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Under the new norm of on-line classes, how will teachers combat the increasingly fierce plagiarism?

The outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 has forced many schools to start online classes and exams. Many universities have discovered that the academic offense rate has skyrocketed to an unprecedented level.

This December, a report on student discipline from the University of Waterloo has indicated that the number of students guilty of cheating has doubled compared to 2019–2020 academic year, at a total of 1340 time; and those who were guilty of using unauthorized aids or assistance were found to be as high as 604 times. At the beginning of Covid-19, 70 AFM (Accounting and Financial Management) students were suspended because of cheating.

To reduce online cheatings, various universities racked their brains for solutions. For example, professors and teaching assistants from UBC tried to “fish up” these students. Professors led the teaching assistants to join the student’s group and posted wrong answers on Chegg (a website where you can find answers to assignment problems) to find out the students who are using unauthorized aids. In this way, they managed to confirm more than 100 cases of cheating. These students will face severe punishments: they will get 0% for the course, and the professor will advise UBC to expel these students.

The consequences become less severe, which makes cheating natural and straightforward.

Examples of outsourcing exams, classes, and assignments are not uncommon. The news of Chinese students finding someone to take exams on their behalf and being expelled has caused heated discussions. Even people raised this problem to a new level and pointed out that these actions are humiliating the national characters. However, are the Chinese students the only ones cheating on exams and assignments?

Of course not!

Is it more comfortable for Chinese students or international students to cheat? According to the news, plagiarism is a foreign word for international students. “what we might call cheating, they might call it sharing,” said Friedman, St. Thomas’s director of international student services.

A high school teacher from Canada mentioned that some culture has taught the students to be resourceful. Hence, a small portion of students may think using other people’s work directly is “proficient and flexible”. This is a misunderstanding. He believes that international students might feel the need to plagiarize due to language issues, desires for higher test marks, stress from studying abroad, etc. However, this cannot deny that local students will cheat by various means for similar reasons.

He also said: “local students are just like international students. If they feel the need to cheat, they will do that.”

On the other hand, the psychology behind cheating is also easy to understand to a certain extent. These students want nothing more than good grades beyond their abilities. Also, they lack self-confidence and have low self-values: if a student thinks he/she worth nothing aside from exam grades, they will do whatever it takes to cheat.

Not only Chinese students but also the local students from North America use cheating services.

If you put keywords such as “write my essay” or “write exam for me” into the Google search bar, you will see many advertisements as shown in Figure 1. Just one click, you will see some test organizations are “with over ten years of experience”, or essay-writing agencies boasting their “PhD-level professional writers”.

This kind of service that outsources students’ assignments and tests is called contract cheating. They have their websites and support online orders. You can also leave your contact information, and someone will reach out to you to discuss the services you need. Whether you are taking online classes or exams, these so-called “professionals with more than ten years of working experience” will fully take-over and solve your problems. There are even agencies promising refunds under the increasingly competitive market if the grade is not above A.

What has changed to these types of organizations and websites?

Contract cheating has become an industry for a long time ago. Online classes during Covid-19 has stimulated the development of these organizations and made them even more aggressive. A contract cheating website even posted “you can get more money, but you can’t get more time”- a quote from a famous American author, Jim Rohn — as the reason you should pay for someone to cheat.

As previously mentioned, many universities have spotted the historically high academic offense rate. Researchers also found that the new norms of online classes have brought a profitable market to contract cheating providers. In January 2020. Jeffery R. Young published a journal named “How the ‘Contract Cheating’ Industry Has Gotten More Aggressive in Recruiting Students”. The journal mentioned how these third-party organizations use alluring words to “help” and tempt more students to cheat.

Examinations without proctors have opened doors to these websites and organizations.

Because students are unable to communicated face-to-face, some feel like the course contents have become more difficult. Students also said that they can concentrate when taking classes in-person but often get distracted at home.

Contract cheating organizations and personnel have taken advantage of this time. Kerrie Kennedy reported this October that “contract cheating providers are sending Covid-19 discounts to students and being more active than ever”. Hence, many students turn to these third parties for help and embark on the road of cheating.

Contract cheating is not only taking place during Covid-19. Research has indicated that with technology development, students’ behavior outsourcing exams and assignments are continually increasing. In August 2018, Dr. Phillip M. Newton published a journal article. He stated the popularity of contract cheating among higher education institutions and analyzed its trends. The results have shown that the rate of contract cheating is indeed increasing by the year. From 2014 to 2018, 15.7% of students admitted that they paid someone else to undertake their work. Based on this ratio, there might be 31 million students who have committed contract cheating. If we take those students who have not admitted to contract cheating into account, what will this number become?

Anyway, what is an academic offense, and how serious is it?

Generally, academic offense includes four types in a student’s academic career: (1) copying other people’s ideas or work without his/her consent (including unspecified usage of your previous work); (2) cheating in exams; (3) falsify records; (4) submitting the same work more than once.

Any type of plagiarism is considered a very serious academic offense in North America. If a student is found plagiarizing, his/her assignment grade will be 0 for the lightest penalty, and he/she might be expelled from school for more severe cases; if an international student plagiarizes, the student may face repatriation. After entering society, plagiarism may cause you to lose your job, get fined, or face law sues. Although student discipline is very strict, and the penalties are severe, there are still people willing to take risks.

From the perspectives of North Americans, the academic offense is unacceptable. It is also regarded as evidence of dishonesty. Many universities have implemented new forms of online examinations or limited examination time to reduce possible cheating. It is hard to tell if these actions can effectively prevent cheatings in online exams or if students will always find new ways to cheat. Let time be the judge.

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