Cheating is a national epidemic among students who succumb to the pressure to excel.
Thousands of high school and college students are routinely resorting to academic trickery to fight mediocrity, to avoid failing grades or to bolster grade point averages.
A paper mill purchase promising an easy “A.”
Test answers scrawled on a tattoo-covered arm.
An exam leaked to students before test time.
Administrators are working to curb the unethical behavior. But they have their work cut out for them.
In a recent study of 14,000 young adults by Clemson University’s International Center for Economic Integrity two-thirds of undergraduates admitted to cheating on homework, tests and class assignments.
However, a growing number of universities nationwide are using technology to make cheating more difficult.
More than 3,500 higher education institutions subscribe to Turnitin.com, a database of more than 20 billion archived web pages, 120 million research articles and 220 million student term papers. The search engine allows professors to become electronic detectives and generate reports that assess whether a student’s writings are in fact their own.
An originality report is generated for each paper submitted.
The service reviews as many as 300,000 papers in a day and provides feedback in a dozen languages.
“It is the instructor that has to make the call whether its’ plagiarism or not,” Jason Chu, senior education manager for Turnitin.com said of paper’s reviewed. “Plagiarism or inadvertent plagiarism is part of the learning process.
If you are in a freshman composition course, you are engaged in a whole new level of writing than you are used to. During that adjustment period you may be fumbling your way around how to cite properly. A lot of what we see quite often is cases of poor paraphrasing or of just taking Internet content and hobbling that together.”
But even Turnitin.com’s net can’t catch every cheater.
“The worse infraction is using paper mills,” Chu said. “It’s hard to spot because it is original work.”
Debbie Craddock-Bell, director of student academic honesty at the University of Georgia, said in a statement professors who use search engines to spot dishonesty must warn students.
“The Board of Regents requires instructors using a service like Turnitin.com to include a statement on their course syllabus.”
The University of California at San Diego uses technology to provide freshman with a mandatory online tutorial on academic honesty.
The University of Central Florida in Orlando has elaborate testing laboratories with well-positioned digital cameras similar to those used to monitor casinos. But the high-tech equipment didn’t prevent the largest cheating scandal in the school’s history.
The school made national news in 2010, when 600 students were accused of receiving advanced copies of a midterm exam.
Experts say, that is why technology should be one of several methods used to prevent cheating.
Universities with honor codes and teachers who engage students in their assignments report better results at influencing academic integrity.
Chu suggests that teachers do more to invite students to pick their own research topics and share them with peers and instructors for feedback before writing begins. Psychologists have found that students are more apt to cheat if they don’t see the relevance of assignments.
“They might be writing a paper for a subject that they are not passionate about,” Chu said.
Do you know someone who has cheated to maintain good grades or a scholarship?
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D. Aileen Dodd is a former education reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She writes investigative features about education topics including SAT scores, AP tests and a variety of other topics for teens and parents. She has a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.