The sheer number of different sources that students can use for contract cheating always amazes me. One of my Imperial College London undergraduate students, Rahul Gupta, asked if he could work with me on a study about contract cheating using Reddit. We were able to get internal funding, collected data and Rahul joined me to present the results at the European Conference on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism 2021.
Reddit is an interesting site to look into, as essentially it’s the host of a lot of online communities, primarily text-based, often highly active and often accessed anonymously. It is perhaps unsurprising that we found examples of students asking for homework assistance, both with money exchanged and for free.
You can see the slides we used below (and also on my SlideShare account).
The sheer number of requests many of the subreddits (individual forums) generate is outstanding. We focused on one such subreddit which is generating over 50,000 posts per year. Not all posts are homework, since these posts also includes replies and discussion, but the high volume of posts also has a viral effect, generating more content to be indexed by Google and therefore driving more traffic from students who are looking for help and support.
Rahul and I hope to present this more formally through other academic channels, but we do encourage other educators to explore Reddit and see the range of questions and cheating opportunities that are out there. Rahul highlighted the wide range of Maths solutions available and a growth in activity during the Covid-19 period (echoing findings from a study I completed with Codrin Cotarlan).
The use of an anonymous service like Reddit is not risk free for anyone involved. Rahul highlighted examples of students being scammed and at risk of blackmail, even if they only posted and did not pay anyone, but he also showed that assignments providers were equally at risk, with students using various tricks to get them to complete work for free.
Perhaps most importantly, Rahul talked about being able to identify some of the students and how he had reported them to their universities. He said he had mostly had receptive responses at the news from UK and European universities, but had had less success communicating with universities in the United States. The message to communicate is that contract cheating is not a good option. Other students do care about academic integrity.
My friend and colleague, the late Robert Clarke, spent many years of his life tracking down contract cheating cases and I know that he would be impressed and proud of the work that Rahul and other student academic integrity advocates are doing.