Episode 008: Jennifer Wright


The Score


This episode features Jennifer Wright with the University of Central Florida, where she facilitates workshops and seminars on ethical decision making and is Program Manager of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity in the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. She has been working on academic integrity issues and initiatives at UCF for nearly 12 years, including the simple but effective “Take the Zero” campaign.

Please contact us if you would like the full transcript.

Show notes

On this episode of The Score, we’re speaking with Jennifer Wright with the University of Central Florida, where she facilitates workshops and seminars on ethical decision making and is Program Manager of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity in the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. She has been working on academic integrity issues and initiatives at UCF for nearly 12 years, including the simple but effective “Take the Zero” campaign.

Jennifer Wright (05:50):
I have a workshop also that I do that is called Bs and Cs Get Degrees. And again, it’s not easy for students of today to go ahead and get a C, take a zero. It’s interesting how they have the ways of looking at that zero on a 10-point quiz and manifesting it to, “I can’t be a doctor. I can’t become a lawyer. My parents won’t be proud of me. I’m going to let my siblings down.” Zero out of 10 will move a student to go, “It’s all over.” I’m trying to get that concept across to them that it is okay.

Jennifer Wright (08:20):
But I can tell you because there is not a week that goes by that I don’t meet with a student and I don’t have somebody who is literally crying about what has happened, and that release they do a lot with me. Yeah, they do admit to it. They get it. There’ s no other way because they were there when it happened. They can’t blame it on anybody else.

Jennifer Wright (15:11):
Because professors for a final grade are looking at student behavior over a 14-week period over a semester. We’re looking at one act that has occurred on a day. We’re determining the egregiousness of that act. And with that, we look at, what was the intent, what was the impact that it had, how many were involved, were other students brought into this, did other students benefit from a student committing academic misconduct.

Jennifer Wright (15:46):
With the Course Hero and with Quizlet, with Chegg and all of that, other students end up participating as well in that. We look at a lot of things with it to determine what the outcome will be in violation. We have six levels of violations, and they range from a warning to probation to deferred suspension, suspension, dismissal, and expulsion.

Kathryn Baron (16:24):
You talked about intent. I kind of think of it as, what, premeditated cheating versus spur of the   moment cheating.

Jennifer Wright (16:32):
I look at it and say, “Was there enough of an opportunity or a moment where the student could have stopped what they were doing?” For example, if there was a student who paid another person to do their work for them, there’s contacting somebody, getting it set up, changing usernames and IDs, giving them access, having a lot of conversations, that could have stopped at any moment. That person could have said, “Wait a minute here, what am I doing?” And could have stopped.

Jennifer Wright (17:08):
Continued it, that’s where it rises a little bit higher. A student who puts a cheat sheet together the night before, puts it in their pocket, walks with it to class, they could have just said, “I’m not going to take it out. Nobody would be the wiser,” but then you chose to take it out. We know what was going to happen there. Those kind of run to a higher level. I also engage with forgery as well of whether it’s a medical document or forgery of an email to try to get out of taking an exam or getting an extension on an assignment.

Jennifer Wright (17:51):
We’ve had that before. Forgery, you knew what you were doing. You know it’s not your name that you’re signing. Those kinds of things rise to a higher level of it.

Jennifer Wright (18:45):
Those of us in academic integrity lands, we really have a very, I do, and I know many of my colleagues do, have a very visceral reaction to Chegg and to other websites who their sole mission is to convince students that their sites are safe, good, and helpful, and nothing could happen. Nothing could happen if you use us. That’s not true.

Jennifer Wright (25:07):
I would say I think [students] are impressed [with what we do around academic integrity]. I think they are glad, because I do know and have heard from students that have said… It really, really bothers me when I see a student with a cheat sheet and nothing is done about it, or it really bothers me when somebody in my group will go ahead and text me and say, “I know you already took the exam. What were some of the questions?”

Jennifer Wright (30:34):
I think one of the things that has really helped is we have dedicated somebody, myself, to just academic integrity. We have 20 rules of conduct at UCF. I specialize in one of them. That’s all I do is just the one. I don’t work with students who are coming in for alcohol or drugs or something else, anything that’s going on in the residential halls or anything like that. I don’t handle any of those cases.

Jennifer Wright (31:14):
I’m specifically academic integrity, so that helps. I think that has been a great win. I’ve been able to focus great partner in that, in not having to go, “Oh, today I’m working with somebody who cheated on an exam, and then I’m working with somebody who had marijuana in the residential hall, and then I’m working with somebody with a fake ID,” and all of that. It’s really been helpful to specialize in it. That’s what my role is.

Jennifer Wright (36:03):
Their questions are… And again, I understand, but I also correct, where they’ll say, “I don’t want to be the one to upend a student’s life and career.” I always say back to them, “I understand that. You had nothing to do with it. This was the student’s choice to do what they did. You could have been standing behind them in their residential hall, over their shoulder and saying, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it.’ If the student wants to do it bad enough, they’re going to do it. You don’t have anything to do with this.”

Jennifer Wright (36:50):
There are some things we can’t unsee. We really can’t unsee somebody on a video taking notes out from underneath their shirt and then trying to hide it and use it during a final exam. I can’t unsee what I’m looking at.

Kathryn Baron (37:22):
So, you’ve seen that?

Jennifer Wright (37:23):
Yeah. Oh yeah. Many times. Many times.

Kathryn Baron (37:47):
What’s the worst thing you’ve had, just for fun?

Jennifer Wright (37:50):
… We’ve had one case of a student who had another student go in and pretend to be them and take an exam for them. The other one would be the student who paid another individual to complete their coursework for them. You’ll sit there and go just, “When I think I have seen it all, something else will come up.” And I’ll go, “This is a new one. Okay, let’s see how this plays out.”

Jennifer Wright (38:46):
Students will say, and I understand, they’ll say, “Trust me, Ms. Wright. I’m never going to do this again.” I am never really concerned about them actually doing the exact same act again. What I say to them is, “Good. I’m glad to hear that. But what I want to address with you is there was a moment in time where something got the better of you, and it just happened to manifest itself into looking up an answer on the internet to finish a quiz. There’s going to be other times where something is going to get the better of you, whether that’s in your career, in relationships, whatever it happens to be. But how are you going to handle the integrity piece?” I kind of take the academic part out, and then I focus on the integrity piece. “How will you react if a supervisor comes to you and you were just hired right out of graduating from UCF and they say to you, ‘We got a big report coming up. I know you’re responsible for these numbers here in our report. Make them dance for me. Make it happen. We have to look really good to our stakeholders. Whatever you got to do. Don’t worry about it. I got your back. I’ll take care of you, but please make those numbers look good for our meeting.'” Well, that’s not right. How are you going to handle that? That’s where I hope in just starting some awareness on these topics that students will not only take it when they’re doing their academic work, but also take it for life. That’s for sure.

Jennifer Wright (44:56):
I would say my greatest piece of advice [for schools] is if you can designate a person, a team, a department that just focuses on academic integrity, I think that is one of the best things you can do, because then you’re having people specialize in what is happening. You’re having people day in, and day out be around students that this has happened to and hear from faculty of what their frustrations are in this area.

The Score on Academic Integrity – Special Episode for World Education Summit


The Score


In this special episode for the 2022 World Education Summit’s Podcast Corner, host Kathryn Baron (@TchersPet) discusses the overall theme of The Score with different clips from the podcast’s first 6 episodes. She notes that all the guests have agreed that cheating is a significant problem with serious repercussions for society but disagree on what constitutes cheating and what to do about it.

Please contact us if you would like the full transcript.

Episode 007: Melissa Ezarik


The Score


In this episode, host Kathryn Baron (@TchersPet) interviews Melissa Ezarik (@MelissaEzarik). Ezarik is a contributing editor at Inside Higher Ed, where she manages survey-based content for the Student Voice news hub, including a survey focused on student behaviors and perspectives related to academic integrity. She has been covering higher education since 2005.

Please contact us if you would like the full transcript.

Show notes

On this episode of The Score, we’re speaking with Melissa Ezarik, a contributing editor at Inside Higher Ed, where she manages survey based content for the Student Voice News Hub. She recently wrote a series of articles based on responses to a survey focused on student behaviors and perspectives related to academic integrity. Melissa has been covering higher education since 2005.  

Melissa Ezarik (02:17):

Only 10% [of students] say Googling on homework is unacceptable. One student wrote in that small assignments actually should not be of concern to faculty in terms of cheating. Thought that was interesting.

Melissa Ezarik (02:36):

Another surprise to me was getting perspective about low numbers of reports for cheating. Professors are definitely under reporting cheating for a variety of reasons. That includes that they don’t trust the systems in place to manage accusations, or maybe they worry the institution may be too hard on a student, or they may just think that reporting will reflect badly on them as an educator.

Melissa Ezarik (11:30):

I think we saw some write-in comments to that effect, that it’s not fair that the professor might handle it one way for one student, a different way for another student. If you don’t have strong policies in place, just how much a professor has a connection to a particular student, some sort of rapport built already may make a determination whether he or she reports or what the consequence would be, if you did cheat.

Kathryn Baron (12:23):

I think that one big question though is, why do students cheat? I don’t think that your survey asked that directly, but it did ask why student in general might cheat, and I’m wondering if you can talk about that. What are the factors that they say today lead them to cheat, even if they don’t see themselves as a cheater?

Melissa Ezarik (12:47):

Sure. The top response that we found is something that was a contributor to academic cheating, according to students, was pressure to do well, and that’s from family or academic requirements. The second biggest reason was lack of preparation for exams and who’s that on? That’s on the student for that one. And the third was heavier unrealistic course loads, and the fourth was actually the opportunity to cheat. So, “It was there, so I took it.”

Melissa Ezarik (13:18):

One expert that I spoke to framed it as, everyone has their price. It’s stress or family pressure, time constraints. Everyone’s got some sort of breaking point, and most students are able to reach that breaking point over the course of a particular semester, is his thought.

Melissa Ezarik (14:16):

We didn’t ask this directly, but experts noted that there’s a shift from most students going to college to develop the meaningful philosophy of life, and now it’s most students going to college to get a job. So you’ve got that extrinsically motivated focus that sets the scene for more cheating.

Kathryn Baron (14:32):

That’s true. One person I spoke with said college is now transactional, in part because it’s so expensive. “Well, I’m giving you $60,000, and I expect a degree.” That’s the way it goes. And they do want the job. They want a better job. They want a better chance of getting into grad school, that type of thing.

Melissa Ezarik (17:14):

I’ve got another quote from a student that relates to stress that I thought was interesting. The student says, “Stop assigning work as if students are only taking that one class and dedicate their entire life to school. Many students are taking multiple classes on top of having a job, extracurriculars, events, networking, possible illnesses, families and loved ones to take care of. People sometimes have to make compromise and sacrifice a grade in one class to do better in another because there’s only so much time in a day. If people didn’t feel like they have to compromise, perhaps they wouldn’t feel so compelled to cheat or to use shortcuts.”

Melissa Ezarik (19:48):

Well, we asked students first of all how they feel about how cheating accusations are handled on their campus, and the majority at least somewhat agree, actually. I think it’s 8 in 10 that almost someone would agree that it is handled fairly. So, I think that says a lot about them wanting to be aware of what systems are in place for when the accusation is made, so they would find that helpful to know.

Melissa Ezarik (21:34):

UC San Diego, actually, if anyone gets accused, they complete academic integrity seminar that’s on making better ethical decisions. And they actually get assigned a coach of some sort to work through with them what went wrong. How could we prevent this from happening again? And then if no more violations come up, even if they’ve been suspended for it, the suspension gets canceled. So, there’s the idea that you can prove that you do want to be a member of this community, you want to uphold academic integrity, even if you’ve made a mistake.

Melissa Ezarik (24:46):

I think what I heard from my interviews the most is that reports increase a lot once awareness goes up, and in some cases that’s encouraging faculty to actually make a report. But that doesn’t mean that the outcome is that a student is getting a consequence in any way.

Kathryn Baron (25:56):

You were talking about honor codes, and from what I’ve read and heard from folks that again, just like with what is cheating and how to address it; there’s really not a consistent definition of what is a good honor code. And some schools say we have an honor code, but other schools would say, “No, that’s really not, and it’s not going to be effective at all.” Have you heard anything to that effect?

Melissa Ezarik (26:28):

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any template out there, and that’s probably just because there’s some disagreement on what to include in it, perhaps. You have individual teachers having students sign honor codes that are on the syllabus. Some teachers that maybe are more focused on this concept in general and making sure that students truly get what the expectations are of them.

Kathryn Baron (27:19):

Right. You were talking about students saying how easy it is. One student I read, and maybe this was from one of the student comments that you received, “If they didn’t want us to cheat, they shouldn’t make it so easy.” So, I thought that was an interesting way to look at it.

Melissa Ezarik (27:41):

I feel like in general, we see a lot of responses that relate to, “Well, if you weren’t doing this in this way, I wouldn’t be doing this in this way.”

Kathryn Baron (27:50):

So, they’re not really taking responsibility. They’re saying it’s the school’s fault. I don’t know. I mean, that’s what it sounds like in a way. “Make it hard for me, and then I won’t do it.”

Kathryn Baron (28:05):

When you were talking about authentic assessment, I think one thing that came to mind which I believe you also wrote about was; if you’re a professor who’s been using the same exam for 10 years, you are asking for it, I think, because students talk to each other. That’s just the way it is.

Melissa Ezarik (28:23):

Yes, absolutely. One of my experts said that you actually could still do a multiple choice test. That’s better designed to be more authentic. It’s just changing it up and making students think a little bit differently about the way that they may come across their response.

Melissa Ezarik (29:06):

Yes. It’s absolutely a multifaceted problem. Like any behavior, if there’s multiple reasons for it, solving is going to be complicated. And the reasons for cheating are very individualized, even though we see some trends pointing towards some reasons more than others.

Melissa Ezarik (29:21):

I have one other quote from a student I think may be helpful to share, and this relates to professors handling things themselves and what kind of situation that creates. This is a pretty scary quote to read, and it’s just disheartening. That student says, “Professors are not reporting it, but are instead handling it themselves, and this leads to unfair situations where students are punished and get no chance to petition against the allegations. The current way my campus is handling this almost caused me to take my life last fall.” And this is a person who’s a senior now. So, they pointed out that they know what college is like. “It’s unacceptable to punish student for trying to pass classes by working together or using resources outside of class to help with homework. If students need outside material and are spending the time looking for it, maybe it’s a shortcoming of the professor that’s causing it.”

Kathryn Baron (31:07):

Hey, I’m going to put you on the spot for a last question. Do you feel hopeful that colleges and universities are beginning to take this seriously, and really putting more effort and even money into looking at how they can deter students from cheating in the first place and how they can help them with schooling, with their education so that they don’t feel a need to cheat?

Melissa Ezarik (31:39):

Certainly, it’s getting more attention ever since the pandemic started. Everyone is assuming that cheating as easier online, even though it’s possible in either environment. I was disheartened to learn that so few schools have students as part of the process if someone is accused. To me, that just seems like a no-brainer that of course them understanding their peers and being part of that decision making body makes so much sense.

Melissa Ezarik (32:05):

I think it’s one of those issues in higher ed that everyone has to play a role in thinking about and talking about, and it’s truly a campus-wide issue. It’s not just an issue for professors or for deans to be thinking about. The student experience is so challenging these days, and this piece of it can be given more thought for sure.

Episode 006: Dr. Amy Smith and Dr. David Emerson


The Score


The episode features Dr. Amy Smith the Chief Learning Officer for StraighterLine and a leader in online education and Dr. David Emerson who is an associate professor and faculty advisor at Salisbury University. Emerson and his colleagues released a ground-breaking  research report on the motivations for academic misconduct, linking academic cheating to fraud. His research has some sobering implications for how institutions deal with the issue. Smith has been outspoken on the need to fight cheating to protect the value and quality of online learning. She wrote a piece for the Hechinger Report in 2020 on this topic.

Please contact us if you would like the full transcript.

Show notes

On this episode of The Score, we’re speaking with Dr. Amy Smith, a longtime leader in online learning, and the Chief Learning Officer at StraighterLine, which provides low cost online college courses. Also with us is Dr. David Emerson, an Associate Professor of Accounting in the Franklin P. Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University in Maryland. Dr. Emerson and his colleagues conducted groundbreaking research on the different motivations for cheating in school.

Dr. Amy Smith (03:01):
[another] thing I think universities really owe students are accountability systems that are clear, that are well defined, and that are consistent. We often see in the research, and the literature shows us that a lot of times, a faculty member, for all the right reasons, will help a student out or try to manage or monitor cheating, and not really report it for a variety of reasons, and I’m sure we’ll get into that much throughout this podcast, but that also goes around the actual accountability system the university sets up. So, universities, different colleges, different majors, different fields report incidents differently, and then that makes inconsistencies in the accountability. So, if I’m a student and I don’t know how I’m going to be held accountable, like what’s going to happen to me, I don’t make a fully informed choice when I do make choices of how to navigate my education.

Dr. Amy Smith (16:05):
So, let’s talk a little bit about deterrents, let me expand on that. So, take these 45,000 students. We have three things at StraighterLine that we set up to monitor or to prevent cheating, like you just have to try to prevent it. I’m going to go back to Dr. Emerson’s opportunity, you just don’t make it opportunistic. It isn’t available. One way we do that is everything you turn in at StraighterLine, you have to turn in through turnitin.com. So, we have a mechanism to check, “Hey, is Amy’s paper really Amy’s, or did Amy borrow Catherine’s paper, because it was a little bit better, and she submitted Catherine’s sections as her own?” We definitely do that.

Dr. Amy Smith (16:43):
The second thing we also do is all final exams are live proctored. I mean, your browser will shut down if there is any hint of suspicious behavior in any way, while somebody’s watching you take your exam. So, that’s the second part. And the third thing that we do at StraighterLine is there’s actually a team in the academics side of the house that watches postings, watches online constantly. This is their job, right? This is what they do, is make sure that Amy didn’t decide to post a quiz somewhere online, and then everybody’s got the answers to a StraighterLine course. So, we have preventative measures, which are, we feel, deterrents, but humans are humans, and that’s actually what Dr. Emerson’s talking about, that decision making that really happens. I’ll pause with that. Dr. Emerson, thoughts about what I just said?

Dr. David Emerson (17:34):
I agree completely. I mean, it sounds like you’re doing everything right within the online arena, right? Is denying them that opportunity, and like I said, we did find that these online real time lockdown browsers, and continuous monitoring, and proctoring of live exams, it is going to be effective, absolutely. I mean, the cheating behaviors I was referring to were unmonitored, unproctored, and the experiment that we did, when we implemented an online proctoring service, the incidence of cheating went down 87%. It went from about half, down to about 5%.

Dr. David Emerson (18:27):
So, it didn’t eliminate it, but it greatly reduced it, because the problem is when you’re using an online assessment integrity tool, it only works on a machine on which you’re taking the assessment. There’s no preclusion that prevents them from looking up the answer on a different device. Now, you state that you’re not finding StraighterLine materials on other websites. Have you gone to Chegg to look to see whether or not the answers are there?

Dr. David Emerson (20:40):
The students don’t like [exam monitoring] because it starts with a presumption, like Amy was saying, that everybody’s cheating. Well, they are, to a large extent. If you’re taking a class, especially if it’s a class you don’t care about very much, and your professor gives you a quiz directly out of the publisher’s textbook, out of their test bank, and you go online and take it. If you’re able to just copy that answer or question out, go over to your browser, go to chegg.com, and instantaneously the correct answer is there. And many times, from my publisher, I found the exact question with a test bank identifier attached to it, and with the correct answer immediately displayed.

Dr. David Emerson (26:34):
What we believe is that each of the phases of the ethical decision-making framework, which is the Fraud Diamond, opportunity, motivation, and rationalization, can be targeted to help minimize the cheating behaviors by emphasizing those aspects of the decision-making process to minimize ultimate cheating.

Dr. David Emerson (29:00):
One of the ways to decrease their motivations to cheat is to counter the incentives that are provided, through disincentives, right? The cheating decision is made under the presumption that it’s a rational calculus of, “What do I get as a result of this activity?”, versus “What are the costs, if I’m caught?” So, one of the ways you can disincentivize this activity is to make sure that there is a heavy cost for every incidence of academic misconduct, regardless of the level of severity.

Dr. David Emerson (29:58):
So, if they know what is expected of them, it goes to Amy’s point that they have to be acutely aware of, these are the rules, and if you break those rules, you are going to be harshly and swiftly punished, to the point that it is a disincentive that you do not want to pay.

Dr. David Emerson (30:47):
Now, I do not want to do this. It is a royal pain to go through the process to charge someone with academic misconduct, but it is the only thing, now, based on lots of research, that a harsh, severe, and certain negative outcome works, but you have to be consistent in applying it across all students, regardless of level, and regardless of the level of severity.

Kathryn Baron (33:40):
And does that seem to reduce cheating in your classes, when the other students see what the repercussions are?

Dr. David Emerson (33:49):
Well, that’s hard to say. One would hope, right? Because I mean, one of the ways that academic honor codes work is through peer pressure. If you can inculcate a culture where cheating is not acceptable, then presumably, peers will disincentivize them from engaging in that activity. But people are always going to be motivated, they want that diploma, they want the rewards that go with an education, but they don’t want to work for it. They will do whatever they need to do, and this is especially true more on the psychopathic end of the spectrum, where they’re there maybe because their parents want them to be there, they don’t have that intrinsic motivation.

Episode 005: Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher and Dr. Mark Biggin


The Score

December 21, 2021

This episode features Dr. Mark Biggin and Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (@USCRossierDean). Biggin is an affiliate of Biological Systems and Engineering Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. And he created a tool – Q-SID that can detect collusion which is he has offered to faculty for free. Gallagher is a professor and Veronica and David Hagen Chair in Women’s Leadership at Rossier School of Education at University of Southern California. As dean of the Rossier School, Gallagher was an early adopter of online education opportunities beginning in 2010.

Please contact us if you would like the full transcript.

Show notes

On this episode of The Score, we’re speaking with Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher, professor of education and the Hagen Chair in Women’s Leadership in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, where she also served as dean for 20 years. And Dr. Mark Biggin, a staff scientist in molecular biology at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He also teaches at UC Berkeley.

Kathryn Baron (02:30):
Dr. Biggin, … what happened that revealed this dark side [of cheating] to you?

Dr. Mark Biggin (02:41):
Oh, oh, direct experience from a class I was teaching. During the lockdown, suddenly we were giving exams that were unproctored online as opposed to proctored in person. I assumed that if we just told the students to follow the honor code, they would do that. I didn’t imagine many students would cheat, but the readers, for the first time I was doing this, pointed out they found two students who obviously had copied their answers. They were very similar.

Dr. Mark Biggin (03:08):
From there, being me, somewhat an analysis person, I started doing a statistical analysis and I found that some of the students had very usually similar question scores. They got the same scores for many questions, and so the greater scores. When we looked at the written answers of those students, we found that many of those had cheated and the students that we challenged, most of them confessed.

Dr. Mark Biggin (03:30):
Through some iterative process, we kept finding more and more students who cheated. We eventually found that in that particular class, it was the worst case we had actually. 19% of the students in the end, we found had cheated. I was floored. I kept saying, “Oh, I found say five or six groups, 15/17 students.” Said, “Oh, well that must be most of them.” Then one of the students who cheated said, “Oh, no, no, no, I bet there’s more than that.”

Dr. Mark Biggin (03:58):
That student was right, and just kept going. That was my entrée.

Dr. Mark Biggin (04:29):
Well, it’s important to say these were online exams which were unproctored. They were actually open books, so students were allowed to look at lecture notes, but that wasn’t sufficient for some of the students. What they do is they first go through and answer all the questions they can answer and then they collude by just literally sending an email with … or in some way, a text, whatever, literally the entire exam that they’ve written.

They copy those answers from their colleagues that they didn’t know the answer to.

Dr. Mark Biggin (05:24):
It’s just wholesale copying. When you look at some of the copied answers, so a chemical structure, they copy it minutely. It’s not that they … They’re really just blindly copying. This is not an intellectual collaboration. This is blind copying.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (10:40):
In the last couple of years, we’ve had over a thousand cases that have been referred to SJACS, [ the student run process for academic integrity cases at USC] not exclusively for cheating, but between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020, there was 115% increase in cheating, reported cheating by faculty. Most of it was what we call contract cheating. It was collusion, looking up answers during a test.

Again, a lot of unproctored tests. It was, like many universities, we rapidly went into online education through Zoom, and we saw this increase of reported cheating.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (12:10):
We know the saying, there’s an app for that. Well, when it comes to cheating, there are hundreds of apps for that. That is because contract cheating, which really is outsourcing answers or essays for an exchange of money, is very lucrative. In the last 10 years alone, there have been a sizable investment by venture capitalists in apps that clearly are cheating apps. I mean, they say they’re for homework help, but they’re inexpensive.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (12:49):
They’re like signing up for Netflix so it’s possible for almost any student to use these apps. Now, be clear, we’ve had cheating like this. We’ve actually had what you call contract cheating, but it was usually something that students who had the resources, either the money or the ability to find people have used. But with these apps … And as an aside, I’m not naming any of them. I don’t think that’s the important part on this.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (13:22):
It’s just that it is very lucrative for these for-profit ed-tech companies. They advertise on social media so that students are inundated, whether on Facebook or Twitter they get advertising for this. It’s in a kind of advertising that appeals to students about how overworked they are, how awful COVID is, let us help you.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (13:53):
We can not only help you with your answers to your math problems and your … in the STEM fields, but also, we can write that essay for you with little as a couple of days’ notice. In exchange of money, we can have someone write that five-page paper for you, all the way up to we can have them write your research paper. Again, it’s the number of commercial cheating apps out there and their ability to advertise in places that they’ll find students.

Dr. Mark Biggin (17:49):
We get a median of 4% of students cheating across all the exams we’ve looked at, but it varies greatly by class. Some classes seem to have a more persistent problem, probably because they’re considered by the students to be high value because they’re important. One that I teach is required for medical school and that’s one we’ve had the biggest problem with. That speaks to … I think is telling you to some extent why students are doing this.

Dr. Mark Biggin (18:52):
I think academics are to some extent a little naive at ignoring that [economic] incentive. It’s an enormous effect. As to the harm done, we’ve already discussed I think the … If students know that other students are cheating, although only a minority cheat, the rest of the student body are aware this is happening, particularly during the pandemic. But if you have a lot of online courses or those courses where people can cheat and do cheat, the other students know.

Dr. Mark Biggin (19:19):
If the administration, the faculty aren’t making what are perceived to be sufficiently effective attempts to mitigate and stop that cheating, it creates a pall over the environment. Sort of the sense of trust and comfort with the system is corroded somewhat.

Dr. Mark Biggin (20:30):
Well, because most classes the students are judged relatively to the other students, for every student who goes up a grade, an honor student who didn’t cheat goes down a grade. 10% of students cheating, that’s 20% of the grades are inaccurate. 10% got a grade too high and 10% a grade too low.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (21:47):
Yes. I agree very much with Dr. Biggin, that we have to do something as the administrators and as faculty. We cannot let students prosper from cheating. In the long run, if we erode the belief in the academic integrity of a college, a school, a department, we all suffer.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (22:19):
That is probably the most insidious part of cheating in general, but these contract cheating, these companies, these websites, these applications that are flagrantly selling cheating kinds of services. It is up to us. I think we, both administrators working with faculty and working with students, because the other students … I mean, it’s right. Other students don’t want the cheating to go on.

They know it not only harms them on a grade, but in the end, it can harm the value of the degree that they get.

Dr. Mark Biggin (25:06):
Well, the physicists are always telling us if you haven’t measured it, you haven’t understood it. The first thing you have to do is measure the amount of cheating, the different forms of cheating that are occurring and know when and where it’s occurring.

Dr. Mark Biggin (26:55):
We’ve been able to reduce cheating by about twofold, by informing students in advance of the method, and actually showing them the website and the website has a specific page addressed to the students explaining that our goal is not to catch them, but to dissuade them and to tell the honor students, “We’re doing this. Don’t feel threatened. We’re doing this to make sure you get the grade you deserve.”

Dr. Mark Biggin (27:20):
I assumed cheating would plummet. It dropped about twofold. I still had 7% in my class this last summer collude, even with all that information and telling … The website explained to them, “You’ll be caught if you cheat.” And they cheated. In fact, one of those students had been caught in the term before in the class, was failed, took the class again, cheated again, and was caught again.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (32:08):
I really want to pick up on this notion of measuring it. I found out about the 115% increase in SJACS at USC through a student publication. We do not publish what’s going on at USC in our handling of student disciplinary actions, nor do most universities. In fact, I went through several student newspapers to find that there’s been this increase since the pandemic forced most classes to be online.

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher (32:44):
Well, if you don’t know what’s going on, you’re both unaware, but also there’s not much we can do about it until we recognize it is an issue. Measuring it, that is seeing again reported issues. A lot of cheating does not get reported because faculty members say, “I’m the bad person if this happens. Students will give me bad reviews on my end of the semester.” It destroys the teacher-student relationship.