Georgia Tech warns physics students who cheated: Admit it or risk failing

Colleges struggle to keep students honest after classes and exams went online due to pandemic

The Georgia Tech campus is buzzing about the allegation that students in physics classes posted questions from their final exams to the online tutoring service Chegg where tutors provided answers.

“We are aware of the situation and are, of course, disappointed that students were involved with cheating through a digital homework site,” said Renee Kopkowski , Tech’s vice president of institute communications Thursday evening. “We are addressing it in conjunction with the Office of Student Integrity. At this point, we have offered students a chance to come forward admitting their misconduct on this exam, and we are working to determine if others are involved.”

A Tech spokesman said Monday Tech was looking at possible cheating in two widely subscribed physics classes that had several sections. All told, he said about 1,000 students took exams in the implicated classes, although there is no figure yet on how many test-takers may have cheated.

In a letter from Tech, physics students were told: “It has come to our attention that a small fraction of students cheated by using solutions posted on Chegg. We take the honor code seriously here at Georgia Tech where we aim to develop not only the next generation of scholars and engineers, but future leaders of good character. We are incredibly disappointed; and at the same time we are trying not to become too cynical.”

The letter says the College of Science and Georgia Tech Legal are working with Chegg to figure out which Tech students accessed the tutoring site during the two-hour and 50-minute final exam, for which there was a 24-hour completion window, and cross-correlating it with the time students were on the test platform, Gradescope. If the times overlap, students could end up with an F.

In its honor code, Chegg states, "We will cooperate with any official investigation by an academic instruction." I reached out to the company about the Tech case.

“Chegg strongly supports academic integrity and partners with every institution that approaches us as part of their official investigations into these matters. Unfortunately, we cannot comment on any specific investigation,” said spokesman Marc Boxser when asked about the Tech allegations Thursday.

A day later, Boxser said said there was no active investigation underway with Tech, but ,“This, of course, does not preclude Georgia Tech reaching out to us in the future.”

According to the International Center for Academic Integrity,  68% of 71,300 undergraduates surveyed admitted to cheating on a test. When classes and tests abruptly went off-campus and online in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, many people predicted cheating rates would rise even higher.

Writing in Forbes, education techology journalist Derek Newton warned the migration of thousands of classes to a virtual format would test academia's ability to keep students honest. "Online, no one is looking over your shoulder. No one is there to see what you're doing or how you're doing it. And so, Pandora's Box is open. The chat rooms and Reddit threads are already overloaded with students sharing their cheating plans and hacks. It's open season," he wrote.

Georgia Tech is not the only school where this may be happening. Boston University is also in the midst this week of tracking whether students used Chegg on science quizzes.

According to today's Boston University Daily Free Press newspaper:

Boston University professors in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Physics professors are working with Chegg, an online student services platform where users can rent textbooks and get tutoring help, to crack down on students using the site to cheat on quizzes after evidence surfaced last week.

General Chemistry 2 students who contact their professor and admit to cheating will have their semester grade marked down by one letter grade. Students who do not admit to cheating, but are discovered to have cheated, will receive an F in the course, according to an email sent to chemistry students.

Binyomin Abrams, one of three professors teaching General Chemistry 2 this semester, wrote in an email to The Daily Free Press that students were able to use notes and the textbook to complete quizzes remotely, but were prohibited from using other extraneous resources.

Abrams wrote that despite this rule, students were found to be using a specific Chegg feature to obtain answers to quiz questions. "They used the Chegg Tutors feature," he wrote. "It seems that this is designed for students to pose questions that a 'tutor' from Chegg then answers. They uploaded the questions from the exams — the PDF."

Not everyone is critical of students for cheating during what is admittedly a stressful time. In response to the Boston University story, a reader said:

In light of recent global events, it does not appear that members of the Chemistry department are being very understanding. They are making students in different time zones wake up at 8am EST for exams, even if that is 2am for them. Also, for cheating penalty measures, they are reducing one's grade by a letter grade on top of getting a 0% for the exam (which often is 20-30% of the final grade) –- tantamount to failing the student.

Other departments are simply giving a 0% for the test upon which the student cheated, which is reasonable. The department should really look at this as a symptom to a much larger issue, and see how they can be more accommodating for students during a global pandemic rather than threaten to track "cheaters" down via their IP address, Chegg payment info, etc. and fail them.

A college student, writing in The New York Times, noted: "Based on conversations I've had with and heard among classmates, I think it is fair to assume the vast majority of students will take advantage of the resources now available to them (i.e., notes, friends, the internet) in order to succeed. This will result in a much higher average performance than an in-person exam would, putting anyone who does not cheat at a disadvantage."

Your thoughts?