Online Cheating: A New Twist to an Old Problem

Canisius College

Posted February 23,2001          StudentAffairs Online, 2 (Winter)

Dealing with academic dishonesty is always a challenge, and todayit is even more complicated by students’ use of the Internet. Tobe sure, today's easy access to on-line journals and term paper Websites, coupled with general ignorance of proper citing of on-lineresources, necessitates action on the part of an institution'sadministration. This article is the first of three which examinestrategies for dealing with on-line academic misconduct. This firstarticle concerns low-tech techniques for detecting on-line cheating,the first steps if you suspect academic misconduct. The secondarticle will examine high-tech methods for detection; and the thirdinstallment will focus on developing methods to address students'underlying values and behaviors. The purpose of all three articles isto improve your knowledge of the issue and provide ideas, bothpractical and theoretical, to ultimately improve how we teachstudents to function in cyberspace.

Term paper "mills" have existed for years, usually requiringadvanced planning on the part of the recipient student who would needto send for the paper through the mail and then retype it. Incontrast, new on-line services make it easy for students to obtainand prepare class papers. Students can simply download a manuscriptfrom one of the many paper mill Web sites, make a few edits on a wordprocessor and submit the paper as their own work.

In addition to the fee-for-service on-line paper mills, there arealso free sites, which serve as repositories for papers. Students areasked to donate manuscripts that will be archived and made availablefor others to use. These sites are akin to the stereotypical"fraternity house paper file," but are international and are mucheasier to access. Because these sites cost nothing to use, they canmake the process more tempting for students to pass off someoneelse’s work as their own. Although very few on-line term paperWeb sites outwardly endorse cheating, their tag lines: "Download yourWorkload" and "Evil House of Cheat," make it clear that cuttingcorners and/or outright plagiarism are likely outcomes of theirservices.

Faculty and administrators should take the time to familiarizethemselves with these term paper sites and explore them periodically.Knowledge of these sites, some of which are listed at the end of thisarticle, will be useful when investigating allegations of plagiarism.But also realize that on-line plagiarism is not limited to term papermills. There is a tremendous amount of legitimate information on theWeb, including e-journals, e-books, e-reports, newspapers andgovernmental reports and databases that are in the public domain,just to name a few. In fact, in today's courses, Web use is properlyencouraged as our campuses become more digital. Therefore, theonline source of an ill-gained paper or passage is as broad as theentire World Wide Web, and most cheating will not have its genesisfrom the more obvious sites.

Indeed, catching a student after the cheating has occurred may notbe the most developmental approach to dealing with the issue ofacademic dishonesty, so I will address more proactive methods in thecoming months. Even so, we're all aware that cheating does occur andthere will be a time when each of us is called upon to determineresponsibility. Therefore, it seems prudent to develop a repertoireof techniques that help detect Internet academic dishonesty. Thereare both high-tech and low-tech methods for revealing on-linecheating. Low-tech methods do not usually prove that a paper has beenlifted from the Web, but these techniques can raise a red flag andpoint to the need for further investigation. Here are a few ideasthat do not require a great deal of Internet expertise and may noteven require the use of a computer:

None of these methods are conclusive in and of themselves, butthey can be helpful in an investigation. Once you have completed alow-tech audit of a questionable paper and there seems to be reasonfor further investigation, a more high-tech inquiry is warranted. Inthe next issue, these computer-based methods, including the use ofcommercial detection sites will be discussed.


Select Term Paper Mill Sites: