We've all been exposed to the old-fashioned methods of cheating at exams, I'm sure. "Crib notes" written inside the cuffs of shirt-sleeves, or the underside of the peaks of ball caps; bits of paper concealed in clothing; looking over the shoulder of the student in front of or next to you; they're all well-known. In recent years, the Internet has become a source for cheating with term papers as well, with many Web sites offering stored papers on just about any subject that students can download and turn in as their own work. This has become more difficult since schools and universities set up software to track such papers and identify those using them.
Now there's a new twist.
Computer Science students are farming out their coursework to cheap programmers in countries like India and university staff admit they are powerless to detect and prevent it.
Internet sites such as RentACoder and Kasamba provide an international marketplace connecting businesses in need of computer programming help with low-cost coders around the world.
But dishonest students have already seized on the outsourcing trend to avoid doing homework.
Typically, assignments are put out to tender on the internet sites and coders bid to complete them.
Students can pay anywhere from under $100 to several hundred dollars, depending on the amount of work required.
. . .
Lecturers contacted by Fairfax Media agreed unanimously that outsourcing coursework was a significant and growing problem but because of the difficulties in detecting it, it's impossible to tell exactly how widespread the practice is.
A 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University of Central England in Birmingham found over 12 per cent of postings on a popular rent-a-coder site were bid requests from dishonest students.
Intrigued, I took a look at some of the Web sites concerned. Rentacoder entices buyers: "Need custom software? Receive bids from our pool of 218,864 registered coders." It also invites programmers to sign up: "Earn cash with your high tech skills on 2,540 currently open bid requests. Then subscribe to our newsletter and receive daily bid requests from our 100,923 registered buyers."
Liveperson claims to have over 30,000 'experts' online, and wants more. I was staggered by the blatant offers from these 'experts' to basically do all the work for you. For example, in the Tutoring section of the LivePerson Web site, I found these advertisements:
Exsoft: Computer Engineer, Analyst/Design, Datastructure, Database. More 3 years experiance in programing: JAVA, C/C++, C# , VB.NET.You can ask me about any problem in these and more.
Pooja_k: Expert In C++ (Basics to Expert Level), Object Oriented Programming, Implmenting Stacks, Queue, Binary Tree. Simulation Programs.
Nor was this restricted to computer programming. For example:
ChemMaths: I can provide solution of any problem in mathematics, chemistry and physics either basic or rigorous.
Initiator: group of experts dealing in maths, statistics, biology, physics, chemistry and engineering. can solve any problem in Homework assistance.
Kayn: I provide answers to questions, advice on how to attempt questions, write assignments, do research and provide references.
The rates on offer seem extremely low - certainly well within the reach of many students. The fact that many programming needs or tasks are listed in the low hundreds of dollars suggests that most of them aren't commercial, but academic.
I hope universities manage to figure out how to catch this sort of thing - otherwise we'll never be able to trust our newly-graduated engineers and scientists, will we?