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Professors seek information on students using online services for assignments

After moving to virtual examinations, professors discovered students posting questions to exams while the exam window was still open

 The Honor Committee recommends that professors be as clear as possible in their syllabus with what the expectations are
The Honor Committee recommends that professors be as clear as possible in their syllabus with what the expectations are

Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed quotes to Prof. Craig Dukes. It has since been updated to reflect that the source of these quotes is Associate Prof. Christopher Neu. The Cavalier Daily apologizes for the error.

With the switch to online exams last semester, professors discovered that students were posting exam questions and responses to Chegg during the test time frame. Since then, the online tutoring and assignment assistance service has met professor requests to release the contact information of students who interacted with these posts. 

Physics Associate Prof. Christopher Neu was first notified of his exam questions being posted to Chegg by a student in his course. In order to receive the student information from Chegg, Neu worked with the College’s Dean of Undergraduate Studies Rachel Most. They were able to contact Chegg’s academic integrity liaison who was “sympathetic” to their request and willing to assist them. 

“When a person participates in an outside resource website like Chegg, you sign a terms of service and should be aware that that terms of service will maybe not protect you if some institution comes after you to do an investigation of cheating,” Neu said. 

According to Neu, his main reason for following up on the Chegg posts is to preserve equity among his students and eliminate unfair advantages. 

“I’m not working with Chegg,” Neu said. “I’m trying to preserve the integrity of my class for everyone that’s involved. It just so happens that Chegg was the medium that was used to cheat in [my course] last semester.”

Neu noted that using Chegg to cheat on University assignments is not a new phenomenon. Previously, the use of sites like Chegg was limited to homework or labs, and in-person exams never lead to the same type of cheating. With exams moving to a virtual format, the online resource offered a new opportunity for students to obtain assistance for larger portions of their grade. 

Still, Neu emphasized that there is no way to know for certain if the increased use of Chegg impacted overall grades in his course last semester.

“The course grades in spring semester were unlike any other semester so it’s difficult to really report a valid comparison,” Neu said. “People were, rightfully so, in a pretty stressful situation, so it’s hard to tell what the baseline is that we should compare it to.”

Chemistry Prof. Alicia Frantz also addressed students in her Organic Chemistry II course about posting and responding to exam questions on Chegg. After the course’s second exam, Frantz emailed her students the following message: 

“It was brought to my attention that one or more students posted the exam questions to Chegg. This is obviously cheating. I have already contacted Chegg to get the name or names of students that posted and/or accessed the answers to the questions. I am giving anyone who posted the question or used the answer until noon tomorrow (4/22) to admit to cheating or we will have to proceed through the University’s Honor Committee.”

According to Abigail Harrell, a third-year College student enrolled in Frantz’s Organic Chemistry II course last semester, Frantz changed her exam policy to open note after realizing how many students were violating the Honor Code on her virtual exams. However, even following her updated allowances, using resources such as Chegg was never permitted. 

“It’s hard to tell if students performed better last semester because they were using unfair resources like Chegg, if they were using their own notes or if they were violating the Honor Code a different way,” Harrell said. “No matter what, there was definitely an increase in the average grade on virtual exams.” 

Frantz did not respond to a request for comment. 

Fourth-year Batten student Ryan Keane, who chairs the Honor Committee, spoke to how Honor has been involved in these reports of cheating. Due to standards of confidentiality within the Honor System, Keane was not able to disclose any information about the specific reports filed against students by professors or how many cases Honor has seen about this issue.

According to Keane, not everyone has access to Chegg’s information. Professors have approached the Honor Committee to ask for their help in obtaining the account data regarding who posted certain questions and the timestamps of other accounts who viewed it. 

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation where we, as Honor, don’t go out and investigate or look for things unless we already have a case in place,” Keane said. “We’re kind of relying on the professor to come to us with a name, but at the same time professors are looking to us because Chegg wants us to reach out to them asking for information, not the professor, so that’s been a little tricky.” 

Both Neu and Keane noted that nothing new is being implemented this semester to further enforce the Honor Code in regards to virtual exams. The Honor Committee recommends that professors be as clear as possible in their syllabus with what the expectations are. 

“[Cheating] is particularly bad at U.Va. because if you get caught cheating you get kicked out,” Neu said. “That’s not something anybody wants to see happen — never. So, the better choice is to not cheat but to take a bad grade on something you’re not prepared for. The best choice is to work hard all the time and be prepared to do your work, and I think that’s what I’d really love my students to do all the time.”

Update: The name of Professor Neu's course has been omitted for confidentiality.


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