Colleges clamp down on cheaters

On today’s technology-driven campuses, cheating is easier than ever, from sharing test answers via wireless devices to creating cut-and-paste term papers directly from the Net.

Now, educators are battling back with an arsenal of high-tech countermeasures — anti-plagiarism software, biometrics (thumbprints and retina scanning) to ensure test-taker identity, among others — to help curb academic dishonesty.

This summer, thousands of universities nationwide are rolling out programs to detect student work that may have been copied from the Net or from other students’ papers. High schools are putting into place computer technology that ensures that students using the Net for research are forced to cite their sources.

‘’There’s a combination of technology tools and strategies that teachers have in their quivers now to offset the concern with cheating,’’ says Don Knezek, director of the National Center for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

‘’Many schools have done little or nothing beyond saying, ‘Our policies apply to the Internet as well.’ That’s not helpful to students,’’ says Rutgers professor Don McCabe, founder of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University.

In a 2015 survey by Who’s Who Among American High School Students, 80% of college-bound high schoolers admitted they’d cheated at least once. According to an ongoing survey of college students by McCabe, three out of four confess to having cheated at least once. His new survey of 4,500 high school students suggests cheating is even more significant there: 9th through 12th-graders told McCabe that teachers are ‘’clueless’’ about how easy cheating has become with new technologies, and 97% of high schoolers admit to ‘’questionable’’ activities, with more than half having copied from the Net without citing the source.

‘’Professors need some help in determining if papers are downloaded from the Web,’’ says James Sandefur, honor chair at Georgetown. He was introduced to some software offerings this school year and successfully convinced university administration it was needed schoolwide in the coming year. ‘’We’ll have forums over the summer to discuss whether all student work should be scanned for plagiarism or whether it will be up to each professor.’’

To students competing for academic opportunities, says McCabe, cheating ‘’becomes a question of fairness. ‘Someone else is getting away with it, so to keep up my GPA, I need to do it, too,’ ‘’ he says.

And it exists equally among challenged students and gifted ones. ‘’I really hate sending an e-mail to the dean about plagiarism,’’ says UCLA professor Steve Hardinger. He’s among the university’s first instructors to test an anti-plagiarism Web service before it goes into schoolwide use this fall. ‘’Some have been A-students, good participants in class, everything you want to see. Then they do this. It’s very disappointing.’’

Paging through test answers

With advancing technologies such as the Net and wireless electronic devices, students admit to sharing test answers and homework assignments via e-mail, message boards and alphanumeric pagers (example: 1C2A3C4B). The growth of computer-based testing (the first pilot groups took SATs online early this year, and two states now administer high-school assessments via PCs) adds a challenge: How do you deal with students proficient in computer-hacking skills?

Clemson, Babson College, the University of North Carolina and several private high schools in Houston are among 19 schools to test out new cheatproof exam software this spring. Secureexam, by Software Secure, allows students to take tests on exam-room computers or their own laptops, while blocking them from other files or programs, such as a Web browser or e-mail. All 19 schools plan to implement the program this fall.

Educational Testing Services, which administers national tests including Advanced Placement exams, is more concerned with ensuring test-takers are who they say they are at computer-based testing centers. ETS is installing digital cameras, so that student photographs become a permanent part of the test record. The company this year field-tested iris scans for ID purposes in six centers. ‘’It worked very well,’’ says Ray Nicosia, director of test security at ETS.

Still, the easiest and most pervasive form of cheating among students is cutting and pasting term papers directly from Web sites, including dozens of businesses that sell term papers online. Boston University tried in 2012 to shut down nearly 10 term-paper mills used by students; the suit was dismissed in federal court. University attorney Robert Smith says BU still plans to refile the suit at the state level.

Other schools are getting aggressive on campus with students, with software and services designed to detect plagiarized text. ‘’Not only do we wish to battle plagiarism,’’ says UCLA’s Hardinger, ‘’but also we’ll be letting students know we’re using the service, and we’ll nip it in the bud — just don’t do it.’’

Patrolling for purloined passages

Columbia University is among schools testing new software that automatically generates and permanently embeds Web addresses as footnotes every time students use information from the Net for school reports.

This summer, textbook giant McGraw-Hill will begin distributing that software free (Hyperfolio, by LearnTech) to all K-12 schools that use its texts. ‘’It enables teachers and students to take advantage of online content responsibly and teaches quality research on the Internet,’’ says LearnTech’s Amy Satin.

These technologies are also ‘’great teaching tools,’’ says McCabe, who adds that ‘’a lot of plagiarism turns out to be unintentional.’’ Information technologies are blurring the lines between public information and intellectual property in need of annotation.

As today’s high schoolers move to college, he says, the problem will escalate. Students who use the Net freely as a research tool have ‘’defined their own rules and will take them to college.’’ His ongoing study suggests that in two to three years, ‘’unless schools get aggressive,’’ cheating will dramatically increase. is the most widely used of several anti-plagiarism services; others include EVE (Essay Verification Engine), Integriguard and AbleSoft’s rSchool Detective. Turnitin founder John Barrie says that during term-paper season the service checks about 6,000 papers daily, comparing them against more than 2 billion Web sites, 250,000 student papers on file and a growing database of books and encyclopedias.

More than 30% of papers tested turn out to be less than original, and more than 75% of those are plagiarized from the Net. A 10- page paper takes about 30 seconds to scan and is returned to the user with questionable text color-coded and sourced.

Rather than student policing, Barrie envisions his service as a preventive measure. ‘’We’re not out to catch students cheating,’’ he says. ‘’We’re out to deter them from cheating.’’