole companies exist to not only write you your essays or study notes but to actually take your online courses for you. To the tune of one or two thousand dollars, they’ll even guarantee your grade. (Let’s set aside how this only widens the gap between the numbers of wealthy and poor college graduates.)

It’s not even subtle. No obfuscation about them helping you study or editing your work. Companies like No Need to Study and its ilk say it right out in the open: the service they offer is to take your classes and complete your course work for you, the client.

According to a 2014 survey, almost a third of all American upper-education enrollment is in online courses. Almost seven million students took at least one online class last year. And currently, there is virtually no way to check that the name on the roll-call for an online course is actually attached to the person behind the keyboard doing the work.

Online education is being seen as more legitimate every year. Already a global industry worth almost $100 billion, the one thing standing in its way is its trustworthiness–or rather, lack thereof. Fighting this, schools with online catalogs are scrambling to find ways to reduce academic fraud. Tactics like required video chats with the teacher, exit interviews by phone, and requiring major exams to be taken with an active web cam have all been tried, with varying degrees of success. But most of these also limit class size, cutting out one of the primary benefits of online courses in the first place.

Cheating is endemic to education. But as long as cheating in online education remains as rife as it is, it is hurting us all by making online accreditation unreliable.

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