Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Uber Cheater Economy

By Professor Doom

     I’m no longer shocked with the cheating by students in higher education. There are many reasons for this, but foremost is how much higher education has changed. In times past, it was well known that higher education was about preparing a human being for more. It was literally written into the old rules of accreditation:

     Today’s accreditation rules have been altered to the point that there is nothing to do with education, and so we have entire institutions that focus not on education, but on sucking students in, swirling them around for years on useless coursework that prepares them for nothing, then spitting them back out once the loan money is gone.

     It’s not all like this, of course, but many institutions, whether state, profit, or non-profit, use the previous paragraph as a business model.

     When I teach a course in, say, differential equations, the students can only succeed if they’ve learned the material in previous courses. They must have mastered algebra and at least two semesters of calculus. But that’s for “real” degree programs in engineering or math. If you cheat your way through one of those preparation courses, then you’ll never make it through the next course without cheating also…and the next course is also preparation.

       Many degree programs, especially at community colleges, don’t work that way. You take a course in Psychology, but it has nothing to do with the course on Sociology you take, nor does it have anything to do with the course on Women’s Studies you take…it’s a simple matter to go through the course catalogue and see endless pages of courses that have no prerequisites, and that lead to nothing. It’s particularly funny when you look at graduate level administration courses, where even the most advanced courses require no knowledge coming in, so that anyone can just walk in and know everything our Poo Bahs know in a few weeks, as I’ve demonstrated.

        Since the course is irrelevant, just a needless expense, why not just cheat through it? I completely understand why a student would do this, and the marketplace agrees with me. There are many places now that allow you to hire professional cheaters to take your course and do your homework for you.

“…looking to make a little extra cash, she signed up last September with Studypool “an online marketplace that connects students with questions with tutors who can answer them.” An Uber for tutors, if you will…”

       A not-so-recent article talks about how cheating is becoming ever more efficient. Certainly, there was cheating in times past, but back then to get to the level of “have someone else take your course for you” required very special circumstances to find that ringer. Now it’s trivial.

The list of variations for on-demand tutelage is long and diverse:, WyzAnt, StudyRoom, TutorPanda, Tutorpace. Tutree arranges in-person meetings between tutors and students. Chegg Tutors offers live help via video chat.

      (I held off on discussing the recent innovations in cheating for quite some time, to see if any basic measures would be done to combat it. No; every link to every cheating site in that article is still quite functional, still, quite obviously, doing profitable business…curiously, I’ve noted people who want to hire me as a tutor “in the real world” have dropped off sharply in the last year or so as well.)

     “He gave me the login for his online math class,” Nicole says. “At first I was like, OK, I have to go see what the problems are, and this is the easiest way to go see them. So I asked, ‘Where do you want to start?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I just need you to do the assignment for me.’

     I’m always amazed at how administration at every school is in a huge rush to put ever more courses online. They have no trouble citing studies showing that, particularly for introductory material, “success” rates in online courses are superior, and so use that to force faculty into administering (I’m reluctant to use the word “teach”) online courses. It’s completely obvious what’s going on in these courses, and has been for years. Every attempt I’ve made to get a school to adopt even basic countermeasures against cheating has been shut down, and I, like many faculty, have been punished for daring to show even a little integrity.

     That said, I appreciate the balance here. The huge student loan scam pays for the student to take the course, and provides money for the student to hire a cheater as well (most loans cover more than just tuition). Once the money is laundered through the school, the loan money is then used to pay the administrator to make sure nothing is done to stop the cheating. 

     It’s beautiful, in a demented way.

Browsing through the bids posted on Studypool is revealing — it’s not uncommon to see students expecting to have their assignments fully completed in exchange for money. Everything from high school math quizzes to college-level essays. Negative reviews for tutors indicate that the work they did for the student got a bad grade or was flagged as suspicious. “Failed my paper because 56 percent was plagiarized,” reads one. Well-reviewed tutors are those whose work passes undetected and gets the student a good grade.

     Anyway, you no longer hire tutors at these sites like in days of yore, where you pick a name and pay the person to help you. You just tell them what assignment you want done, and then the “tutors,” many with graduate degrees I’m sure, then “bid” on doing the assignment for you. You take the lowest bidder.

     I’d love to know just how many teachers in higher education, paid so little that they qualify for welfare, are supplementing their income by working for these sites. The workers for these sites know what they’re doing:

“It is largely a place for students to cheat. I think it is a sad commentary on the U.S. education system that this practice is ‘needed’ and has a large following

      Now, one can use these sites legitimately, but the sites themselves know what they’re really about.

     In the case of Studypool, accountability is limited also by the encryption of students’ and tutors’ identities and interactions. (Its user privacy page states, “Private questions cannot be found by Search engines… or by applications/software looking for duplicate content and plagiarism.”)

     When there’s this kind of effort put into secrecy, it’s a safe bet they know what they’re doing is wrong, and don’t want others to know about it. 

      Still, a school interested in stopping cheating could just track IP addresses, noting when a student seems to be logging in from the same address as other students in other courses. Tests could be given at physical proctoring centers, so that a cheating student would have to demonstrate skill at some point. It doesn’t take much imagination at all to come up with ways to tell if a student is really doing the work.

      But, when the course is on Game of Thrones or some other topic of no relevance, of no preparation for more, does it even matter if the student cheats through it? I suppose not.

     The fact still remains: our schools, to qualify for student loan money, promise in writing to act with integrity. Even with years to take some action to prevent cheating, our schools instead take actions to encourage ever more of it.


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