COVID-19, Contract Cheating and Academic Integrity in Online Courses: What you need to know

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With the increased response to COVID-19 there has been a concurrent escalation in predatory and unethical practices such as price gouging on hand sanitizer and cleaning products on Amazon and online books suddenly popping up for sale about COVID-19, with material entirely plagiarized from free online news sources.

Of particular concern for academic integrity has been a notable spike in aggressive contract cheating marketing. To stay focused on teaching and learning, here are some strategies to help:

Talk to your students about academic integrity.

Emphasize that it is important for them not to engage with any third party offering “help”. Be straight with your students: Contract cheating and “homework help” companies do not care about students! Educators and family members care about students. Tell your students: “Do not hire a third party to complete your academic work for you. Ever!”

Remind students not to give their login credentials for learning management system (LMS) to anyone.

We know that contact cheating companies pay students in exchange for their login credentials. The companies then go in and harvest whatever they can – notes, slide decks, exemplars from previous students, and whatever else they can find. They will do this for every course the student is registered in, plus any previous courses to which the student still has access. Downloading this material takes only a few minutes. The companies then re-sell these items on their own websites.

Refrain from posting sample work from previous students!

Because of the predatory nature of contract cheating companies, I recommend that you avoid posting examples of students’ work anywhere online, even with their permission. If you wish to share examples of work, do it during a live synchronous session by sharing your own screen. Do not share entire papers this way, but rather a couple of pages, preferably with random sections redacted.

This way students can still get an idea of what a model paper looks like, while simultaneously engaging in conversation with you about your expectations for the assignment.

This does not prevent people from downloading the work because a motivated individual could still take screen shots and share them; but it does make unauthorized or predatory re-sharing more difficult.

Align your teaching practices with what your institution already has in place.

Many institutions have, or are rapidly developing, resources to help instructors. Now is not the time to create your own personal honor code and require students to sign it. That could cause issues of unfair assessment or unanticipated appeals later on. If your institution does not have what you are looking for, ask them for it, or better yet, work with colleagues to develop it.

Although you may be worried about students cheating in online courses, rest assured that there is plenty of highly credible evidence to support that there is not necessarily more cheating in online courses. (See Harris et al., 2019, for very recent research on this topic.) What we DO need to be prepared for though, is a barrage of companies who want to prey on our learners at a time of rapid change and vulnerability. Now is the time to exercise care and caution. Protect your learners from predators!

Related posts:

The Impact of COVID-19 on Academic Integrity https://wp.me/pNAh3-2ra

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

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