Saturday, July 12, 2008

Academic cheats get more creative

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.

Saif_Ullah: Contact me for your programming problems and assignments in all major languages (Java, JSP, J2EE, C, C++, C#, ASP, ASP.NET, HTML, JavaScript, XML, XSLT)

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?



Joat said...

Have you worked with newly graduated engineers? Some are very good but the degree doesn't guarantee competence only that they got acceptable grades in the classes. I've done design work that a mechanical engineer with a masters degree couldn't do, and I've got a the patent in my name for the design. I don't have an engineering degree and all the formal education I have after high school is few quarters of college and a 2 year tech degree in a different field. Is there anything I could learn in an engineering program? Yes, will going to school prove I could do the work? No, my work record proves I can do the work but without the degree I can't get a job as an engineer.

mostly cajun said...

Some of these "students" will be entering the workforce carrying the degrees they got with scams like this. The sad thing is that they will carry with them a work ethic that lets them get a degree this way. I just as well get me a prayer rug and go find a mosque...

Bondu said...

Peoples are getting four year degrees and graduate degrees the same way. Not so bad for woman's study graduate, but for engineering or medical school is scary!

dave said...

Not to defend them in any way, but given the example they've seen from major corporations (outsource it to somebody cheaper), is it any wonder that they think it's the way to go?

(And, for the record, I have no opposition to outsourcing.)

Anonymous said...

I hope universities manage to figure out how to catch this sort of thing

It really shouldn't be that hard. The quality of code that I see coming out of India is horrible. I've been involved in a few projects that tried it and you're really not much better off trying to pawn the work onto some 8th grade freshmen with a modicum of interest in the topic.

It's got to be a cultural thing.

Here in America one of the "virtues" of a good programmer is that they're lazy. There's a quote by Larry Wall along those lines. It's true. A good programmer is a bit lazy. They look for an elegant solution that doesn't require a lot of work to solve the problem.

You end up with a better product when that happens.

India is different. There was a post by Kim du Toit some time ago talking about his experiences in India. He saw a woman sweeping an area with basically a hand whisk. It wasn't very efficient, but that's how she did it. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the job will go much faster, and be much easier, if you put a handle on that broom, but she didn't.

Based on my limited exposure Indian culture favors actions over results. It doesn't matter if what you're doing is wrong, you just need to do it, do it fast, and do a lot of it. Eventually you'll get the job done.

If students are actually able to off-shore their classwork then the classwork isn't complicated enough.

Anonymous said...

Any competent CompSci professor should be able to catch the cheats. Simply ask the cheats to explain what some particular part of the code does. If they didn't write it, they won't be able to immediately and clearly tell what the code does. Instead, they'll hesitate and try to figure it out. Dead giveaway.

I had an instructor who would give us programming assignments in class, where we had to write code using pencil and paper. No way to cheat with that!

-- chicopanther