College Cheaters' Arms Race Goes Online
As university classes go online, so does university-level cheating.
As more and more students take courses online, including students of open-university initiatives such as Udacity and MITx, they're reaching a new frontier for cheating techniques, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The professors' news site interviewed a student who shares a Google Doc with four friends while taking tests in one of his college's online courses. The student, who asked to stay anonymous, spent just half an hour a week on the class and received an A.
"This is the gamification of education and the students are winning," one anonymous professor who was familiar with the course told the Chronicle.
At the same time, the Chronicle highlighted two high-tech ways university administrators are fighting back.
One technology developer at Blackboard, an education software company, is trying to see if a computer program can learn a person's writing style. Most people favor the same words in their writing; they have a vocabulary bank that they like to use, which is all their own. John Fontaine's software would analyze students' first papers for their "document fingerprint." It would alert professors if subsequent papers a student turns in seem suspiciously different.
Fontaine's software might also be able to identify a vocab fingerprint for cheating service providers. Some people write papers for students for a living and they may turn out enough material for a program to catch. In 2010, the Chronicle published a profile of a man who had written, in one year, 5,000 pages of papers in psychology, pharmacology, anthropology and more.
Fontaine's research is still in early stages, however, and he is not sure if it will ever work, the Chronicle reported.
Meanwhile, MITx, a program that gives certificates to people who complete free online courses taught by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors, is working on verifying students are who they say they are. The program is trying to identify students by their typing style, the Chronicle reported. That information would be combined with face-recognition software that would work through students' webcams.
For administrators to win this arms race with cheaters, they'll need to start sharing their fraud-detection techniques with one another, the Chronicle found. Cheaters often share their ideas with one another online. To keep up, researchers, standardized testing companies and anti-cheating companies need to do the same.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education