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Journalist and Publisher of The Cheat Sheet, Derek Newton Speaks about Academic Integrity on Episode 001 of The Score Podcast

Podcast on Academic Integrity Explores the New Threats Misconduct Poses

Derek Newton (@DerekTNG), editor of The Cheat Sheet and a prolific writer on the issue of cheating and academic integrity, joined The Score podcast for it’s inaugural episode released in October. The Score is hosted by journalist Kathryn Baron who talks with her guests about issues of cheating and misconduct on college campuses.

During the 41 minute episode which can be found on Apple or Spotify or on the podcast website, Mr. Newton talked about his history covering the topic and his first significant article which ran in The Atlantic in 2015. What has followed is a career of writing about misconduct and analyzing and interpreting research studies about the issue.

When asked about why it is so difficult to address cheating Newton said, “I wonder everyday whether colleges and professors simply don’t know about the cheating that’s going on or if they just don’t want to address it because it’s complicated, expensive and embarrassing.”

Read on for select portions of the podcast transcript.

Kathryn Baron: (03:38): How big is the problem?

Derek Newton (03:52): We ask college students, “Are you cheating? Have you been cheating?” And most people tend to discount or pass over their own misconduct when you ask them. So those surveys tend to be underestimated or under count cheating. But most of them, if you go back 15 years or so, come up with numbers somewhere between 2/3, up to 80% of college students acknowledge in engaging in some form of misconduct over their college career. So, it’s a significant amount. I say 2/3 and up.

Derek Newton (04:22): The other way to get a handle on how big this issue is, misconduct issue is, is looking at finances. What sort of money are we talking about? I don’t think that there’s anybody who would disagree with the statement that this is a multinational, multibillion dollar industry, stretching across Australia, Africa, Europe, the United States.

Episode 001 features Derek Newton, editor of The Cheat Sheet.

Kathryn Baron: (05:09) For instance, I went to a high school that has great standing among the high schools nationwide. I was in a room with students who were handpicked by the college advisor. She left the room, shut the door. I totally expected them to talk about how they hated cheating and it really annoyed them that they worked so hard, and there were these other students who were getting ahead by cheating. And yet, to a student, they all told me, they cheated. They said, “We have to cheat because everyone cheats and it puts us at a disadvantage if we don’t cheat.” That actually shocked me. I was really not expecting it.

Derek Newton: (07:44) Where I think there is consensus is, that the nature of cheating has changed. What people did 20 years ago, is not the conduct they engaged in 10 years ago, and is not the conduct they’re engaging in now. Which is why I tend to believe, and put more faith in the studies that show it’s up because of the ubiquitousness of it, the ease of access, the constant and sophisticated advertising.

Derek Newton (08:10): People who sell cheating services are really good marketers. They make billions of dollars. They’re not stupid people. They are creative and persistent and really understand the language they need to use when they speak to students.

Derek Newton (16:05): Yeah. One of the biggest companies that provides this is Chegg. They have a service that will get you an answer to any question within 15 minutes. I think it costs $10. They have what they call, tutors, on standby all over the world. So any time of day, 24/7, if you’re taking a test and no one’s watching you, and you come across a question you haven’t seen before or you weren’t prepared for, and you’d really like to get it right, you can basically just text these companies and in 15, 20 minutes you’ll get an answer that you can just pop into the thing and get it right hopefully.

Derek Newton (16:37): Then there are other ones, I think Chegg has this service as well, but there are companies that, especially math questions, they don’t even go through people anymore. You can use the camera on your cellphone to take a picture of the math problem and the software will translate it into math, solve it, send you the steps that are required to solve it back. You don’t even engage with a human. That’s very fast and very cheap and on demand 24/7.

Katherine Baron (18:41): Well, I just looked up, “I need help with a math question.” There were quite a few [that] popped up. But here’s one. It says, “Chat with a math tutor in minutes, 24/7.” And then there’s a little chat box that opens up and it says that there are two AP teachers online right now. That’s advanced placement teachers. And it looks like you actually will get your answer almost immediately.

Derek Newton: (20:55) But if the test rules are you can’t use cellphones, for example, that’s a pretty common one, and the proctor observes somebody looking down in their lap, they may say, “Hey, what’s going on down there?” And if they have a cellphone, the proctor may remind them to put it away, that, that’s not allowed. Right? Hopefully that ends it. Just reminder of the rules, you don’t allow that. But if it happens a second time or if it’s egregious, they will flag it. Right? They will note the incident and flag it for review. That’s the first step.

Derek Newton: (21:29) Then what’s supposed to happen is the professor gets that flag and reviews that section of tape and says, “Oh, yeah. Mark is definitely using a cellphone. He was definitely told he should not use a cellphone. I can hear the warning, so Mark gets an F, or a zero, or a 15 point penalty,” or whatever the issue is. But it’s supposed to be a two step process that involves the teacher. And then, the teacher will say, “Ah, well, Mark’s not really doing that. That doesn’t look that serious.” Or, “This is the third time I’ve had to warn Mark not to try to do that. So we’re going to have to escalate this to the dean.” Whatever, it’s designed to be up to the faculty member what, if anything, happens.

Kathryn Baron: (22:11) Do you have a sense of how many faculty actually pursue this?

Derek Newton: (22:17) Yeah. I mean, we have a good sense. There are two data sources on that. One of them is from a proctoring company, and the other is from the University of Iowa. They independently estimated that … It’s somewhere around 10%. 10% of all videos that are flagged, where a proctor has identified a possible cheating incident, only 10% of those videos are ever reviewed. So not even decided yes or no.

Derek Newton (27:15): [Cheating] is an existential-ist threat not just to the institution of higher education, which I believe it is, but to all of us who rely on people to know stuff. If you rely on people to know stuff. You should be concerned that they may not.

Listen to the entire episode 001 of The Score with guest Derek Newton, here.

This was originally posted on FE News on January 17, 2022.

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