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What’s To Be Done About Cheating with Chegg in the COVID era?

College-level solutions to specific problems can be texted, for a fee, to students writing exams

Academic dishonesty is a fancy term for cheating. With profit-motivated websites like Chegg.com, cheating is now easier than ever.

When taking an exam, take a photo of a problem that stumps you and send it to Chegg. In literally minutes, you’ll be sent the answer over your cell phone. How do they do it? Often they employ smart nerds from poor countries who, by local standards, are paid big bucks for their efforts.
Chegg, which charges $14.95 per month for its service, does not see itself as a site for cheaters but as a resource to help with homework. It advertises:

With over 21 million homework solutions, you can also search our library to find similar homework problems & solutions.

Browsing through posted solutions might work for homework but is too slow for real-time tests. The humans employed by Chegg enable real-time cheating.

The experts behind Chegg have mastered highly technical college-level material. Consider the following example problem posted on Chegg’s front page:

For the differential manometer shown, find the difference of pressure between points A and B (PA – PB = ?). Consider the specific gravity of the oil to be 0.85

Chegg does heavy lifting.

The use of Chegg to cheat is widespread. Georgia Tech and Boston University are among many institutions of higher learning that are looking into online cheating. With good reason because, unchecked, cheating is contagious. When those who cheat get A’s and those who work hard and play by the rules get B’s, temptation is amplified and cheating spreads like a glob of lard on a hot skillet.

What is the solution? Banning cell phones during tests is one option. But this approach is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce for the exploding number of on-line courses necessitated by the COVID panic. Even without Chegg, monitoring email and text exchange among dishonest friends and fellow classmates is not possible.

I have a colleague who subscribed to Chegg to check up on his students. In one case, a student started a problem, gave up, and took a photo to send to Chegg. The student was careless enough to send a photo that contained a drawing of the initial attempt to solve the problem. My colleague saw an exact match of the Chegg photo with the final test submitted by the student—and the student was busted.

I usually teach graduate classes where class sizes are smaller. This semester, all my courses are online. I have given mid-terms and final examinations one-on-one for quite some time and will do so this semester over Zoom. Oral exams are time-consuming but the extra effort is worth it. There is no better way to ascertain a student’s mastery of a subject than having a chat. Chegg will not work during a chat.

But for larger on-line classes with virtual written exams, the problem of Chegg still looms large.

Further reading:

How to teach and hold meetings in the COVID era: Teachers and facilitators face a challenge when some students are online in quarantine and some are in front of them in person (Jonathan Bartlett)

and

Five ways COVID-19 is changing education for good. Parents, students, and teachers worldwide have been finding ways to use the internet in creative ways they would never have considered before. (Denyse O’Leary)


Robert J. Marks II

Director, Senior Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Besides serving as Director, Robert J. Marks Ph.D. hosts the Mind Matters podcast for the Bradley Center. He is Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University. Marks is a Fellow of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the Optical Society of America. He was Charter President of the IEEE Neural Networks Council and served as Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks. He is coauthor of the books Neural Smithing: Supervised Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks (MIT Press) and Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (World Scientific). For more information, see Dr. Marks’s expanded bio.

What’s To Be Done About Cheating with Chegg in the COVID era?