According to experts, more than 30 per cent of work by university students in some disciplines isn't the work of the students. As coursework becomes more important for grades at GCSE, A-level and university, the amount of cyber cheating is increasing.
How It WorksThere are two types of cheating. One involves buying pre-written papers, usually from an Internet site. The purchaser pays the site, picking a paper from a list, and once payment has been received it's sent to them via e-mail to customise and use.
The more insidious kind is contract cheating. With this papers are written to order, sometimes even in the style of the student. Simply type appropriate key words into a search engine and you'll find sites. Many offer help with software and web design, but a little searching will reveal the hidden depths where cyber cheating happens. There are large reservoirs of foreign, English-speaking students from Eastern Europe and Asia ready to bid on these assignments. Although they're often university graduates, the amount they can make for writing these papers - often less than £20 - is far more than they can make in a day at home, if they can even find work.
How To Detect The ScamWith pre-written papers, detection can be quite easy. The paper itself might not conform to the essay question being asked, for example. And there are lists of sites offering pre-written papers, as well as the papers they offer, making them fairly easy to spot.
Contract cheating is much harder to detect. The papers are written to order, so they fully address the question. All too often the English used is of a very high standard. Given that those marking often don't know the students, it's hard for examiners to detect that the work isn't that of a particular student. Also, there's anonymity on the site (user names are adopted), so tracing each transaction becomes harder. In short, unless the examiner knows the student, the chances of being detected are virtually nil (assuming the student checks the paper for errors). Many of these papers can be bought very cheaply. The recommended prices, in U.S. dollars, are $5,000 for large projects, $500 for medium ones, and $100 for most papers. The writers, called "coders," will bid for each project, often offering to undercut each other, in some cases going down to $20 (about £11).
Beating The ScamThere are a number of proposals that might stop the effectiveness of cyber cheating. Lists of pre-written papers will end that plagiarism. For contract cheating there are several ideas.
Oral exams to check the depth of knowledge would offer one way. Another would be to have papers marked by teachers who know the students and can assess whether they could have written their papers.
The other alternative, although not likely to happen, is to make courses exam-based, although inevitably course work would have to be a part of the final grade.
The simple fact is that the Internet has increased the opportunity for students to cheat with relative impunity - and at a low price. In the long-term that's going to affect the level of education; it's no longer necessary to work hard when an essay can be purchased simply and easily online. Eliminating that, and changing the mindset of students, is something that can't be accomplished easily.