How to ace ECON 101

A Civic Project story: high-tech cheating at IUP (I)

“Rebecca Ross,” Davis Hall, Nov. 30, 2015. Photo by Samantha Bell.

“Rebecca Ross,” Davis Hall, Nov. 30, 2015. Photo by Samantha Bell.

By Samantha Bell and Katrina Bednar

INDIANA — ECON 101, a course offered at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, aims to teach students in various disciplines the basics of economics by looking at the performance of households, businesses, firms and government policies that affect the economy, according to an online course descriptor. However, one student said she will ace the course at the end of the fall 2015 semester without this basic knowledge.

During the fall 2015 semester, ECON 101 was offered online. Health-and-human-services major Rebecca Ross -– a pseudonym granted at her request for anonymity so her prospects for employment after graduation will not be limited by her admissions — said she successfully cheated her way through this course. David B. Yerger, an IUP professor with a doctorate in economics, taught the class.

Ross, 20, is a junior. ECON 101 is a course she is required to pass to successfully complete her major.

But the course got difficult during the third week of the 15-week semester. That compelled Ross to start cheating, she said.

“I cheated purely to pass the class,” said Ross in an Oct. 28 phone interview.

She did so with ease by patronizing Chegg, a publicly held online company based in Santa Clara, Calif. For $15 a month, the company’s software gives students access to an online database with questions from textbooks that are assigned in a given course. Answers to those questions are provided by students who have completed the class, Ross said.

Chegg’s marketing pitch: “Best kept secret of college success. Used by 1 million students and counting,” according to its website. “[M]akes higher education more affordable, more accessible, and more successful for students.”

The convenience of having answers at her fingertips, the pressure from her parents and her desire to maintain what she considers an acceptable GPA fueled her decision to cheat, Ross said in the Nov. 11 face-to-face interview in Davis Hall.

Ross said her professor did nothing to make cheating difficult.

“The professor could have made assignments more personal by having hand-written response questions, such as essays or short-answer questions,” said Ross.

Yerger responded to a Nov. 11 email request for comment.

“Thank you for your inquiry,” wrote Yerger. “But I am not interested in being interviewed.”


THE UNIVERSITY provides tools to detect violations of its academic integrity policy, which is spelled out in its annual Undergraduate Catalog. Nancy R. Evans, a technology and support analyst at IUP, said professors can use TurnItIn, an online software program that aims to prevent plagiarism. But IUP’s information technology center has few strategies to prevent cheating.

“There’s no magic pill,” said Evans in an Oct. 4 face-to-face interview at the campus information-technology center in Delaney Hall.

Theresa R. McDevitt, IUP’s government information and outreach librarian, knows the ins and outs of TurnItIn, the online system IUP adopted about 15 years ago.

“In my opinion, it cannot alleviate cheating,” said McDevitt in a Nov. 11 email interview. “It will detect when students have included content that appeared elsewhere in their papers (cutting and pasting text, for example) and a professor can address that. But there is a lot more to cheating than that.”

Professors and administrators in higher education are concerned about students cheating in online courses, according to recent reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

One service students are using to cheat is known as We Take Your Class. The marketing pitch: “We do it all. Tests, homework, discussions, projects, and more,” according to a September 2012 article in The Chronicle.” The online tool will offer a free quote and take the entire class for a student, according to the website.


IUP’s ONLINE learning system is called Distance Education. The website stresses the convenience of the course-management software for students but says nothing about academic integrity. Neither does We Take Your Class.

But recent studies of ethical behavior by U.S. college students report problems — that students lack basic understanding of academic integrity, that parents have de-emphasized personal integrity and encouraged material success, and that universities willfully ignore the problem for fear of damaging their brands.

Nationwide, more than two-thirds of undergraduates and nearly half of graduate students admit to cheating on tests or on written assignments, according to research by Donald L. McCabe, a retired Rutgers University business professor and a founder of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University.

Some universities have taken steps to address the problem. Arizona State University, the University of Florida, The University of Alabama, Texas A&M and other colleges and universities have partnered with ProctorU, a company that sells software to deter cheating, including cheating in online courses.

The software watches students taking online courses through a computer’s webcam. Humans monitor the webcams while students take exams. The monitors look for hand and eye movements that hint at cheating, according to an April 2013 article published in The Chronicle.

IUP does not use ProctorU software.


THE DISTANCE Education system at IUP follows the same academic integrity policy as the university as a whole. The policy doesn’t mention anything specific to online classes, according to Timothy P. Mack, dean of the Office of Extended Studies at IUP.

And cheating isn’t exclusive to online classes, said Mack.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Mack in an Oct. 21 interview in his office at the R&P Building on IUP’s campus. The absence of systems that deter cheating like ProctorU is the university’s way of trusting that students are honorable, said Mack.

At a recent meeting of the Online Learning Committee, a subcommittee of the Academic Computing Policy and Advisory Committee at IUP, use of proctoring systems for online classes was mentioned. But no decisions were made, said Dolores Brzycki, assistant dean of the Office of Extended Studies, in an Oct.21 interview in her office in the R&P Building.

With the growing number of students enrolled in online classes, professors and school administrators perceive an increase in the value of face-to-face instruction, according to a study published in 2014 by the Babson Survey Research Group at Babson College in Oakland, Calif.


IUP STUDENTS tend to agree, according to responses to a fall 2015 Qualtrics survey of 500 undergraduates. (See sidebar, below.)

When asked whether an online course is better or worse than a regular classroom version of the same course, 44 percent — a plurality — said the quality of the online course would be worse.

But when asked whether they had cheated in an online class, 60 percent of students said they had. When asked whether they had cheated in a regular classroom, 44 percent said they had.

Nearly two-thirds of students said they would be more inclined to register for an online course in which they heard that cheating and grading were easy.


ROSS SAID her cheating makes her question her character. But demands for achievement in college are strong, said Ross in the Nov. 11 interview. So she will cheat.

“If I can eliminate my parents being mad and prevent my GPA from falling, I’m going to,” Ross said.

Samantha Bell, a junior Journalism & Public relations major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Pittsburgh.

Katrina Bednar is a Journalism & Public relations major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.


Sidebar: Increasing online enrollment, decreasing perceived value

Results of a 2014 study by the Babson Survey Research Group found that students in higher education account for 33.5 percent of 7.1 million students enrolled in online courses in the United States.

“Using responses from more than 2,800 colleges and universities, this study is aimed at answering fundamental questions about the nature and extent of online education,” according to the report – “Grade Change – Tracking Online Education in the United States.”

Babson, which has been administering and analyzing such survey results since 2002, found that 90 percent of academic officials believe a majority of students in higher education will take at least one online course in the next five years.

Babson also gathered qualitative data on the perceived value of online education.

The percentage of university officials who said the academic quality of online courses is equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction declined to 74 percent in 2013 from 77 percent in 2012, according to the report. Data have been collected since 2003.

The results of the study show two trends. The first is an increase in the number of students enrolled in online courses. The second trend is an increase in university respondents who believe face-to-face instruction has superior learning outcomes than online courses have.

— by Samantha Bell and Katrina Bednar


Sidebar: Qualtrics survey, responses

On Nov. 27, a 10-question survey about cheating in online classes and online exams was emailed to 500 undergraduate students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The survey ended Dec. 9. The questionnaire was created in Qualtrics, an online program administered by the IUP Applied Research Lab.

A total of 25 students responded, a response rate of 5 percent. The margin of error in the survey results is plus or minus 4.3 percent. Not all respondents answered all 10 questions.

The survey questions and response data:

The following questions address cheating in online classes or online exams at IUP. Katrina Bednar and Samantha Bell, journalism students at IUP, are conducting the survey for IUP journalism professor David Loomis’ [ ] News Reporting class.

Aggregated responses collected from this survey may be published in the award-winning online newspaper The HawkEye. The identities of participants will be anonymous. However, if you would be willing to be interviewed by the reporters, leave your contact information, including your name, IUP e-mail and mobile phone number, in the space provided after the last question of the survey.

For the purpose of this survey, cheating is defined as doing any of the following actions contrary to professor instruction: looking up any information to aid you on a test or assignment, working with another individual, and/or submitting work that is not your own.

1. What year are you in IUP?
Freshmen 28%
Sophomore 40%
Junior 12%
Senior 20%
Don’t Know 0%

2. How many online courses have you taken at IUP?
Zero 32%
1-2 40%
3-5 16%
6-10 12%
11+ 0%

3. Do you plan on taking one during the remainder of your time at IUP?
Yes 44%
No 36%
Don’t know 20%

4. Have you ever cheated in any of your regular classroom college courses at IUP?
Yes 44%
No 56%

5. Have you ever cheated in an online course?
Yes 60%
No 40%

6. Have you ever had to take an online test or exam for a regular classroom course while at IUP?
Yes 80%
No 20%

7. Have you ever cheated on an online test or exam for a regular classroom course you took while at IUP?
Yes 60%
No 40%

8. Do you believe an online course is better, worse, or equal in quality of instruction to a regular classroom version of that same course?
Better 9%
Worse 44%
Equal 30%
Don’t know 17%

9. If you were told that it was easy to cheat and receive a high grade in an online class at IUP, would you be inclined to register for that class?
Yes 64%
No 36%

10. If IUP started using a program to track your eye and hand movements during an online-course exam, would you be more likely to take an online course, less likely to take an online course, or equally likely to take an online course?
More likely 8%
Less likely 23%
Equally likely 55%
Don’t know 14%

If you would like to have an interview with the reporters conducting this survey, and provide additional information for the investigation, please leave your contact information in the space below, including your name, IUP e-mail and mobile phone number.


Sidebar: For more information

For more information about this story or to get involved in the issue of academic integrity, contact the following sources:

Nancy R. Evans
Technology Support Analyst
Stabley Library, Room 201A
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
431 South 11th St.
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-1329

Theresa R. McDevitt, Ph.D.
Government Information/Outreach Librarian
Stapleton 110
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-4892

Timothy P. Mack
Dean of Office of Extended Studies
R&P Building, Room 14
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-3003

Student Government Association
Vincent J. Lopez,
212A Hadley Union Building
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705

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