The Honor Committee in the Age of Google

cheatingimageThe challenges of the honor committee are more varied these days than they were during its 1893 founding. In an era when winning college application essays can be cranked out at $20 a pop, the web zones of cheating are becoming more nuanced. After the development of online book summaries and analyses, most literature professors trained themselves in the art of discerning forged reading. They can, while discussing The Tempest, glean from the kid who says (with an affected Maine accent), “Chess is an important symbol and Prospero still seems to see his daughter as a mere pawn in his game,” that the student is a connoisseur of and enjoys regurgitating the “Themes, Motifs & Symbols” page. The latest site on the scene, Course Hero, is expanding in popularity and is sure to be another hurdle for professors and the cheating police.

An academic network that allows students to upload materials from classes, Course Hero’s mission states that it,

“…believes that students are an underutilized asset today in driving deeper course-related understanding of all other students. As a complement to an educator’s current teachings, students are well positioned to help explain concepts and share knowledge with each other in an unparalleled and highly personalized manner. Course Hero is committed to fostering an open platform that facilitates highly effective and clear education dialog among students, professors and self-learners.”

While this discourse seems like that of an innocuous online study group, it hasn’t taken long for Course Hero to degenerate into a series of illegitimate submission. Users select the college they attend and a specific course within that school to obtain materials submitted by other students. A quick search of Princeton’s Course Hero page reveals that hundreds of documents have been uploaded. For some classes, these documents are inconsequential materials like lecture notes or slides, which professors often post to blackboard themselves.

The problem arises with courses like ECO101, where students are assigned weekly problem sets with answers posted after the due date. Course Hero currently contains solutions to the nine ECO101 problem sets from the fall of 2007. Though Professor Bogan probably does not use exact replicas of the problem sets each year, the explanation of solutions for each week are usually such that they can be applied to various problems with similar concepts. The numbers may change, but the graphs and reasoning remain the same. (Note to Professor Bogan: If you find troubling the fact that these solutions are available, you can go through what I’m sure is an absurdly laborious process to have these submissions taken down. So far, a “handful” of professors have been successful).

Resources such as this may prove to be either another logistical hassle for professors to work against or a useful collaborative tool. The widespread availability of the materials has led some professors to beat students to the punch by uploading course materials themselves. This could make professors categorically opposed to reprinting old material, perhaps refreshing their engagement with and enthusiasm for the material they teach.