It’s a no-no, from elementary school to the ivory tower. But that doesn’t stop students at college and university from trying to pull fast ones to get better grades. Maryam Shah and Kelly Pedro run the 101 on campus cheats.
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You can’t make this stuff up . . .
- Students who disguise someone else in a niqab to write their exams for them.
- Students willing to pay $1,000 for people to take their finals.
- Students who claim they actually wrote that essay on SARS, but can’t say what the acronym stands for when asked.
The University of Toronto, Canada’s largest school, publishes online decisions from trials by a special tribunal about student cheating and plagiarism, though the offenders aren’t outed by name. When some cheaters scam their way into an A grade, they tend to go to bizarre extremes.
They also tend to get caught.
NUMBERS DON’T LIE
In one case, a female student was recommended for expulsion for having an impersonator don a niqab, or Muslim veil, and take her mid-term and final exams. The red flags were raised when the exams were found to be the only good grades she received in a chemistry course she was otherwise failing. It didn’t take long for the professor, who declined comment, to put two and two together.
LOVE HURTS (YOUR GPA)
A man who manipulated two girlfriends into attending his classes and writing his essays found out the hard way that’s not so smart. A tribunal called it a case of “the truth is stranger than fiction.” The two women were his undoing, testifying against him. It turns out the man didn’t know what SARS is, despite insisting he wrote an essay worth 25% of his grade on the topic. One woman said she wrote another essay for him that scored 60%. He complained to her she “ ‘had not done very well.’ ” In all, he faced more than 80 charges for offences in nine classes over two years. It was recommended he be booted from school.
FUTURE MANAGER, EH?
A management and life sciences student at U of T was caught sending falsified resumes and transcripts to potential employers by a school graduate who alerted the school to her suspicions. After claiming his e-mails were hacked, and the cellphone number on the application wasn’t his, the student admitted guilt. He’d already collected enough credits for a degree by the time a tribunal hearing was held, which ended with a five-year suspension. An appeals board instead recommended he be expelled.
THE LONDON LOWDOWN
Unlike the U of T, Western University keeps its academic offences under wraps. Fanshawe College, on the other hand, makes offences there available to anyone who asks, but it doesn’t post them online.
One lesson to draw?
If you’re a Fanshawe student tempted to cheat, here’s a tip: Don’t do it using Facebook. Fanshawe busted 54 students for cheating one year, after they shared information on the social media site.
You’d think advanced education students would know better, but many instructors are required to warn students — in case they don’t know — that cheating and plagiarism are academic offences.
Only fractional numbers of students are caught cheating. For example, only 2.7% of Fanshawe’s more than 40,000 full- and part-time students are nabbed. But students at many campuses are becoming savvier at conning their way into A grades.
Cathie Auger, Fanshawe’s vice president of student services, says three major factors are increasing the number of cheaters: “The use of the Internet, which allows easy access to the work of others . . . social media, sharing amongst students and collaborative group work where it’s sometimes difficult to identify individual students’ contribution to that work,” she said.
Many schools now routinely use software filters to detect essay cheats. Fanshawe, for example, uses a common program, TurnItIn.com, to root out frauds. The college has also developed an online academic integrity course that staff can use in courses and some cheaters must take to brush up on their academic honesty. “I think it will make a difference,” said Auger.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
The technology to cheat may be light years ahead, but the offences often boil down to what the parents of today’s college and university kids will remember from classmates craning their heads to peek at someone else’s paper. At Fanshawe, for example, of 386 documented cases of cheating in 2011-2012, half dealt with plagiarism and copying another’s work, according to a report to the school’s board of governors.