The War on Cheating

A how-to guide on fighting back against student cheating in the digital age.

If there’s one thing almost every teacher in the world hates most, it’s cheating. The process of discovery, collecting proof, and presenting evidence to an academic review board would make anyone want to start a crusade against it. However, with the internet being as fractious as it is, the task of eradicating cheating in your class may seem like a never ending game of whack-a-mole. Fret not as you have come to the right place. I have created a how-to guide on how you can fight back against online cheating in your class.

One would assume that online classes have a higher degree of cheating since everything from reading materials to exams is delivered online. However, studies have shown that cheating in online courses “is no more rampant than cheating in live classes.” Even with the odds in your favor, keeping on top of online cheating can seem like an insurmountable task.

You might not know it but the company I work for takes cheating VERY seriously. Not only because it compromises the integrity of our content but it damages our ability to build trust with educators whom rely upon our courseware to provide a resilient learning environment for their students. Even though we face more challenges as a publisher than most individual instructors, the truth of the matter is that online cheating can affect any class regardless of how it is delivered.

After receiving numerous reports that large portions of our content was publicly available online, we knew that it was time to conduct a full spectrum cleanse. So last year we conducted a massive, multi-department project to purge the world-wide web of some of the most unethical acts of student misconduct: uploading our copy written material onto for-profit “homework help” sites like Course Hero (you can read more on our thoughts on theses purveyors of online cheating). The amount of our content that was available through these sites was staggering — but it gets worse. Having personally participated in this effort, I can report that we found a lot more than just our content there. You guessed it! We found a plethora of exams (with answer keys), assignments, and even some private email correspondences between instructors and students.

Now before you rush off to start your own crusade, let me show you the magnitude of what we found, the progress we’ve made, and how you can join the fight.

Starting in January of this year, we located nearly 800 unique web pages hosting our content (mainly exam pools) which students could view whenever they’d like. I’m proud to report that all the sites we discovered have been removed. So, here’s the breakdown:

Website/Host: # Pages Taken Down

Course Hero: 487

Quizlet: 238

StudyBlue: 21 17

StudyMode: 9

Yahoo Answers: 11

It’s clear to see who the heavy hitters are. So focus on these websites first when conducting your own reconnaissance.

Ready to enter the fray? Great! Let’s get started…

1. Pull up a question pool or instructions from any of your exams or assignments and copy an exact phrase from any question. For example, if a question asks “Every culture in the world has evolved language and music. Which of the two following statements is true?” just copy the first sentence. You only need a few connecting words for this to work. If your question is too generic, try including one of the answer choices that pertains to the question.

2. Students that cheat are especially lazy so they tend not to edit the question to hide their tracks before posting it online. Instead of going directly to the source, visit your favorite search engine (Google or Yahoo work best) and surround your query with quotations to locate the exact phrase. Note: make sure to exclude any punctuation at the end of the sentence.

3. You’ll likely generate a handful of results. If not don’t worry. Students that cheat online typically create a group of flashcards so once you click on the first few links, the entire pool of flashcards should show up. You can even see the account of the student that uploaded it…

4. Now comes the fun part. You’ll need to submit an official notification under Section 512© of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down request to the service which is hosting your material. Essentially you need to provide evidence that the material in question is in fact yours by presenting links or PDF copies of each infraction. Most sites also provide an online form to submit a take-down request but if you find out that your content exists on multiple sites, it’s a good idea to create a DCMA take-down template letter and email it to them directly.

I hope that you found this information useful. If you’d like to share your own advice on how you fight back against online cheating, please comment below to add to the arsenal.

Happy hunting!