Cheating Review

I’m kicking off my new semester teaching communication ethics with a discussion about an ethical challenge students are familiar with:  Cheating.

A testing center at Penn State uses high-tech surveillance to watch for student cheating.  (Photo:  Jim Lo Scalzo for USN&WR)

When I first taught this class many years ago, I featured a Blog about the University of Central Florida (UCF) cheating scandal, whereby a professor accused students of cheating on the midterm exam.  Since that time, UCF and many other institutions have gone high tech to fight cheating, and the use of online plagiarism detection services (such as Turnitin.com) have become commonplace. 

A not-so-new cheating buzzword caught my attention this year:  “contract cheating.”  I have long been aware of professional services that provide written work for a fee, but I was not aware how much attention this topic has garnered or how much the practice has grown among college students

I agree the companies that provide this service have become more conspicuous, and students may have become more jaded to the seriousness of this offence.  In an NPR news story about students cheating their way through college, I was struck by one student who didn’t consider it “cheating” if she paid someone to write “original” work.

“They don’t plagiarize,” she said, “…they write everything on their own.”

As much as professors would like to think this topic is black-and-white, it is not.  There are many different positions you could take.  Some cast blame on educators and even our parents.  There also are many ethical approaches you could take to explore the reasoning that leads to cheating, including utilitarianism, virtue ethics, even social contract theory and many more. 

The International Center for Academic Integrity sponsors an International Day of Action against contract cheating (coming October 16).

I look forward to engaging this year’s class on the topic and to hearing your views and perspectives.

[Click below to leave a comment.]

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24 Responses to Cheating Review

  1. Madison Downs says:

    I had never heard of buying original work or essays from websites or people until I arrived at The University of Tampa my freshman year. This is not something I have done before, but I have definitely heard of it and know of some people who have purchased essays to turn in for their classes. Additionally, I have not heard of many websites that sell original work, but I know people who have bought essays from other students.

    From the NPR.org article, I thought it was intriguing how advanced Turnitin is getting. I didn’t realize that this software is advancing to be able to better analyze ones work. Turnitin can now see when a document was created and can compare it with other work by the student to see if it is truly their work or not. One thing that I think could avoid this issue is how teachers assign essays. For example, my sophomore year, I had to write a long essay for my Writing and Research class. My teacher assigned the essay in sections until we eventually turned in the final draft a few weeks later. Since we wrote the essay in sections and reviewed it many times with the Professor, it truly did have to be our own work. I understand that there is not always this much time to create and review an essay, but this would avoid a student buying an essay from somewhere or someone. I think more encouragement and check ins from the class and professor to complete an assignment would encourage a student to complete their work with integrity. Personally, I don’t agree with using someones original work as your own, but I do understand that some students feel pressure and are overwhelmed with school work sometimes.

  2. Mia Evans says:

    Even though it seems that students are justifying reasons to participate in “contract cheating,” I view it as a parallel to plagiarism, another unethical act. Without writing the paper or doing the work for yourself, you will never learn or improve your skills in this area. Also, since the words themselves are not written by the student, does plagiarism come into question even when a transaction is made?

    Some may see contract cheating as “collaboration” or a way to “eliminate pressures,” but paying someone to do an assignment for him or her will only leave them unprepared for life after college. Heavy workloads and strict deadlines are frequently faced in a professional career, where these services are not available to assist with time management.

    While writing an essay may seem tedious and unnecessary at times, those of us in PR, especially, rely on these writing skills to advance our careers, so the more practice we get, the better we will become.

    Overall, earning a grade based on an essay that someone else wrote brings one’s honesty and integrity into question, even if he or she does not view their actions as “cheating” based on a University policy.

  3. Darienne Bartsh says:

    The idea of buying essays from other students or websites has become such a norm in college student life. Students have become so worried about trying to get the assignment done on time, regardless of the risks and harsh consequences. The point of writing and creating your work is to build skills and learn and it seems students are trying to coast through their courses. Contract cheating falls in the same unethical category as plagiarism.

    Though students downplay the idea of contract cheating because it is not copying work, but having someone simply write the essay, it is still considered unethical. Universities have been trying to decrease the number of contract cheating through technology and other assignments. For example, in theconversation.com’s article “15% of students admit to buying essays. What can universities do about it?”, schools are redesigning their assignments to lower contract cheating numbers. Also, turnitin.com has stepped their game up by increasing its detection services by checking the essay’s writing style and when it was written.

    It is understood that university students become very busy people and deadlines are always coming up faster before they know it. However, it is always best to create your work and avoid consequences that can harm your future.

  4. Carley Appel says:

    Before reading this article, I was unaware that the term “contract cheating” even existed. I was aware that people have paid others to do their work for them, but never knew that it was happening very often.
    It is a very dangerous way of completing your work because although some may say it’s not plagiarizing because it is original work, it is not the student’s original work. A lot of students think that by paying someone else to write their papers, they won’t get caught.
    I have heard a lot of stories of people who have used this method but do not understand why they would. It may seem easier to just have someone else do your work for you, but that way you are not learning the vital information you need to know and that could affect you greatly in the end.

  5. Jaclyn Howard says:

    While I do understand that students our age can get extremely overwhelmed with assignments, working jobs, paying bills, etc., I still don’t believe that it’s ethical to buy an essay or have someone else write it for you. I understand that it’s a quick solution in that moment, but in the long run it’s going to hurt you more than it helps you. I wasn’t even aware that the option of buying essays existed until probably a year ago. Personally, I would never take part in it just because of how severe the consequences can be. Getting expelled from school isn’t worth the risk when writing the essay yourself is something that can be done in a handful of hours.

    It does baffle me that some people our age don’t see it as plagiarism or unethical. If you copy and paste someone else’s written words from the internet into your essay, that is plagiarism, so if the entire essay is someone else’s words, isn’t that even stronger plagiarism? It’s gotten to the point now where ethics need to be better instilled into young people, as well as re-instilled into grown adults. Our society has moved further and further away from the concept of right and wrong, and gray areas are much too vast.

  6. Eric Abruzzi says:

    A college workload presents many challenges to all students. A rigorous schedule and a copious amount of work can create a great deal of stress and in some cases desperation. In today’s technologically advanced society, students are finding new ways to bypass the stress of some assignments, specifically essays by means of contract cheating.

    The student in the NPR story did not view this form of cheating as plagiarism because the work many times is original. Although this may technically be true and essays may evade the software used by websites such as turnitin, it still creates an ethical dilemma for students. By using this service students are cheating themselves on an opportunity to improve writing skills before hitting the working world.

    The Conversation article discussed some alternative services to negate contract cheating. One idea mentioned that I could see becoming more popular for teachers is the use of interviews and student created podcasts. Until software is created to discourage this act of cheating teachers will need to find creative ways to avoid this new cheating buzzword.

    In conclusion, cheating is an inevitable issue teachers face on a yearly basis. Students have found new ways to avoid completing work but are undoubtedly casting their integrity into question and are missing out on bettering their educational experience.

  7. Olivia Bruns says:

    While I never knew it was called “contract cheating,” I knew there were people out there who would write your essay for you for a quick buck. Even I have considered having someone write my essay because there’s never enough time in a day. Essays can be one of the most challenging (besides tests) tasks to accomplish, especially for someone like myself who can’t string words together with proper grammar. So it’s not surprising that there are companies out there willing to take money to write you an essay.

    In the “The Conversation” article I found that it was surprising that those who were international students attending the University of South Australia and that English wasn’t their first language, were the ones who didn’t know the academic integrity processes, were the ones who were using these websites the most. So I wonder if that’s also true everywhere around the world. Are schools talking about contracting cheating and that it is still a form of cheating with their students, international or not?

    It’s a very interesting concept, it’s technically not plagiarism since you’re not duplicating someone else’s work. So how would you rate this on a scale from 1-10 of ethical standards? Obviously, it’s not the most ethical thing one can do, but at least someone isn’t just copying and pasting from someone else’s article online or stealing another student’s paper and calling it their own.

    For contract cheating, I personally do find it unethical, even though it is original work, it is not YOUR original work which is what your professor is expecting. Even if you think you can get away with it, you still shouldn’t do it. I agree with Madison’s comment about breaking the essay up in pieces, it makes the paper more bearable and doesn’t make an individual as pressured to write a paper.

  8. Holly Sampson says:

    Contract Cheating has been something that I’ve heard of in a small sense but I’ve never read into much detail about any of it. The main platform that I’ve seen it on has been Twitter. I’ve actually received private messages from sites saying that they have students who could “write my paper for me”. Which now I know is actually called “Contract Cheating”.

    It’s shocking to me that 31 million college students admitted to paying for third parties completing their college work and higher level of this group is international students. However, it does not surprise me that the college students expectations, or requested grade, was not met. Overall, this form of cheating truly isn’t worth it. Students are paying to receive below average grades, when they could most likely write the paper themselves and obtain a better grade. I wouldn’t consider Contract Cheating a form of “plagiarism” but I also understand why someone would be it is not the “students” own thoughts and work.

  9. Lexie Hetu says:

    Even though this article is quite insightful towards the reasoning behind collegiate contract cheating and how it can be presumably justified, it sounds extremely similar to the definitions of plagiarism. The repercussions of being caught plagiarizing can result in a failure from a class or even expulsion depending on the institution you attend, so what makes contract cheating any different?

    As an enrolled student you should be held accountable for the work you produce, but the lines become blurred when it is still technically original work, just not yours. The risk factor for even attempting to plagiarize should result in the same consequences as academic dishonesty regardless of the extent of the assignment.

    Contract cheating can be easily identified however, so if you’re late on an assignment and think paying a third party is your best bet, think again. The easiest identifiers of a compromised paper are weak informal writing, improper format, and random words in an attempt to make you sound smarter. Odds are if you think you can get away with it, think again.

  10. Savannah Vanwert says:

    The concept of “contract cheating” blows my mind. It’s amazing to me how widely this is used and that many people do not consider it cheating. I know several people who have utilized these websites that offer to write essays for money. These students were nervous about turning in a paper that they did not write themselves, but they didn’t see it as a form of plagiarism. However, plagiarism is the act of taking credit for someone else’s work which is exactly what contract cheating is.

    In the NPR article someone mentioned that it didn’t really matter if students turned in essays in college but essays won’t benefit their career. I disagree. Learning to write in a proficient manner helps with other forms of communication which will be beneficial in most careers.

    I think it’s smart that people are creating new technology with the ability to detect contract cheating. Cheating is a form of dishonestly and should never be used in school or become a habit in life. It’s unethical that students are taking credit for work that did not do themselves. School is stressful, but that doesn’t give people the right to cheat.

  11. Tucker Vermillion says:

    I think this topic is very interesting. As college students, we face MANY challenges in life. We’re thrown into an adult world where we must make our own decisions without assistance and for the first time we must reap our consequences without the assistance of others. This is to say that to a student, you go out, get wasted, and the next day you wake up hungover. Your paper is due the next day but you can’t even bare to glare at a computer screen without throwing up. Do you not turn anything in and get a 0? Do you ask for an extension? Or do you pay someone to do your paper yourself?

    I find it intriguing because the definition of cheating is “act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination” so in a way, you are cheating as you’re acting unfairly. Some might question this by saying they have the means to afford it so it isn’t unfair. On the plagiarism subject, when purchasing your essay, you’re practically paying for the rights of the essay, therefore making it yours.

    I think it’s interesting. We’ve all been tempted to do something like this, take the easy way out. It’s human nature to want things to be easy and if you have the means to do it, why not? I think it’s a good discussion for people to debate.

  12. Savanah Black says:

    While I have definitely heard about the websites and companies that will write essays for students, I never knew the official name. I actually had a coworker who told me about her use and experience with one of these websites. She told me how she payed $30 for her final essay to be written for her, and when she got it back it was in broken English and some was even in Chinese. She said she then went through the essay and fixed all the grammatical errors, ultimately taking the amount of time that it would have taken her to write the essay in the first place.

    Now knowing that contract cheating is becoming a very popular thing, I will definitely keep my eyes open for websites that offer these services (not for myself to use, just to learn more about them). I definitely think that these websites and services should be held accountable for their actions as they are offering to help college students cheat their way through school.

    At first I didn’t consider contract cheating to be plagiarism, but the more I read about it and thought about it, I changed my mind. Contract cheating is very similar to plagiarism in that you are taking someone’s work and using it as your own, even if you have that person’s permission.

  13. Simon Brady says:

    Prior to reading these pieces I wasn’t very familiar with contract cheating at all. So a few comments in this article were very jarring. Specifically, the unidentified student who tried to justify contract cheating by saying that it isn’t actually cheating because it’s original work.

    This is beyond laughable to me. Students who cheat should at least accept and acknowledge what it is they’re doing. No, you’re not copying work but you’re taking work that isn’t yours and trying to pass it off as your own. It’s cheating all the same. Hearing an excuse like that tells me that student will try to coast through life doing as little as possible in terms of work, and it’ll backfire on them in a big way.

    Second, I was shocked by the amount of advertising these contract cheating companies use on students in an offline setting. Utilizing flyers, ads, and banners to get their name out there seems appalling in this day in age for what they’re trying to sell. But, I must say its a pretty smart tactic for reeling kids in to contract cheating.

    At the end of the day I don’t believe anyone should be contract cheating. Not only is it unfair to students who take their academics seriously, but it builds a terrible habit moving forward that students will continue to use after college if they’re successful with it. A ‘well, if I can get away with cheating in school I can cheat anywhere’ mentality will set in.

    Having said that, I partially understand it from this standpoint. I attended a blue ribbon high school, one of the top academic public schools in Massachusetts. As I dreaded the requirements for essay structure in high school my parents and teachers always said ‘you complain now but you’ll be happy you had this when you’re in college.’ Sure enough, they were right. I have always felt like I had an advantage over most of my peers at UT for long essays because of the structural format that’s been embedded in me.

    So, for a student who doesn’t have that advantage, writing long essays is a scary, tedious, and time consuming process. So although contract cheating shouldn’t be accepted anywhere, I can understand when students who feel in over their head heading into a lengthy essay choose drastic measures as an alternative that feels necessary.

  14. Elisabeth Kip says:

    Before this article I never heard the term “contact cheating.” I was aware that students can pay people to write their essays for them but I never knew there was an actual term for it. What I really didn’t know was how popular contact cheating is. In The Conversation article, I found it interesting that international students at the University of Australia and students whose first language isn’t English are the ones who use these cheating services the most. In reality it does make sense but still it’s not right or an excuse to use them. This made me wonder do international schools not emphasize how wrong cheating and plagiarism is? Personally, having study abroad my professors did go over their cheating and plagiarism policy. However, not once did I ever submit my work into systems like Turnitin. So it made me question are systems like Turnitin not used internationally? And is cheating and plagiarism not a huge issue?

    Overall, I think contact cheating is wrong and unethical. But I can see how people claim it as a gray area. One can argue it’s not cheating because they are not copying another work. But in the end the person who handed in the assignment did not do it, so to me that is cheating. I think it will be interesting to see how universities will handle contact cheating especially if it continues to grow in popularity. I find it comforting that Turnitin is updating their software and will now have a program called authorship investigate. It will be interesting to see if this new software will put an end to contact cheating or will it just motivate students to find other ways to cheat and plagiarize.

  15. Sabel Bezet says:

    I, for one, have always looked at cheating as a very black and white topic. Whatever is not original work that is done by the actual student that is turning it in, is cheating. It is a false representation of the abilities, knowledge and skills of the actual student.

    I disagree with Tovia Smith from the NPR story mentioned above that just because a transaction is involved, it doesn’t constitute as cheating. This is, what I would call, luxury cheating. Haha. In actuality, how is this paid-for work any more or less ‘original work’ than the work that is red flagged by turnitin.com? The answer is, it’s not.

    It comes to no surprise that honor codes at certain institutions directly correlate with its cheating rates among students. In this article linked, it is said that an honor code can foster a feeling of community. I’m a firm believer that a school attracts students who are like minded in fundamental values such as honor codes. If students are the ones making the rules and enforcing the rules, they are much more likely to adhere to the rules. It creates an environment of collaboration, not domination.

  16. Jessica Sivillo says:

    Before reading this article and talking about the topic briefly in class, I had never heard of the term “contract cheating.” Although I knew about students paying other classmates or website services to do their work, I did not realize how big of a problem this has become. I find it interesting that some students who practice contract cheating do not believe it is plagiarism. Yet, I have to acknowledge that I have been very educated and informed about all types of plagiarism since high school. While I think the University of Tampa does an exceptional job defining plagiarism policies, other universities may not.

    In The Conversation article, I found it fascinating that many international students turn to contract cheating. As I thought about possible explanations for this, I realized how difficult it might be for some international students to complete assignments based on a language barrier. While this should never be an excuse to cheat, I think this raises an important conversation for educators and how they would accommodate and teach students who do not speak English as their primary language.

    I also liked how The Conversation included how educators can modify and adapt assignments in light of this contract cheating culture. Based on my own student experience, I could understand why some would pay for someone else to do their work. Does this mean I personally would do this? Absolutely not. However, it is too often that professors assign work that is typically looked at as “busy work.” Maybe students would feel more engaged and encouraged to complete assignments that relate to the real world, like the NPR article mentioned. Either way, I hope this becomes a prevalent conversation in the education system in order to fix the problem before students find yet another way to promote cheating.

  17. Nicole Roberts says:

    Before todays class I was unaware of the correct meaning of “contract cheating”. Yes, I knew it was unethical and frowned upon but I wasn’t sure how or why contract cheating would be labeled as anything else other then cheating. Now knowing the correct meaning, I can see why the topic is controversial.
    Growing up watching television there were and still are, many companies that advertise, “helping” college students with their work by paying to have an assignment written for them. In those commercials or pop-up ads on social media, it is portrayed how simple and user friendly it is to sign up and pay in exchange for a good grade. It is seen how positive and handy something like “contract cheating” could be for college students. Besides these companies, most students turn to a liable source such as a classmate and/or friend that they can easily access and have more trust in.
    When it comes to an assignment being given to students it is to test and see that students knowledge and understanding of the topic. Contract cheating takes away from the purpose of the assignment, similar to a student cheating on a test that is supposed to assess their knowledge. Contract cheating isn’t something I can see being fixed or stopped as it is nearly impossible to surveil.

  18. Tatiana Munoz says:

    We are all guilty of cheating at least once for something in school whether it was in elementary school or high school. But the fact of the matter is that cheating is never okay. It comes off as lazy and as though you are not appreciating the work put into the piece or person you are cheating off of.
    To think cheating is okay, or paying people to do your work for you just means you are not ready for the real world. You will not get by in your place of work by copying others’ work on your assignments given to you by your boss. So to implement things like Turnitin into colleges is a great way to push people back on track to produce their own content and do their own research so that in the long run they begin to do work for themselves.
    While the argument that paying someone to do original work “isn’t cheating”, can seem valid considering it is not copied and pasted from someone else’s work. It’s still ethically incorrect considering you spent no time on it, and you are deeming someone else’s work yours, a.k.a. cheating. Another issue with this “contract cheating” is stated on p.org, that the student gains no knowledge of the assignment which translates when having to take tests or having to explain to your teacher what you wrote yet you have no idea because you didn’t even write it. That can ultimately lead to failure, which is no good for the single person involved, you and you only.
    Fortunately, there will continue to be programs that catch people who are falsely claiming writing as theirs. And hopefully, students learn to treat their assignments as something important enough to do themselves.

  19. Annalisa Valdivia says:

    Honestly, to each their own. I don’t understand why so many people think cheating is so immoral when it comes to HW assignments such as an essay. Personally, I’ve never paid someone to write an essay for me nor have I accepted money for writing someone else’s. I think it’s situational, not so “black and white” like many professors believe. I’m sure as college students, especially at UT, we have all experienced overwhelming workloads where it seemed almost impossible to get it done in time. I know that I have more than a few times. It’s important to remember that everyone learns differently and expresses their knowledge differently. Writing 10 essays in one week might seem like a piece of cake to one person but to another they would rather have a test everyday that week. Another thing that is important to remember is that you never know what someone is going through. There can be people who fully understand the prompt and just simply don’t have the time to write another 4-page paper on the significance of a painting from 200 years ago. You also have students who could be suffering from mental illnesses and just need a break. Why can’t someone help them out?
    I’ll never understand why people care so much when it’s really only doing a disservice to the person paying for the assistance. They aren’t utilizing the resources given to them nor are they taking advantage of the opportunities they have. If they want to pay their way through, then so be it. It shows in the person they are and the values that they hold. People are going to cheat. There is absolutely no way to stop them. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  20. Marina Roman says:

    This is my first time hearing the word “contract cheating”. I was aware of this practice but very unaware of how often it occurs in college students everyday lives. I believe this all stems from the parenting the student received. If they were taught to be independent and constantly motivated from the beginning, they wouldn’t be as lazy and needing to pay someone to write work for them. It really is a time management and laziness thing here. Professors usually give work each semester that they’ve given the semester prior. Meaning, that it’s realistic and students are very capable of completing it. So, when it comes to those students using contract cheating on an assignment, it is just their lack of motivation that it stems from in this case. On the other side of this, there are those students who are excelling in the class, fully motivated, understanding every topic and simply are just overloaded and don’t have the time to complete this assignment. In this case, I don’t believe it is a punishable offense. I think it should ultimately be on the student. The students take a risk from the start when they leave their assignment in someone else’s hands. At that point, it’s on them. You can do anything to stop contract cheating, but it just simply won’t happen. people will always find their way around it.

  21. Kathryn Schellenberg says:

    Cheating in college is something that I feel as if we can all relate to. Growing up in a digital society cheating has been portrayed in more movies and TV shows than I can count. In my first semester at UT I witnessed it first-hand. I was shocked to see it happen, then it happened again and all throughout the semester. I don’t agree with it and I don’t think it’s okay, but I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. At the end of the day I believe I put into college is what I’m going to get out of it. Paying someone to write my papers isn’t going to be beneficial to me when I join the workforce and have no idea how to write. On one had though it does give the person contracted to write the papers a chance to refine their skills and make money. But at the end of the day cheating is cheating regardless if it’s original work or not.

  22. michaela damore says:

    I feel that while cheating is wrong, many students feel they have no other choice. If they cannot understand the material or even if they simply run out of time to do the assignment, something is pushing them toward the end result of cheating. With the topic of contract cheating, I feel both parties are at fault. The person being paid to write the work is as much at fault as the person paying for the work. As I mentioned before, there is always some underlying reason that a person turns to cheating. Perhaps the writer needs money for school, or for maybe even to take care of a family member. While I believe cheating wrong, I also believe that people could justify it to themselves.

  23. Maksat Berdy says:

    I think that contract cheating is most certainly a form of cheating. The reason I think this is because the writing of papers as an assignment is meant to be there so that in writing a paper you are able to critically think and analyze whatever situation is at hand. In the case of having someone else publish your paper for you there is a form of cheating the system involved which I believe is constituted overall as cheating. Although it is true that it is also considered a service I believe this is not a service that is ethical.

  24. Daphne says:

    This blog post is very eye opening. As a student I did not know such a big percentage of students did this. It is always a topic for discussion among the students, as the semesters go by and the pressure and academic load gets heavier and more complicated, it becomes an option many people consider. Nevertheless, I believe this option shouldn’t be up for consideration. As the girl in the NPR news story said, she doesn’t classify it as plagiarism since it is original work, but she still gave it in as her work when it clearly wasn’t. The professor was led to believe the student had read the given material, done their research using tools learned in classes and had written an original paper, based on her newly acquired knowledge. When a student gives in a piece of work that is not theirs, and made by someone that wasn’t in that class or is not even part of that major, or the university, the professor might be misled thinking their teaching skills are wrong or are not working properly, because the student might not be following certain instructions given in class or showing concepts she might have learned only in class. Schools all over are trying very hard to stop this issue happening, but cheating has been something happening everywhere since the beginning of institutionalized schooling, and therefore might be hard to find a way to stop it. If students are anything, they are ingenious, and will find a way to do it.

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