Eagles Mobilize to Discourage Use of Crowdsourced Study Websites for Cheating
In an effort to combat plagiarism and maintain the academic rigor and integrity of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s course offerings, a team of Eagles has developed software that identifies and helps remove content that encourages cheating from the “study aid” website known as Course Hero.
“We wanted to catch the possibility of cheating before it actually happens,” said Kelly George, assistant professor of Aeronautics.
Course Hero, which advertises 25 million course-specific study materials from 11,000 institutions, is crowdsourced, its content primarily uploaded by students. Some of its users pay a subscription fee, while others upload materials, such as completed final exams, in order to download others.
Sharing coursework on CouseHero.com isn't always used for cheating, so long as downloaded coursework isn't inappropriately used — like submitting it as one's own work, or referencing without proper citation. However, Embry-Riddle students pledge not to participate on websites like Course Hero, Chegg, Quizlet and study.com.
“They acknowledge as part of their student code of conduct that they will not participate in these spaces,” said Zachary Dixon, assistant professor of Humanities and Communication.
Unfortunately, Dixon said the distinction between cheating and sharing ideas is left unclear.
“These sites represent such a gray area, with very little oversight,” he said.
Zachary Dixon, left, assistant professor of Humanities and Communication, has teamed up with Kelly George, assistant professor of Aeronautics, and a team of Eagle students to combat cheating. (Photos: Embry-Riddle/Daryl Labello)
George and Dixon began their project using Google Alerts to try to capture Embry-Riddle materials that had been uploaded onto Course Hero, but that method caught only a fraction of what had been posted. Since then, they have recruited a student team of software developers, who have created a crawler bot they call Course Villain. Course Villain searches Course Hero’s data behind the scenes, looking for data specific to Embry-Riddle.
As of March 1, Course Villain had identified nearly 169,000 Embry-Riddle documents on Course Hero.
“Students are definitely uploading things that Embry-Riddle would prefer not to have uploaded,” said George.
According to a study the team is publishing about their project, which looked at eight of the university’s courses, 50 percent of the activities making up the coursework of those classes has been compromised, meaning that the documents from the classes found on Course Hero included homework, discussion questions and problem sets, as well even more “high-value” assignments, such as completed papers, case studies, quizzes and tests.
The research demonstrates that monitoring the uploading of academic materials to crowdsourced platforms is possible. Meanwhile, the project organizers’ goal is not only to track down materials that could jeopardize a course’s academic integrity, but also to automate submittals of content-removal requests from Course Villain to Course Hero on the grounds of copyright infringement.
“If Embry-Riddle knows of violations and keeps sending takedown requests, eventually Course Hero will stop taking Embry-Riddle content,” said Dixon.
Tyler Carr, a sophomore in Computer Science, said he has worked on the Course Villain software to improve the results of crawling the Course Hero website, as well as polishing the automatic copyright infringement form “to be as seamless as possible.”
“Dr. George and Dr. Dixon had a unique idea for a different approach to reducing plagiarism, and I wanted to be a part of their mission,” Carr said. “I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to gain some experience working on a project for the university.”
Dixon says the student researchers are excited about taking on a huge entity like Course Hero.“They love the challenge of the David and Goliath moment,” he said.