For the past month, about a hundred college professors have been embroiled in an online sting operation. It all started with a Seattle Craigslist ad:
Are you good with college level math? I need a taller college aged brunette female student to take a math placement test for me in person as I am out of state currently. If you believe that you can be of help please respond to this ad and let me know your math qualifications. Must know college level math. Willing to pay a neg fee. This could turn into more work in the near future if interested. Serious inquiries only as I need this done ASAP! Thank you!
The teachers, who all belong to a private Facebook teaching group, were not shocked by the fact that students might be cheating in their courses. They already knew that. They were shocked by the brazen nature of this student’s attempts to hire someone to cheat for her. J.C., one of the professors, who happens to be a tallish, brunette, English professor in Seattle, contacted the student using a pseudonym to dig around for more information. The student replied, saying she needed someone to help her get a place in a college-level online math class by taking the ACT Compass exam in person at a local testing center, and once she’d placed into the appropriate math class, possibly take the online course for her:
I need to place into college level so pre-calculus or intro to statistics or maybe a different one just depending on what other classes I need. Have you taken online classes before? The placement test is computerized but you do have to take it on campus, but there might be a way to do it at a testing center instead but I would have to check on this. They let you retake it twice if needed. It is called the Compass. I just need to take it sometime this month or next just by the beg [sic] of April. Let me know your thoughts. Thank you!
According to the National Center for Education statistics, 5.5 million students took at least one online course in 2012. That number is increasing rapidly as massive open online courses are offered by more universities and gain in popularity among students. Universities are scrambling to keep up with the novel methods students have found to cheat on these courses. Given that online courses do not require face-to-face student-teacher interactions, colleges have had to resort to all sorts of other safeguards in order to prevent academic dishonesty. Schools are using signature-tracking services and software that identifies a student’s typing speed and style, thereby preventing someone else from typing on a students’ behalf.
While these technological safeguards may help catch cheaters, Kimberly Williams, a teaching support specialist at Cornell and longtime professor of education, points out that the key to preventing cheating in the first place, lies in the teaching itself. “We need to make sure what we teach is meaningful to students so that they actually want to learn it or see value in their own learning of it,” she said. “If they don't, then we're sunk and they are wasting their time anyway. It is a wake-up call for higher education that we need to teach better and in more meaningful ways so that learners want to learn.”