A very disturbing, but not really shocking, article titled "The New Cheating Economy" by Brad Wolverton this week on chronicle.com.
"...On any given day, thousands of students go online seeking academic relief. They are first-years and transfers overwhelmed by the curriculum, international students with poor English skills, lazy undergrads with easy access to a credit card. They are nurses, teachers, and government workers too busy to pursue the advanced degrees they’ve decided they need. The Chronicle spoke with people who run cheating companies and those who do the cheating. The demand has been around for decades. But the industry is in rapid transition. Just as higher education is changing, embracing a revolution in online learning, the cheating business is transforming as well, finding new and more insidious ways to undermine academic integrity...
There has always been cheating on assignments, papers and tests. There are industries on both sides to help someone cheat and ones to stop students from cheating or to catch them when they do cheat. A student who copies a paper from a source online can be caught by software (turnitin.com and others) but it is much more difficult to catch someone who submits an original paper written and researched correctly by another student. That is what the article is talking about for the online learning environment, but the trend is far beyond buying a paper.
"But in recent years, a new underground economy has emerged, offering any academic service a student could want. Now it’s not just a paper or one-off assignment. It’s the quiz next week, the assignment after that, the answers served up on the final. Increasingly, it’s the whole class. And if students are paying someone to take one course, what’s stopping them from buying their entire degree?"
There were stories decades ago about students paying another student to take an exam and even to take an entire class, but it was unusual and much harder to accomplish in a small, face-to-face class. Large lecture hall courses and online learning have made it easier, and companies have seen opportunity for profit.
I have seen a good number of companies and products over the past 16 years designed to verify the identity of online students. None seemed very easy to implement or foolproof. I imagine that side of the cheating industry will become more visible in this new academic year.