The pandemic has dramatically altered teaching and learning, and one side effect seems to be a rise in cheating on quizzes and tests, aided by websites designed to help students study.
Students were used to being watched as they took tests in-person, says Tricia Bertram Gallant, a board member of the International Center for Academic Integrity and the director of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California San Diego. But as courses rushed online during the pandemic, things changed. “All of a sudden,” she says, “there was temptation and opportunity that never existed for them before during exams.”
Professors are seeing cases of cheating during exams skyrocket as a result. At Boston University and at Georgia Tech, officials have launched probes since the start of the pandemic into students using study-help sites for cheating.
The biggest facilitator appears to be Chegg, which has become synonymous with cheating. Many students use the term “Chegging” when they describe turning to homework-help sites to copy down answers instead of doing work themselves. A recent investigation by Forbes magazine called Chegg a “superspreader” of cheating; a majority of the 52 students it interviewed said they used it for that purpose.
Meanwhile, business at the company is booming. Its stock price has more than tripled during the pandemic.
Is the company doing enough to keep students from misusing the service? Gallant’s group has some advice.
“If they were truly interested in academic integrity and helping institutions uphold academic integrity, and their sites are truly about helping students learn and not about cheating, then a simple delay from the time of the posting of the question and the answer of the question would help with that,” she said.
But Chegg’s head of academic relations, Candace Sue, says that would stifle appropriate uses of the service. “If a student is stuck on their homework and they need help in the moment that they’re asking, it’s really unfair in our view to make them wait for an artificial delay.”
The company did make some attempt to respond to the concern, with a new feature called Honor Shield, that asks professors to send the company questions it wants the service to block during certain exam windows.
Sue suggested we talk with students to see how they use the service. So we did.
Marjorie Blen, a junior at San Francisco State University who was one of the students we featured in our Pandemic Campus Diaries podcast series, offered her thoughts on the appeal of homework-help sites.
“I feel like it’s really unrealistic for the professors to say, ‘Don’t use this, don’t do that.’ Because we are at home. We can’t go to the library. We don’t have interactions here we can say, ‘I got this answer wrong. Can you help me?’”” Blen says, adding that in some ways students are forced to teach themselves.
The tough question now is whether issues of cheating and homework-help sites will continue to flare up after the pandemic.
“I think the transition back is going to be just as hard as a transition to remote learning,” she says, since students are developing new habits.
Music in this episode is “Talltell,” by BlueDot Sessions.