Has the pandemic driven more students to cheat?

There are indications that the potential for academic cheating has increased during the pandemic. This is suggested by the increase of requests of academic questions on a popular subscription site. A recent study raises awareness of contract cheating developments during the pandemic and to support a conversation in an unsupervised environment that a lot of students encounter.

Cheating during the pandemic?

“Buy now for a Covid-19 discount.” “We’re helping you to stay safe home and stay safe.” This is the type of messaging you might expect to see in an online shop during the current pandemic, but all too often students are seeing such headlines through contract cheating providers pushing their wares.

We can’t say for sure that cheating has increased during the pandemic, but all the visible indicators are that the potential for cheating has. The advertising is blatant. Contract cheating providers are pushing themselves as support services in place of the official ones available through universities. With the current pressure that staff and students alike are under, can anyone be surprised if some students succumb to the temptation of outsourcing their assessments?

Outsourcing assessments

In our recent publication for the International Journal of Educational Integrity, Codrin Cotarlan and I show that the number of requests for answers to academic questions on a subscription site popularly used by students have increased by almost 200% during the pandemic. Now, there is no guarantee that all those requests are contract cheating, but many requests appear to be exam and homework style questions, complete with indicators of the number of marks available for them. With the site advertising that answers can be provided in just 30 minutes and employing qualified workers to provide them, it appears likely that a student wishing to outsource a time-constrained online exam, now has the mechanism they need available to them.

Let’s consider just one sample date on the site we examined as an example. On June 11, 2019, 1113 Computer Science questions (usually about coursework, exam or homework) were posted. On June 11, 2020, the corresponding number of requests was 3420. To me, those type of numbers are alarming. And this is just considering only one academic discipline, one site with visible requests and one date.

Safeguard academic integrity

Our main reason for releasing this paper is not only to raise awareness of contract cheating developments within the sector, but also to provide firm numbers to support the conversation. Most students want to learn and would not consider cheating. But the remote and unsupervised environment does not work for everyone and we also need to think about how we can best safeguard academic integrity for all.

To me, an important part of the discussion is how we bring students on board as academic integrity partners. That is why I am particularly pleased to have co-authored this paper with Codrin Cotarlan, one of our Imperial College London undergraduate Computing students. Many of our students do feel strongly about academic integrity and dislike the idea of other students taking shortcuts. The more opportunities we can find to collaborate with students to address contract cheating, the better the educational sector will be for it.

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