Beat the Cheats: College Faculty Now Use Technology to Combat Cheating on Campus. Charles Euchner on the Digital Efforts to Restore Academic Integrity and Honor

By Euchner, Charles | The American (Washington, DC), November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

Beat the Cheats: College Faculty Now Use Technology to Combat Cheating on Campus. Charles Euchner on the Digital Efforts to Restore Academic Integrity and Honor


Euchner, Charles, The American (Washington, DC)


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Late last year, a student at the American University of Paris sent a request to a company called Writerboard. "I have another paper to write," he wrote in an email. "It's another art history paper. It should be around 3-5 pages. It is the same course than [sic] the last two. It should therefore be written with the same approach." He added: "I have attached the professor's guideline as well as the other two essays you have written for me."

The papers Justin (not his real name) attached use dramatically different styles. The first, speaking of a Paul Cezanne critic, states: "While his artistic critical eye seems accurate if not always reliable, the pagan frisson of his Freudian approach is perhaps overly compelling for him." (The term "pagan frisson" later provoked gallows laughter among art history faculty at the university.) The second paper used a simpler style: "The buildings are cast in various shades of dour gray, structures that rise over 50 feet above the street."

For his new assignment, Justin asked Writerboard to produce an analysis of a single work of art from two different critical perspectives. Not long after Justin placed his order for a new paper, Professor Anna Russakoff obtained emails that documented her student's cheating.

Preparing to confront the student, Russakoff asked her department chair and dean for advice. Before Russakoff could confront him, Justin sought help for yet another assignment, this time an analysis of art at the Louvre. After being informed of Justin's new request for an outside writer--his fourth documented case of at least attempting to cheat--Russakoff lamented in an email: "And wouldn't you think that if you came to Paris to study art history you might actually WANT to go to the Louvre to look at art...????"

In the following weeks, Russakoff got mixed signals from the university's administrators. Her department chair agreed that the evidence of cheating was strong, but the dean would not go so far.

When Russakoff confronted the student, he denied any cheating. When he could not define words in the paper such as "eschew" and "obtuse," he explained that his sister helped him edit the paper. At the suggestion of the dean, the student supplied what he claimed were printouts of emails with his sister. Russakoff is sure Justin produced the materials after the fact, since she possesses his time-stamped emails that show he hired Writerboard to write four papers.

After reading the university's official policies for dealing with cheating cases--which put the onus on the professor to see any case through--Russakoff decided to give Justin an F for the Cezanne paper and a C-minus for the course. The C-minus meant that Justin would not have to repeat the class, which is required for art history majors. And so Russakoff does not have to teach him again. "It's probably cowardly," she says, "but it would have been a lot to deal with.... I'm not even a full-time faculty."

Justin's case underscores a growing problem at educational institutions around the world. Technology has created new threats to academic learning and honor. And while Justin was caught in the act, countless students outwit their teachers.

Donald McCabe of Rutgers University, the leading researcher on student cheating, says that the portion of American students who admit to cheating off the Internet--either habitually or occasionally--increased from 10 percent to 40 percent from 1999 to 2004. Students can contract out for papers, download papers from databases, or just cut and paste passages from the Web. In 2007 alone, cheating scandals at Duke, the Air Force Academy, Indiana University, and Ohio University produced national headlines because of the large numbers of students involved.

Many sites--with names like schoolbytes. com, cheater.com, and cheathouse.com--offer individual papers for sale. Some sites charge as much as several hundred dollars for customized papers, others charge annual fees, and still others offer free exchanges of papers. …

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