Student cheating is now a multi-billion dollar business
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In the blue corner: Pearson, a shrunken ex-conglomerate, former owner of the Financial Times, a textbook publisher hated by many teachers, now led by former Walt Disney manager Andy Bird.
In the red corner: Chegg, a shiny “Edtech” newcomer based in Silicon Valley, led by the well-connected former Yahoo manager Dan Rosensweig.
Chegg started out as a textbook rental company before switching to online subscriptions, much like Netflix went from DVDs to streaming. And like Netflix, investors have been delighted with the rapid growth and recurring income. In contrast, Pearson, who relied on profits from its old textbook publishing business, has been slow to digitize. Last year, teenage Chegg surpassed 177-year-old Pearson’s market value.
This month the British classic car sued its Californian rival. Pearson’s legal claim is that Chegg infringes copyright law by selling answers to questions found in the publisher’s textbooks.
Companies struggling to innovate often turn to the courts to limp harder challengers. But whatever its merits, the Pearson lawsuit underscores an unpleasant fact about Chegg: it helps high school students cheat.
Equipped with Chegg’s answers to standard questions in heavyweight Pearson volumes, students can do homework without having to study. Instead of completely absorbing their anatomy courses, medical students only need to master the CTRL-C and CTRL-V functions of their keyboards.
Chegg notes that most of his answers show how they work to help students understand, not just repeat them. She also argues that this method of learning is particularly useful for students from poorer backgrounds who may be juggling jobs and childcare and who do not have access to tutors.
But it was the pandemic, the Cheggs business that is now 6.6 million in addition to its bank of textbook answers, Chegg enables students to submit original questions and have them answered by an expert “in just 30 minutes”.
In an article published in February, Thomas Lancaster, Senior Teaching Fellow in Computing at Imperial College London, found that the number of questions submitted to Chegg in five subjects increased 196 percent between April and August 2019 and a year later over the same period coincided with the pandemic-related online shift. He attributes the increase to its use in exams that take place remotely.
Chegg denies this, noting that it simply boomed along with many other digital companies as activities shifted to the internet. It is also said to work with educational institutions to investigate possible wrongdoing.
To prevent fraud, the group launched a service called Honor Shield, which allows universities to ask Chegg exam questions. The company will then block answers to those specific questions. However, some academics say they are unwilling to provide confidential testing material to an answer company.
Another obvious anti-cheating tool from Chegg is double-edged. The company enables students to upload their essays on “plagiarism detection”. The supposed goal is to prevent accidental fraud.
However, Lancaster points out, “If a student has access to this technology, they can use it to try not to be discovered.” [by making] what they give on the surface differently. “
What do we do now? This year there will likely be a temporary improvement as more exams are personally attended to. Chegg is also changing again: it adds more of its own teaching material and makes it less dependent on student cheating.
But most of the tools from Chegg and its competitors are still in use. This means a sad technological arms race between students and colleges with a boom in new services that monitor exam takers via webcam and artificial intelligence solutions to stamp out plagiarism.
Most of the wrongdoing will go undetected, however. As Lancaster says, “If a student cheats well and chooses someone who knows what they’re doing and gets good answers back, nothing looks wrong.”