By Vanessa Luis
Even cheating has had a technological upgrade. Playing the system used to require carefully crafted cheat sheets and hand signals with classmates. Now there are virtual wholesalers for cheating.
“CourseHero comes off,” Las Positas geology professor Tom Orf said, “if you look at the website, as ‘study material.’ But it doesn’t take someone with a Ph.D. to figure out that’s not what it is.”
Several students at Las Positas College have been found using online test banks and mass crowd-share sites in order to cheat.
For about $50, students can get access to all the test answers for their class text book. With a few key words, they can look up every answer to their online test or quiz.
Orf said he has been in contact with textbook publisher Pearson, whose test answers are available online, and the company informed him it was in the process of filing lawsuits against known unethical virtual test banks.
Online crowd-share sites–like CourseHero, Koofer, and StudyBlue–offer students real tests, essays and other assignments from their schools. The documents are sorted by school, then course and then instructor.
CourseHero, established in 2006, has 1,500 documents related to Las Positas College courses. It boasts on its website that it holds “more than 7 million crowdsourced study documents from more than 11,000 schools.”
Students are also allowed to sell their previous tests, essays and other assignments to students who can sign up for access on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, starting at $9.95 per month.
Orf was tipped off by an unnamed student last semester that their peers were using online test banks and assignment uploads to do well in his online course.
Orf informed sociology professor Sarah Thompson what he found. She began her investigation.
“I went back into my own gradebook archives and started to pick up some patterns of students who did their tests very quickly,” Thompson said, “and students would get all of the test bank questions correct and none of my own questions correct. […] If I would have known at the time, I would have had them retake the tests in person.”
Since her discovery, Thompson said she found approximately 25 cases of academic dishonesty in her current and previous courses, going back two semesters.
The school can change grades up to two years in the past, according to Orf, who said previous students he discovered using online test banks “aren’t out of the woodwork yet.”
Students who have transferred may still be at risk for disciplinary action.
Orf presented their findings to the Academic Senate for Las Positas College on Feb. 14.
During the presentation, when CourseHero was projected for the Senate, they uncovered more student materials online including one student paper from an English course that Michelle Gonzales is currently teaching.
“I believe that America has a cheating problem,” Gonzales said, “and the colleges everywhere should launch campaigns to help students understand the importance of academic integrity.”
Since the Academic Senate meeting, the school has created a task force to look into the problem. The task force will work with another group, which is currently rewriting the Student Code of Conduct to be more concise and electronically focused. The task force on cheating will meet on March 12 at 1:30 p.m.
According to William Garcia, Vice President of Student Services at Las Positas, a recommendation will be made to the Academic Senate and senior college administrators by the end of the spring semester 2018. The new conduct policy, Garcia said, is expected to address students selling of past course materials.
Garrett Culbertson, ASLPC Director of Legislation and Academic Senate representative, said he is keeping a close eye on the committee and their proposed changes.
“No solution is perfect, but we want to protect student rights as much as possible during this process, but still allow for the punishment of academic dishonesty,” Culbertson said.
Until the recommendations are presented, three provisions from the current policy should apply to this sort of cheating.
- Cheating or plagiarism in connection with a college academic program.
- Soliciting or assisting another in an act which would subject the student to expulsion, suspension, probation, or other sanction.
- Obtaining a copy of an examination or assignment prior to its approved release by the professor.
“It’s pure cheating,” Orf said. “What surprises me is the number of people who don’t think this is cheating. We’re going to have to let them know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”
Complaints of misconduct are submitted by instructors to Student Services, which then conducts an investigation and renders a decision. If a student disagrees with the decision of Student Services, the student can request a formal hearing. If the student disagrees with the decision of the hearing committee, the student can file an appeal.
Garcia says on average the college receives approximately 15 to 20 cases or referrals from instructors each semester. However, after this semester there could be a rise in the number of referrals as teachers begin to observe their students more closely.
Though the school can’t control the contents on non-college websites, Garcia said Las Positas College is committed to work with faculty to identify, investigate and take disciplinary action, if appropriate.
Cheating in any form could lead to suspension, probation, expulsion and/or temporary exclusion.
“Overall, it’s just kind of disappointing,” said student Rachel Shockley. “If a person cheats now in life, they will only experience more hardships later on in life because they are taking what is considered ‘the easy way out,’ and they may not be developing skills that the lessons are trying to teach them.”
Instructors are being encouraged to become proactive in fighting cheating by adding a plagiarism section in their courses, updating their syllabi, changing the wording of test questions and/or writing their own, rotating test questions and even switching to a textbook from a smaller publisher.
Melissa Korber, who advises this newspaper and serves as LPC Academic Senate President, encourages professors to use VeriCite and SafeAssign in their online courses as a way to identify plagiarism.
“To all the hardworking students out there who are going to college to try to level the playing field for themselves,” Thompson said. “For all those kids who are first generation students or who are overcoming economic adversity to try and break into the moneyed classes, it’s (the professor’s) job here to protect that work and see that the success you achieve is authentic. That you’re not undermined by students who, from their own sense of complacency or their own sense of entitlement, think that working the system is somehow an achievement in and of itself.”
For more information, see the Student Code of Conduct at http://www.laspositascollege.edu/students/conduct_code.php