Col­leges look to out­smart tech-savvy cheaters

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Trip Gabriel

OR­LANDO, Fla. — The fron­tier in the bat­tle to de­feat stu­dent cheat­ing might be here at the test­ing cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Florida.

No gum is al­lowed dur­ing an exam: Chew­ing could dis­guise a stu­dent speak­ing into a hands­free cell phone to an ac­com­plice out­side.

The 228 com­put­ers that stu­dents use are re­cessed into the tops of desks so that any­one try­ing to pho­to­graph the screen — us­ing, say, a pen with a hid­den cam­era, to help a friend tak­ing the test later — is easy to spot.

A proc­tor who sees some­thing sus­pi­cious records the stu­dent’s real-time work at the com­puter and di­rects an over­head cam­era to zoom in, and both sets of im­ages are burned onto a CD for ev­i­dence.

Tay­lor El­lis, the as­so­ci­ate dean who runs the test­ing cen­ter within the busi­ness school at Cen­tral Florida, the nation’s third-largest cam­pus by en­roll­ment, said that cheat­ing had dropped sig­nif­i­cantly, to 14 sus­pected in­ci­dents out of 64,000 ex­ams ad­min­is­tered dur­ing the spring se­mes­ter.

“I will never stop it com­pletely, but I’ll find out about it,” he said.

As the eter­nal temp­ta­tion of stu­dents to cheat has gone high-tech — not just on ex­ams, but by cut­ting and past­ing from the In­ter­net and shar­ing home­work on­line — ed­u­ca­tors have re­sponded with their own ef­forts to crack down.

This sum­mer, as in­com­ing fresh­men fill out forms to se­lect room­mates and cour­ses, a num­ber of col­leges — Duke and Bow­doin among them — are also re­quir­ing them to com­plete on­line tu­to­ri­als about pla­gia­rism.

Anti-pla­gia­rism ser­vices that vet stu­dent pa­pers are a boom­ing busi­ness. About 55 per­cent of col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties now use such a ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to the Cam­pus Com­put­ing Sur­vey. The best-known ser­vice, Tur­nitin.com, is en­gaged in an end­less cat-and-mouse game with tech­no­log­i­cally savvy stu­dents.

“The Tur­nitin al­go­rithms are up­dated on an on­go­ing ba­sis,” the com­pany warned last month in a blog post ti­tled “Can Stu­dents ‘Trick’ Tur­nitin?”

The ex­tent of cheat­ing, dif­fi­cult to mea­sure pre­cisely, ap­pears wide­spread at col­leges. In sur­veys of 14,000 un­der­grad­u­ates over the past four years, an av­er­age of 61 per­cent ad­mit­ted to cheat­ing on as­sign­ments and ex­ams.

The fig­ure de­clined some­what from 65 per­cent ear­lier in the decade, but the re­searcher who con­ducted the sur­veys, Don­ald McCabe, a busi­ness pro­fes­sor at Rut­gers, doubts there is less of it. In­stead, he sus­pects stu­dents no longer re­gard cer­tain acts as cheat­ing at all, for in­stance, cut­ting and past­ing a few sen­tences at a time from the In­ter­net.

At the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Technology, physics pro­fes­sor David Pritchard was able to ac­cu­rately mea­sure home­work copy­ing with soft­ware he had de­vel­oped for an­other pur­pose — to en­able stu­dents to com­plete physics prob­lems on­line. But some an­swered the ques­tions so fast, “at first I thought we had some ge­niuses here,” Pritchard said. Then he re­al­ized they were com­plet­ing prob­lems in less time than it took to read them and were copy­ing the an­swers, mostly from e-mail mes­sages from friends who had al­ready done the as­sign­ment.

About 20 per­cent copied one-third or more of their home­work, ac­cord­ing to a study Pritchard and col­leagues pub­lished this year.

For ed­u­ca­tors un­com­fort­able in the role of anti-cheat­ing en­forcer, an on­line tu­to­rial in pla­gia­rism may prove a sim­ple tech­no­log­i­cal fix.

That was the find­ing of a study pub­lished by the Na­tional Bureau of Eco­nomic Re­search in Jan­uary. Stu­dents at an un­named se­lec­tive col­lege who com­pleted a Web tu­to­rial were shown to pla­gia­rize two-thirds less than stu­dents who did not.

The tu­to­rial “had an out­size im­pact,” said Thomas Dee, a co-author and an econ­o­mist at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia. “Our re­sults sug­gest a tu­to­rial worked by ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents rather than by fright­en­ing them.”

Steve John­son tHe neW YOrK timeS

Michael Go­rion mon­i­tors stu­dents dur­ing ex­ams at the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Florida, which has gone high-tech in its bat­tle against cheat­ing.

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