Stopping students cheating: mission impossible?

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I’ve written before about the need for the sector to tackle the problem of essay mills but there are many other assessment cheating challenges for universities as a number of recent stories show.
For example, there is this exceptional effort by a pair of students at the University of Kentucky (UK) attempting to steal an exam paper from an academic’s office. In a Mission Impossible style manoeuvre, one of them dropped from a ceiling to break into the room. Unfortunately, the academic had decided to work late:
According to UK Police, UK statistics instructor John Cain had been working late in his third floor office in the Multidisciplinary Science Building on Rose Street on Tuesday night. About midnight, he left to get something to eat. When he returned about 1:30 a.m., he tried to unlock the door, but it was blocked by something.“He yelled out that he was calling the police and then the door swung open and two young men ran down the hallway,” recounted UK spokesman Jay Blanton.
Shortly after police arrived, one of the students returned and confessed. Henry Lynch II, a 21-year-old junior majoring in biosystems engineering, gave police an earful, including that he’d climbed through the building’s air ducts to the ceiling above Cain’s office and dropped down into the room, then unlocked the door and let in his friend, sophomore Troy Kiphuth, 21, who was not in Cain’s class.
Lynch also told them he had already tried to steal the exam earlier that evening around 6 p.m., but couldn’t find it. And, he said, it wasn’t the first time: Earlier in the semester, he’d successfully stolen another exam from Cain’s office, but he assured officers that he had not shared the answers with other students.
Lynch apparently gained access to Cain’s office all three times by climbing through the building’s ducts, and dropping down through the ceiling. How he got into the core of the building remains under investigation.
Many universities require aminimumscore on the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, of between 79 and 100. The score iscalculatedin four parts: reading, speaking, listening and writing.
According to the 2016 Open Doors report, there are over 328,000 students from China out of a million international students in the United States.
However, some students who want to come to the U.S. may not be able to score that high on the tests. This, in turn, has launched an industry to meet their demand.
This week, police arrested four students for cheating on their TOEFL.
Yue Wang, a business school student in Massachusetts, received $7,000 to take the tests for three other students. Those three students were admitted to Arizona State University, Penn State University and Northeastern University.
William Weinreb is the acting U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. He said the students broke the rules of the exam and took spots at universities that could have gone to qualified students.
The students in the case face charges of trying to defraud the United States because they used false results to receive student visas from the U.S. State Department.
Perhaps even more impressive was this effort:
A British law student was caught red-handed using a James Bond style gadget to cheat in a university exam.
The woman was found with 24 pages of notes written in invisible ink that she had smuggled into the test inside a statute book, higher education watchdog the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) reported.
It is believed she had also snuck a UV light into the exam hall in order to decipher the otherwise invisible cheat sheets.
This trend, of novel technology-enhanced approaches to cheating, appears to be growing according to a recent report in the Guardian. The item notes that a  growing number of UK university students are cheating in exams with the help of devices such as mobile phones, smart watches and hidden earpieces. The Guardian, via FOI, discovered a 42% rise in cheating cases involving technology over the last four years with one in four of all students caught cheating having used electronic devices.
At least 17 students were caught cheating with smart watches over the period examined, and cases of students using hidden earpieces or miniature cameras were reported at multiple universities.
Irene Glendinning, academic manager for student experience at Coventry University, agreed that some modern devices being used for cheating can be almost impossible to detect. “I was aware of a case of a student using a hidden earpiece and the only way [they were] found was when other students reported it. The student had long hair and there was no way we would have known,” she said.
The Guardian found multiple websites that openly targeted students with devices that could be used for cheating. One eBay seller of a wireless micro earpiece said it could be used for private investigators, law enforcement officers and students. It cost $13.99 (£11).
Another company, Monorean, advertises itself as a online store to buy invisible earpieces for cheating in exams. The person behind the company, who asked to be named only as Guillermo, said: “If you navigate our site you’ll see that our target audience is mainly – if not entirely – students. Most of them are sick and tired of the educational system, they want to learn and are vivid people but they see no point in vomiting the subject up during the exam.”
He said people in the UK, alongside Germany and Spain, were among their top customers, adding: “We sell easily more than 200 units a year to the UK, which is relatively high since it’s a niche product.”
The Guardian heard from several students and invigilators about how technology was being used. One invigilator, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Hi-tech devices have allowed more opportunities to cheat. For example, I have removed smart watches etc from students … Students now have grown up with that tech. They are comfortable with it and thus it makes sense if they are going to cheat, this is possibly the easiest way.”
All of this points to the need for universities to consider different forms of assessment which make cheating harder. But it would also help if students didn’t go to such lengths to try and take advantage. And perhaps if some of them dedicated more effort to their studies rather than cheating they would be in a better position.

3 thoughts on “Stopping students cheating: mission impossible?”

  1. Peter Stockwell says:

    It’s easy to design cheating out of the assessment by personalising it. Design unique assessments But that is expensive because it needs small classes.

  2. Crysanthemum says:

    It’s worth noting that the FOI request would have caught students who took smart watches into exams in its net as well as students who tried to use them in their exam. Most University records wouldn’t necessarily distinguish between the two at the level of an academic misconduct register, but would at the individual level (which would not normally be looked at when responding to the FOI request).

  3. Brian Cherry says:

    According to that Guillermo chap, “Most of them are sick and tired of the educational system, they want to learn and are vivid people but they see no point in vomiting the subject up during the exam”, eh? What’s stopping them popping down to their local library and learning vividly – uncertified, cost-free and without the exams – to their hearts’ content?

    Could it be that what they really want is to gain a credential rather than be assessed for their suitability for one?

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