Why schools need “safe sharing sites” for students: Promoting academic integrity with ethical approaches to file-sharing

March 3, 2021

#ICAI2021 - Eaton quoteCommercial file-sharing and homework help sites have proliferated during the COVID-10 pandemic. One recent news report states that Chegg is now worth $12 Billion USD. And that’s just one company.

During the 2021 International Center for Academic Integrity conference, there were a few sessions dedicated to how to deal with companies such as Chegg, CourseHero and other commercial entities. One answer might be for schools themselves to create “safe sharing sites” for students.

The idea is similar to that of safe consumption sites for those who use drugs to do so in a monitored and safe environment. The purpose of a supervised or safe consumption site is to support harm reduction for users.

To transfer the analogy to academic file sharing, if students are going to share files anyway, it is incumbent upon schools provide them with safe and supported ways for them to do so. Safe sharing sites can promote ethical decision-making, minimize academic misconduct, and foster a sense of school community where profs, administrators, and students are working together to uphold integrity.

The onus is on educational institutions to support students’ learning. When schools invest in student learning through institutionally-supported tools and platforms, they support the student experience. Developing safe sharing sites is one viable way to address the problem of unethical file-sharing.

Putting resources into trying to combat global corporate entities whose primary purpose is to make a profit from our students is a losing battle. Putting effort into submitting requests to take down materials from corporate third party sites is like a game of whack-a-mole we can never win. As I commented in one of the conference presentations during the ICAI conference: Schools paying for a commercial file-sharing site account in order to find out what is on their website is like paying a drug dealer to find out what is in their pills. When schools pay for an account on corporate 3rd party sites, we help to finance the industry we are advocating against.

As educational institutions, we must find ways to work with our students, not against them. File-sharing is a normal online behaviour, so let’s provide students with the tools to do what they are going to do any way in safe and supported ways that help them – and us – uphold integrity on our campuses.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, 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 or anyone else.


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