Home > Uncategorized > The Online Cheating Arms Race

The Online Cheating Arms Race

A colleague recently found this gem: http://www.wetakeyourclass.com/

As far as I can tell, this is real. It was not made by The Onion.  There are all kinds of ways to cheat in classes–face to face ones as well as online.  But online takes this to new levels. I remember the first time I explored Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s site that lets you pay humans to do small tasks. Most of the tasks I could find were for a few cents.  But one stood out: it was $3. I clicked on it. It asked you to write a five paragraph essay: The first paragraph is the introduction, then three paragraphs with supporting facts, and a one paragraph conclusion. Each paragraph should have five sentences: an introduction, three supporting facts, and a conclusion. Is this sounding familiar to anyone? Some intrepid middle school student was trying hire someone to write their essay!  It starts young.

Here’s a simpler approach for how to cheat in free online classes: you can simply register for the class more than once. Get to see the test in account one, and take it for real on account two.  OK, so we can counter that in a few ways. We could check to see if two people are coming from the same computer. OK, then the cheater could just use two different computers or a proxy server. We could rotate the questions. But teams of students in developing countries already game the GRE and other admissions exams by creating large databanks of actual questions to study. If each student memorizes just one question, a complete databank can be built up in short order.  Here’s another challenge: When a test is given, how do we know that the person sitting to take it is really the student? Well, what if we invest in some kind of biometric–check your fingerprint before you take the test?  So then we might know the person is really there but how do we know a friend isn’t dictating over their shoulder?

Here’s my conjecture: For any given cheating technique, we can come up with a deterrent. And then the intrepid cheaters will come up with a new technique. It’s an arms race that will never end.

Does this all matter? It already matters a great deal for the integrity of high-stakes college and graduate admissions tests. For casual online courses that are for enrichment, it matters little. But as we use online classes for more important roles in accredited programs or sell the names of top students in those classes to head hunters, the arms race is going to matter more and drain resources.  Is Academic Integrity Engineer the new hot job description?


I have heard one report that wetakeyourclass is a scam–they steal your money! Or is it parody? Either way, it’s thought provoking.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 15, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    A few points: 1) If the purpose of a MOOC is to teach, and the goal for a student is to learn, the right thing happens automatically. In this case the MOOC is just another form of knowledge delivery like a book or a video that you read/watch because you want to; 2) Problems start when the student joins to acquire a credential (vs learn); 3) Registration fees will change a lot.

  2. September 15, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Fascinating stuff! At UMD as an undergrad, they checked student IDs before exams, probably to control for this type of cheating. Of course, that wouldn’t work as well for online classes… or would it?

    But, eventually everything can be gamed. I think that once again this points to the reason for portfolio-based evaluation. As an employer (hey, I might actually get to help make those decisions now!), I would never hire somebody based on GPA or because they took the right classes. Rather, I would ask them to talk about and show examples of work that exemplify their knowledge of a topic. Can’t game that very easily!

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