The Score is a podcast about academic integrity and cheating with Kathryn Baron.
The Score is a podcast series of interviews with people who know what’s really happening in our classrooms. We’ll talk with a journalist who writes about academic integrity, and we’ll talk with several leading researchers and working educators about this multifaceted issue challenging academia today. Each of our guests has published either research or is a published author about the challenges faced in education institutions. We’ll delve into each of our guests’ scholarly work and ask them to share either personal experiences or their opinions on academic integrity.
Some of our questions are pretty challenging such as the question about where the responsibilities lie for addressing instances of cheating. We’ll ask if the problem really is as serious as it seems, Or is it actually worse? And, we’ll ask our guests to weigh in on regulatory and legislative action, and other policies that they think may work.
The Score on Academic Integrity – Garret Merriam, Associate Professor of Philosophy at CSUS
In recent years, it seems that the radio dial on ethics is moving up and down the spectrum. Ethical behavior, intentional or not, is at the root of cheating. This episode of The Score explores how our guest, Garret Merriam (@SisyphusRedemed), an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Sacramento State University in California, responded to widespread cheating on a final exam in his Introduction to Ethics course.
High points of the conversation follow. Note: Removal of filler words and minor edits have been made for clarity.
Kathryn Baron (01:33): Would you tell us what happened in your Intro to Ethics class?
Garret Merriam (01:42): I came to suspect that some students in my class might've been cheating on my final by Googling the answers on the final. I teach a course that's fully online, has almost a hundred students, and with that much material, that many students going on, it simply isn't possible for me to create novel finals every semester, as much as I would like to do that. I reuse large portions, though never the entire thing, of my final. And so, I found that by Googling the questions on my final, you could come up with a student who had uploaded a copy of the final with many of the correct answers to the questions.
I made the request of the website, called Quizlet, that they take it down, and I was very pleasantly surprised that they did so promptly and quickly. I was under the impression, I was assuming that they weren't going to respond, but they did. I was very grateful for that, very professional of them on their side of things.
And then after that, a part of me, perhaps somewhat of a devious part, I suppose, decided to run a little experiment. Part of my research is in experimental philosophy, and I like running experiments, and so I decided to see what would happen if I uploaded a copy of my final with the right questions but the wrong answers.
Garret Merriam (03:01):…After the final was complete, I ran a statistical analysis and found out that approximately 40 of the 96 students cheated on the final.
Garret Merriam (3:35): And this understandably created a bit of havoc both for me, for my students, for my department, and a number of people who became a part of this conversation going forwards.
Kathryn Baron (03:47): When you learned that a student had put the test up on Quizlet, how did you know that the students in your current class had copied it?
Garret Merriam (03:54): What initially led me to be suspicious was a mistake that I had made earlier in the semester. Every week, I upload a reading and a reading quiz, and the idea is they do the reading, and they take the reading quiz just to make sure to put a little pressure on them to incentivize them to actually do the reading. And one week I neglected to upload the reading, but did upload the reading quiz, and then a few hours later I realized my mistake and I went, and I uploaded the reading. But when doing so, I noticed that some of the students had already taken the reading quiz and had gotten a perfect score on it.
Garret Merriam (04:37):….That was hardly proof of anything, but it was enough to make me suspicious. It was enough to make me concerned that something would've been going on. So, I Googled those quiz questions, and sure enough, I found the copy of them on Quizlet.
Kathryn Baron (05:49): I read that you contacted the students suspected of cheating. How did that go?
Garret Merriam (6:04):…I put together sort of a blank form letter in which I contacted them and said that I have reason to believe that they had cheated on the final and a few more details without tipping my hand completely. And I sent that out to all of the suspected students.
And somewhere in the ballpark of about two thirds of them got back to me right away and confessed and said that yes, they had cheated, they were apologetic, some of them made excuses, others just asked for understanding and forgiveness, and about one third of them denied it.
The Score on Academic Integrity – Pete Van Dyke, Amazon Web Services
On this episode of The Score, we look at cheating from a different angle than we have before. Our guest is Pete Van Dyke, the Certification Security Program Manager at Amazon Web Services, the office responsible for minimizing cheating among people taking professional certification exams.
Kathryn Baron (01:57): Would you describe what you and your office do?
Pete Van Dyke (02:00): We divide our time among three different activities. One is looking at people that steal our exam content and post that online or charge money for that online. Those are known as brain dump websites. You'll probably hear me talk about that a couple more times today. The second thing that we do is we look at what are known as proxy testers. So, individuals or organizations that take exams for candidates charge them a fee for that, and then through remote control of the computer screens take an exam for them. And then the third thing that our team works on are individuals who misbehave during their exams. So, whether that's accessing a cell phone or hidden notes or having a third-party present, people that misbehave on exams…
Kathryn Baron (07:16): If I'm taking one of these exams, what can I expect before I'm cleared to actually begin the test?
Pete Van Dyke (07:22): Well, we present our exams in two different formats. One is at an in-person test center. So, we have literally thousands of in-person test centers all across the globe. If you were to take an in-person exam, you would schedule that. You would go in and there's a live proctor who would observe you as you take your exam but once COVID hit, the second modality for us, which is online proctored exams became very popular. And an online proctor exam, you don't have to go to a test center. You can take that right in the confines of your own home, and you don't have to interact with people live. What happens for online proctoring is that there is an online proctor located somewhere else in the world who is observing up to 16 or 18 people taking in an exam at one time, and they make sure that they're not misbehaving.
So, if you were to take an online proctored exam, there's an entire formal check-in process. So, we verify that the government issue ID is the same person as the person taking the test. You don't want someone who looks like me taking the test under the name of someone who looks like you, Kathryn. There's a very detailed room scan by video to make sure that there aren't any learning materials, that there aren't any secondary computers or electronic devices, any note-taking materials, pens, paper et cetera in the area.
And then there's also a systems check. So, the test delivery provider looks at that and sees what kind of programs are running in the background to make sure that there's nothing that would allow a candidate to record the testing experience and then steal content from the actual exam.
Kathryn Baron (09:07): So, what have people done to try to trick the security measures? Are there any anecdotes that stand out for you?
Pete Van Dyke (09:15): It's really limited only by creativity. So, for online proctored exams, because you don't have a human being in the same room, people attempt to cheat that system in lots of different ways. They may try to record the session, either audio record or video record. They may surreptitiously have notes and access notes during the exam. It's not unusual for someone to try and have a third person, a third-party individual in the room with them to help with the exam and indicate which questions have which answers. And we've seen evidence in the past of people using things like recording devices built into eyeglass frames or even using earbud type communicators so that someone can communicate with them what the correct answer is for items.
Perhaps one of the more interesting things that we've had when someone takes an exam with a proxy tester, the proxy tester loads software on their machine that allows them to remote control, take
The Score on Academic Integrity – Dr. Roy Swift, Executive Director of Workcred
This episode of The Score features Dr. Roy Swift, the Executive Director of Workcred, an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute. He also served as executive director of the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. This appointment followed a 28-year career in the U.S. Army Medical Department, where in his last position, he was chief of the Army Medical Specialist Corps in the Army Surgeon General’s Office with policy responsibility for Army occupational therapists, physical therapists, dieticians, and physician assistants throughout the world.
Kathryn Baron (7:22): I'm wondering then if that disconnect is perhaps part of what leads to academic integrity problems in college and the frustration that you mentioned students often have?
Dr. Roy Swift (07:34): I do think K-12 is the foundational component to success in post-secondary education, in academia and Higher Ed. I believe it is crucial to individuals being able to make the right choices. There are several issues in regards to the system and preparing success in the post-secondary system. One is helping people understand how to learn to be able to identify resources, to build self-confidence in people. There is our need to move to more of a competency-based approach in Higher Ed, that's transparent and can signal to the work world or the government or whoever that what the person not only knows, but what the person can do. The current transcript is not helpful in this regard. And the reluctance of faculty to move to competency outcomes versus general course descriptions is problematic. I feel the issue is that the competency approach does put more pressure on the faculty to produce what they say they are producing because it is more transparent, and the assessment tools have to be more precise. The other disconnect is the lack of employability skills. The college is not teaching the behaviors that are expected in the workplace. Something as simple as coming to class on time, participating in class and being an active learner and working in teams often are forgotten.
Kathryn Baron (10:36): You mentioned a paper in an earlier conversation we had that you co-led on the integration of credentials, and I'm wondering if you can just tell us what were the primary takeaways from that and were you at all surprised by anything that you found when you were doing that work?
Dr. Roy Swift (10:54): Yes. Recently, I participated with the Higher Learning Commission, which is one of the national accreditors of universities and colleges. And because they are very interested in looking at the whole issue of credentials and how credentials may be integrated into a higher education system, industry credentials in this regard. The title of the paper was Institutional Accreditation at the Crossroads Drivers for Change, and it had four main themes. One was at the landscape and pressures on Higher Ed, employers and accrediting bodies are going to be increasingly to produce a product that is able to function at higher levels probably because of all the technology that is going on today will have to produce a very different kind of individual. Most people think technology will run people out of jobs, but it really looks like that what is going to happen is that it's going to force and put pressure on producing people with higher level of knowledge in the ideas of robotics and artificial intelligence.
Dr. Roy Swift (13:36): ….there are over 8,000 industry certifications right now. And every week they develop more and more industry certifications, and it is one in which they can be complimentary.
But unless we understand, like I said at the beginning, the credentialing system and how they may interface and complement one another, we are going to develop competing systems. Which may not be the best way of thinking about these various because each credential tends to have a lot of strengths. And so, we should use the strengths of each credential to
The Score on Academic Integrity – Dave Tomar, Author, Editor and Plagiarism Expert
On this episode of The Score, we look at cheating from a different angle than we have before. Our guest is Dave Tomar. From 2001 to 2010, Dave worked as the ultimate ghostwriter. He was a contract cheater. He wrote thousands of college essays, reports, and even master's degree thesis. After a decade of putting words into other people's work, Dave Tomar put the cheating life behind him. He's since written two books about his experiences.
Dave Tomar (05:26): Well, I saw quickly that this type of service was popular with my classmates. But I had no idea how large the demand was, and when you start working for these companies, suddenly it's not simply that you're getting paid to write, it's that you have more writing work than you can handle, which was a unique and exciting position for me to be in, honestly.
Dave Tomar (07:58): Yeah, it was a bit of a barter system as well on the college campuses. But no, the real difference was that while I was charging between $10 and $20 a page, both independently and while working for online companies, the online companies were charging twice that. I would get half of it, but that was the model for profitability. As an independent contractor, I would get half, they would get half, so I was essentially learning that I could have been charging twice as much on campus. However, it was worth splitting the proceeds because the work was so plentiful.
Kathryn Baron (09:19): About what did you earn a year?
Dave Tomar (09:21): I probably started when I went full-time earning just a little over $30,000, which so you know, was a raise from my legitimate job. By the end, bear in mind, inflation now applies, but this was 2010, I think I earned about $66,000 in my peak year.
Kathryn Baron (10:00): Do you have any sense of how many independent contractors like yourself there are working for these companies?
Dave Tomar (10:07): Certainly thousands. Every company that I've worked for has a different size pool. Some of them, you could tell was a couple of dozen, but others were sort of these broad online syndicates where when you get a sense of the surface level of this industry, there are big faces looking out to customers, but there maybe 20 of them affiliated with the same writing pool. The back door that I worked in for one company was a name that you would never see in public, but they pulled in assignments from a couple of dozen different outlets that are pretty well-known, and so that was a pool of hundreds. Now, when you get to the real essay mills, which are some of the lower-grade ones that might be operating overseas with even fewer rules, they could be working with stables of thousands.
Dave Tomar (11:11): The smaller companies would actually reach out to you with individual assignments. They'd say, "You interested in this one? You interested in this one?", which is a bit of a clunky model, but I certainly have worked that way. The best companies that I have worked for use an automated system. You go onto a page like cheat.com and you order your assignment, and it automatically shows up on a board that I and hundreds of other writers have access to. As soon as it shows up, it tells me when it's due, what it's about, what the college level/graduate level is, and how much I'm going to get paid to do it, and you click the right button, and it goes into your box and you are responsible for it. From there, have it done by the deadline.
Dave Tomar (16:19): Now, this one's really important, and I have to pull attention to the fact that when I read the typos and the grammatical errors in there, I don't do so to mock this student, I do so to point out that this is a master's-level student, and this is how their written communication appears. You can't help but look at that email and say, "This person really lacks the academic qualifications to write the assignment that they're outsourcing." It's an important point that I like to make a lot, which is that this desperation. This is not to
The Score on Academic Integrity - Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, president of NWCCU
Dr. Ramaswamy discusses what accrediting organizations look for and where academic integrity comes in.
The Score on Academic Integrity - Special Supplemental Episode - Kylie Day and Sarah Thorneycroft, University of New England (Australia)
On this episode of The Score, we're speaking with Kylie Day and Sarah Thorneycroft, leaders in the field of design and implementation of online examinations. Kylie Day is the manager of exams and e-assessments at University of New England, in Australia, and Sarah Thorneycroft is the director of digital education at UNE. Due to the length of our discussion, these interviews cover two episodes of “The Score” – episodes 9 and 10.
Kylie Day (03:58):
… we do have a central team and that's been a feature at Australian universities for a long time. But what we've seen at other universities in Australia lately is that's being distributed back out to academic areas. And I think I would say that's a loss because I think it requires professional expertise to run what is probably the largest event a university will hold, high stress, high stakes, high numbers of people, really, really quite important.
And to pull that expertise in terms of how do I wrangle 10,000 people without making them cry, to be a little bit cynical, but that's a skill. How do I communicate with people to achieve compliance with lots of different rules? How do I get people to actually do what they need to do so that everything coincides nicely for everyone and everyone has a good experience and how do I manage academic integrity issues well? I think distributing that out to academics who already have plenty to do it might not be their area of expertise, but to outsource that to them as well. I think you lose something there.
Kylie Day (07:43):
COVID helped us because we were at about 25% online exams before COVID, in the before times. And then we had a very rapid shift to 100% of all exams had to be held online with a 24-hour window in the online proctoring. So that really helped tear the bandaid off. And I think it helped people just take that step that they might not have been keen on doing. What we, my team put a lot of effort into was to make it really safe for them and massive amounts of support for students and for staff, so that nothing was too hard and that nothing went badly. And that's why we put effort into being on call till 1:00 AM so that there were no stories from students about how they were just left at midnight with no one to help them. And I think that really helped. And when we did have people who wanted to be a bit innovative, we went out of our way to support that.
And so those then became the stories, the good examples that we could say, Hey, your colleague tried this and here are the metrics where we can see that student success increased. Students are happier. Students have more agency over all the demands on themselves. So they're much more settled and more engaged. And just supporting that in a really safe way with a lot of support. The whole flexibility piece did take a lot of time for people to get their heads around. And I think that exams exist as a cultural archetype, that they're hard, they're tricky, they're secret, they're tough. You have to turn up or else, all this stuff that people have embedded in their brains about exams. Helping people realize that the way exams have been managed in the past is not necessarily the way exams should be managed and really calling into question every assumption that people have consciously or unconsciously about assessment and exams and flexibility and students. So it really has been a long change piece.
Sarah Thorneycroft (10:45):
Access too is key for students that don't have to engage in geographical travel to get to locations. That can sometimes be a real barrier for our demographic. So being able to access online in your own home makes a real difference for a lot of students.
Kylie Day (11:02):
We had a student early on who actually rang crying tears of happiness and no one rings, right, to say what a wonderful exam they've just had, right? It's a occupational hazard in our line of work that you only ever hear from people who have a bad time, but this student