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September 28, 2020 Teaching & Learning

How to avoid online cheating & encourage learning instead.

Students tempted to find easy answers while distance learning

By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin

Joline Martinez suspected many of her students were cheating after her school closed last spring and she transitioned to distance learning. They showed their work on equations and came up with the correct answers, but something was definitely off, says the Yosemite High School math teacher.

Face of Joline Martinez

Joline Martinez

“My students were solving problems with ridiculous fractions,” says Martinez, a member of Yosemite Unified Teachers Association. “They were using steps they had never been taught. It was a huge issue. I suspected they were cheating. I was losing sleep over this.”

Martinez was so frustrated, she posted about it on CTA’s “Teaching, Learning and Life During COVID-19” Facebook page, and found she was not alone. Numerous CTA members responded to her post, saying they also suspected students were cheating while working from home.

One of them, Maggie Strode, was troubled that students who were struggling when attending school on campus were suddenly turning in perfect papers during distance learning.

“Students were combining several steps into one while solving equations, and always moved the variable to the left side of the equation,” says Strode, a math teacher at South Hills High School and member of the Covina Unified Education Association. “It’s something I do not have my students do, because when they are doing the equations on their own, it leads to errors.” During online office hours she asked them to solve similar problems, and they didn’t have a clue.

Both teachers figured out their students were using Photomath, an app that utilizes a cellphone’s camera to recognize mathematical equations and display a step-by-step solution onscreen — which may differ from how students were taught.

“It’s frustrating,” says Strode. “I was creating videos showing students how to do the work, but they weren’t watching them. Instead, they used this app. It’s much easier to keep an eye on students when you have them in your classroom. When they work from home, it is much more challenging.”

“I gave them the opportunity to resubmit. Students were going through a lot, and I wanted to demonstrate compassion.” — Karin Prasad, Liberty Education Association

Students are more tempted with distance learning

When schools closed abruptly last March due to COVID-19, older students knew that their grades couldn’t be lowered, only raised. Nonetheless, many cheated while working from home, even those with passing grades, say teachers.

Educators admit they were so overwhelmed with transitioning to distance learning that it was difficult to police students who were intent on beating the system. Students can Google answers instantly on their phones during exams and watch videos about how to cheat on YouTube. (Some colleges are having students install a second camera on their devices and clearing their workspace, so that instructors can see students’ hands during exam time.)

Face of Karin Prasad

Karin Prasad

Distance learning has created more temptations for students, observes Karin Prasad, an English teacher at Heritage High School in Brentwood. She uses , an online program that compares her students’ work with other student essays in the system and also published work. After schools closed due to the pandemic, two essays were red-flagged in what’s called a “similarity report.”

Normally she would have given both students a zero on the assignment. But Prasad gave them some leeway because of the state of the world.

“Being in a pandemic is weird and scary,” says the Liberty Education Association member. “So instead of giving them a zero, which I would have done in a normal school year, I gave them the opportunity to resubmit. Students were going through a lot, and I wanted to demonstrate compassion.”

Martinez also didn’t make a big fuss the way she would have under normal circumstances. “I didn’t really push the issue. I didn’t want to have to contact all of the parents; I have 200 students in my classes. It was definitely an uphill battle.”

This year will be different, vows Martinez, whose district will begin the year online. Students will be held accountable for work done from home, and the no-cheating rule will be strictly enforced.

“I give timed quizzes, where they only have a short time for each question — and no time to look it up.” — Pedro Quintanilla, Imperial Valley Teachers Association
  • How teachers can put the kibosh on cheating

“If you can Google the answer to a question, it’s not worth asking,” says Katie Hollman, a seventh grade math teacher at Walter Stiern Middle School in Bakersfield. “Students immediately jump on Google to hunt for answers in class by opening a second tab on their computer, so you can just imagine what happens at home on cellphones.”

Hollman, a member of the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association, asks students to explain their work on Flipgrid videos they create. She also has students create their own real-world math word problems, and then solve them. It might involve visiting a restaurant and explaining the bill, deciding how much they want to tip, adding the tax, and figuring out percentages, for example. Or going to various grocery stores and comparing the unit rates of various items for sale to discern which is a better bargain. Because students are mostly at home, the research for menu and grocery store items happens online, of course.

Face of Pedro Quintanilla

Pedro Quintanilla

Imperial High School teacher Pedro Quintanilla can tell if students are cheating on exams while solving math problems with paper and pencil, by looking at handwriting when assignments are submitted online. If the work seems too perfect, without pressure points in some spots and nothing crossed out or erased, he becomes suspicious.

“If you don’t see any struggle, that is a big sign,” says Quintanilla, an Imperial Valley Teachers Association member.

“One of the ways I assess knowledge of major concepts is by giving a timed quiz, and have them submit their answers to each question, one at a time, almost immediately. Also, I include a Quizzizz activity [a fast-paced, interactive game] where they need to perform the skills learned in a lesson. In addition, no pun intended, I have them submit their notes for a lesson. And I give timed quizzes, where they only have a short time for each question — and no time to look it up.”

Face of Suzie Priebe

Suzie Priebe

Suzie Priebe, a history teacher at Amelia Earhart Middle School, asks students to write about things they are knowledgeable about on the first day of class so she can hear their “voice” and get a “flavor” of how they write. She compares their tone to essay questions later, to determine authenticity.

She also asks them interpretive questions on history, such as “What do you think is the most important thing about the Bill of Rights and why?”

“In history, it’s not as important to memorize, because you look up things on Google, such as when the Declaration of Independence was signed. But knowing why it was signed and being able to explain that is just better.”

Other ideas to prevent cheating online:

  • Mix it up , with tests having a variety of multiple-choice, true/false and open-ended questions. It’s more difficult for students to share answers when they must explain concepts.
  • Have every student start the exam at the same time and set a time limit. The key is having enough time for students who know the information to respond, but not enough time for students who don’t know the material to search online for answers.
  • Only show one question at a time , so students can’t be searching ahead on Google.
  • Change test question sequence , so that all students do not have the same question at one time, to avoid screen sharing.
  • Give students different versions of the same test to thwart screen sharing.
  • Give students their scores all at the same time , so that students who finish early don’t confirm answers for those still working.
  • Increase points for class participation .
  • Talk about integrity , and have students sign an “academic integrity” agreement.
“I want my students to be successful. If they rely on shortcuts and cheat, they won’t survive in the real world.” —Maggie Strode, Covina Unified Education Association

Encourage students to be honest

Talking to students about integrity, trust and doing the right thing also prevents cheating.

Face of Maggie Strode

Maggie Strode

“I let my students know that once you are labeled a cheat, it’s very hard to regain trust,” says Strode. “I tell students I’d rather they not turn in an assignment than turn in work they didn’t do. They don’t realize that they sometimes put more time and effort into cheating than it would take to just do the assignment. I love my students. I want them to be successful — not only in my classroom, but in life. If they rely on shortcuts and cheat, they won’t survive in the real world. No one will make allowances for them there.”

Hollman discusses cheating in her weekly “Life Lessons with Hollman” sessions, urging students to resist the temptation and instead ask for help.

Face of Katie Hollman

Katie Hollman

“I want to help them understand the material so we can fix the problem. I make time for tutoring during online office hours. And I explain that if they cheat in college, they won’t just get a zero on an assignment — they will get kicked out of school.”

She also explains that it’s in their own best interest: If enough students cheat, the teacher assumes the class has mastered the material, and makes the curriculum even more challenging.

Quintanilla talks to his students about the importance of digital citizenship and the value of the honor system in his classes.

“With distance learning, you have to establish a good relationship with students, and then, when you emphasize honesty, you have more buy-in from them.”

“I would rather see the child attempt something, fail, and ask for help, rather than not try.”

Distance Learning: Parents Doing Children’s Work?

Even in normal times, second grade teacher Nailah Legohn has seen the lines blur between parental support and parents doing the homework, so their children don’t fall behind. But with distance learning, parents and sometimes older siblings are doing schoolwork of children more frequently.

Face of Nailah Legohn

Nailah Legohn

“Sometimes it’s hard to know who is really doing the work,” says Legohn, a teacher at Ridgemoor Elementary School in Sun City. “The little ones need a lot of parent support. And they may be saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ If they whine and cry enough, the parent may give in and provide the answer because they want the child to get credit — or they want their child to go outside and play. Parents are under so much pressure. Many of them are also working at home while trying to help their children.”

Parents think they are helping, but they are not, says Legohn, a member of the Menifee Teachers Association. “I tell them, ‘Please don’t do the work for them.’ I explain that they are not setting up their child for success. If kids know that someone else is going to provide the answer, they will expect that to happen when they go back into the regular classroom. And that’s not how it’s going to be. When schools reopen, students are going to have to do the work themselves. If they aren’t used to it, it will be much more of a struggle.”

Legohn asks her students to circle problems that are difficult for them, and then she helps students understand the material by offering extra help during virtual office hours. They can also message her on Google Classroom to ask questions.

“I want my students to love learning and understand how to learn,” says Legohn. “I am pushing for them to have a growth mindset and the ability to ask questions. I would rather see the child attempt something, fail, and ask for help, rather than not try. Parents are role models, and the best way they can help is teaching their children to take responsibility for their own learning.”

#online learning

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University students’ understanding of contract cheating: a qualitative case study in Kuwait

Inan deniz erguvan.

Gulf University for Science and Technology, West Mishref, Kuwait

Associated Data

The qualitative data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author, DE. The data are not publicly available as they contain information that could compromise the privacy of research participants.

Contract cheating, or students outsourcing their assignments to be completed by others, has emerged as a significant threat to academic integrity in higher education institutions around the world. During the COVID-19, when traditional face-to-face instruction became unsustainable, the number of contract cheating students increased dramatically. Through focus group interviews, this study sought the perspectives of 25 students enrolled in first year writing in a private higher education institution in Kuwait during the pandemic in 2020–2021, on their attitudes towards contract cheating. MAXQDA 2020 was used to examine the data. The participants believe that the primary motivations for engaging in contract cheating are mainly the opportunities presented by online learning and the psychological and physical challenges they experienced during online learning. Those who did not cheat had some shared traits, such as a competitive spirit, confidence in their talents, and a strong desire to learn. Additionally, those with high moral values avoided cheating. To combat contract cheating, students believe that teaching and evaluation techniques should be drastically altered and that students should be educated about plagiarism, while institutions should impose tougher sanctions on repeat offenders.


Universities met their teaching commitments through remote teaching because traditional face-to-face teaching temporarily became unsustainable due to the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world between 2020 and 2022. Because students were not physically present in the classroom during this time, many higher education institutions conducted tests through digital platforms or replaced exams with essays and other types of written tasks (Gamage et al., 2020 ). The technology and infrastructure required to join online sessions, concerns about privacy as information technology devices demanded access to students' cameras, microphones, and desktop, and, most importantly, questions about academic integrity have been raised as a result of alternate methods to assessment. Replacement of exams with writing and/or take-home assignments constituted a danger to academic integrity, necessitating the adoption of fraud-free methods (Almeida & Monteiro, 2021 ).

Academic dishonesty, which refers to committing or contributing to dishonest acts in teaching, learning, research, and related academic activities (Cizek, 2003 ; Whitley & Keith-Spiegel, 2001 ), has long been a source of concern in higher education and has been on the rise in recent years. According to some estimates, up to 75% of university students have engaged in some type of academic misconduct during their academic career (Brimble & Stevenson-Clarke, 2005 ; McCabe & Bowers, 1994 ).

Plagiarism is one of the most persistent issues confronting higher education institutions, and it can take many forms, including “copy and paste” without citing the source; patch-writing; providing incorrect or incomplete citations or references; presenting or citing a secondary source as a primary source; ghost-writing; and contract cheating (De Jager & Brown, 2010 ; Ellery, 2008 ; Ellis et al., 2018 ; Park, 2003 ; Zafarghandi et al., 2012 ). Clarke and Lancaster ( 2006 ) coined the term “contract cheating” to characterize the unacknowledged usage of materials prepared by another person or entity involved in the sale of academic resources. Students outsource their coursework to others to do, usually for a fee, and then present it as their own. Contract cheating, according to many people, is a growing problem that most academic institutions are dealing with. To make matters worse, it is difficult to spot ghostwritten work because it is a new piece of writing tailored to course requirements and specific assignments (Ali & AlHassan, 2021 ).

Although contract cheating is common in both traditional face-to-face and online settings, it is more likely to take place in the latter. There are some strong indications that contract cheating went rampant during the pandemic and became a significant COVID-19 side effect for higher education institutions. According to Lancaster and Cotarlan ( 2021 ), the number of requests for answers to academic questions on a popular student website jumped by over 200% during the pandemic. Lancaster ( 2020 ) found that a website providing essay writing services expanded the number of tutors they recruited and was able to offer discounts due to the increased profitability. Similarly, during the first COVID-interrupted semester, additional research found that university students believed their colleagues cheated when classes went online (Daniels et al., 2021 ) and that their willingness and pressure to cheat were stronger online than in-person (Walsh et al., 2021 ). Likewise, King and Case ( 2014 ) discovered that throughout a 5-year period, the number of students who self-reported academic cheating increased, and around 75% of students said it was easier to cheat in online assessment.

There are several possible explanations for why students engaged in contract cheating in online education more often than in person education. Psychological distance adversely affected interpersonal relationships; and the internet obscured the line between academically honest and dishonest behavior (Eshet, 2022 ). Sudden campus closures and abrupt transition to online teaching modals provided more opportunities for students to complete assignments with online assistance. Furthermore, essay mills saw the lack of face-to-face interaction and proctoring on campus as an opportunity and used aggressive marketing methods to attract students. Through social media, students quickly became aware of the possibilities of a wide variety of options to carry out contract cheating; as a result, contract cheating has emerged as a real threat to academic integrity (Erguvan, 2021 ; Hill et al., 2021 , Bautista & Pentang, 2022 ).

Review of literature

Academic dishonesty is a complicated system including a variety of components that interact in unanticipated ways. Due to the vast number of paper mills, full-text databases, and collaborative web pages, many researchers attribute the rise in academic dishonesty to the increased usage of the internet, which generates “opportunities” for cheating (Peytcheva-Forsyth, et al., 2018 ; Townley & Parsell, 2004 ). Students engage in academic dishonesty for a variety of reasons, according to researchers: desire for high grades, procrastination, time pressure to complete assignments or study for tests, lack of organizational skills, fear of failing a course (loss of time and money), lack of understanding of academic dishonesty, and plagiarism not being considered a serious offense (Eshet et al., 2012 ; Jone, 2011 ; McGee, 2013 ). Academic dishonesty is influenced by social factors including peer pressure, social attitudes and norms about academic dishonesty, or domestic job market circumstances (Carpenter, et al., 2006 ; Gallant & Drinan, 2006 ). A “competitive culture” to earn excellent grades or succeed in school (Roberts & Hai-Jew, 2009 ). Furthermore, if the dominant culture does not regard academic dishonesty as a significant problem that requires attention, such situations will be handled on an individual basis, and formal consequences will rarely be pursued. The existence of an institutional policy on academic integrity, code of honor, and effective disciplinary procedures performed by educational institutions are all institutional elements that may affect academic dishonesty (Roberts & Hai-Jew, 2009 ; Vilchez & Thirunarayanan, 2011 ).

Many theories have been developed to describe why and how students engage in plagiarism and what factors play a role in this. Plagiarism has been commonly understood using theoretical frameworks originating from criminology literature which conceptualizes students as delinquents; however, that is rather problematic and ineffective in the long run (DiPietro, 2010 ). Some other theories could be listed as deterrence theory, rational choice theory, neutralization theory, planned behavior theory, situational ethics, social learning theory, self-control, and rational choice theory (DiPietro, 2010 ; Sattler, et al., 2013 ). This research was guided by social learning theory and rational choice theory.

Social learning theory by Albert Bandura could be applied to explain the learners’ plagiarism behavior. Bandura ( 1997 ) theorizes that learning is a cognitive-process that takes place in a social-context and can occur through “the influence of example” by observing a behavior and/or the consequences of the behavior. Therefore, if learners discover their fellow classmates plagiarizing and getting high grades and receiving nominal or no punishment at all for these acts, they will also feel inclined to adopt cheating. If a behavior is learned with a perceived negative consequence associated with it, then an individual is more likely to inhibit that behavior for him- or herself. However, positive reinforcement, which can also mean not having a negative consequence associated with the behavior, may encourage behaviors, whether they are positive or negative. (Denler et al., 2014 ).

Students choose to plagiarize in their assignments or tests for a range of reasons, and it is possible to examine the students’ motivation within the framework of rational choice theory, according to which every individual follows the principle of maximum utilization when they have to make a decision (Hawes, 2020 ). Individuals compare potential advantages to possible costs entailed by their decision and the course of action is chosen after weighing the advantages and disadvantages of all possible alternatives. Therefore, the decision to cheat and plagiarize results from a cost–benefit analysis. On the one hand, plagiarism offers some benefits: allowing students to finish the work quickly and save time and improve their grades; on the other hand, there are some counter-factors such as the risk of being caught. In case of plagiarism, potential losses would become real if the fact of plagiarism were to be discovered, which is not always likely. The consequences of plagiarism for students might include unsatisfactory marks for the assignment, reproach by the teachers, or other disciplinary punishments. Nevertheless, such measures do not seem to be significant enough to have the possibility to prevent students from plagiarizing. The risk of being caught has a medium negative effect on cheating, the fear of punishment has a small negative effect, and the importance of the outcome has a medium positive effect (Whitley, 1998 ).

Even though large numbers of students are claimed to partake in contract cheating in Kuwaiti higher education, such as purchasing papers from shops on campus that seemingly provide only printing and photocopying services (Al Jiyyar, 2017 ), there is little research on contract cheating in Kuwait. Indeed, a literature review by Ahsan et al. ( 2021 ) identifies research deficits outside of Australia, the UK, and Canada, as well as in contexts of contract cheating such as society, culture, and religion. Contract cheating during and after COVID-19 is another dimension that has received insufficient attention.

As a result, the purpose of this study is to investigate students' opinions of contract cheating occurring in first year writing classes in a private university context in Kuwait, a country that has had little research done in this area. The questions that will guide the study are as follows:

  • Why did more students engage in contract cheating during the pandemic?
  • What stopped students from engaging in contract cheating?
  • What consequences did contract cheating students face, if any?
  • What should be done to curb contract cheating?

In this exploratory case study, participants’ perspectives were acquired through focus group interviews, which is a popular strategy for acquiring qualitative data (Morgan, 1996 ). The strength of focus groups is that they allow participants to interact in groups which can provide insights into the causes of complicated actions as a result of group interaction (Carey & Smith, 1994 ; Morgan & Krueger, 1993 ). Because members simultaneously question and explain themselves to one another, focus groups are more than the sum of separate individual interviews. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject, the researcher determined that a group discussion, rather than individual interviews, would yield more insightful data.


Regarding the number and size of focus groups, different authors have varied advice and references. Various researchers have noted that sizes of focus groups may range from four to five, six to eight, and even eight to twelve people, and some have even suggested that there are no universal standards for the best number of focus groups (as cited in Gundumogula, 2020 ).

The researcher recruited twenty-five students for this study and five focus group interviews were scheduled, with each interview containing five to six students. There were eleven females and fourteen males among the participants. Purposeful sampling was used as the sampling method. Other faculty members in the department were contacted and asked to provide a list of potential participants. The list of participants suggested by faculty members was screened for eligibility to see if they met the following inclusion criteria:

  • Fluent in English.
  • Currently registered in a course during the 2021–2022 Fall term in the university.
  • Enrolled in a university and attended online classes in the previous academic year, 2020–2021.

Diversity in gender, discipline, and academic performance was observed in recruitment. The potential participants who were selected were contacted by e-mail. Official invitations to the online meeting were sent via emails to those expressed interest in attending.

The informed consent form which was approved by the Institutional Review Board included a detailed description of the interview process and confidentiality information. The participants were asked to read and sign these forms before the interview took place.

Researcher’s role

In qualitative research, because the researcher is the instrument in semi structured or unstructured qualitative interviews, unique researcher attributes have the potential to influence the collection of empirical materials (Pezalla et al., 2012 ); therefore, explicitly identifying oneself is more important than it is in quantitative research. In this study, the researcher is a faculty member in the same institution where the research took place, thus, familiar with the plagiarism and contract cheating habits and attitudes of Kuwaiti undergraduate students. She also included some of her own as well as her colleagues’ students in the study. She stated clearly at the beginning of the study that student responses will not be used for any course related assessment and evaluation and the collected data will be limited to research only. She only joined the focus group meetings as a listener, and another trained colleague moderated these meetings. Although every effort has been made to ensure objectivity, certain biases may remain, and these biases may shape the way the data is collected and the participants’ experiences are interpreted in this study.

Data collection

All sessions were conducted online, due to the pandemic restrictions still in place, and in English, between November and December 2021. The sessions were recorded and simultaneously transcribed using the built-in function of the online meeting platform. The participants were informed of recording at the time of recruitment, as well as the beginning of each session.

Each online focus group lasted between 60 and 90 min that allowed in depth discussions. The focus group sessions were moderated by a trained Education Department faculty member. A script was developed for the moderator to guide the discussion. The moderator used the script that explained the purpose of the focus group, went over the focus group rules, and reinforced the confidentiality of all the information shared.

Although there are no general rules as to the optimal number of focus group discussions, researchers state that four focus groups are generally sufficient, but that consideration of response saturation should be made after the third focus group discussion (Nyamathi & Shuler, 1990 ). Guest et al. ( 2017 ) stated that within two to three more than 80%, and within three to six focus groups 90% of all themes were discoverable. Three focus groups were also enough to identify the most prevalent themes within the data set. The number of focus groups in this study was guided by theme saturation. After conducting five focus group sessions, it has been observed that the information collected was becoming repetitive, as no new themes were emerging. Therefore, it was decided that data saturation has been reached.

Data analysis

Content and thematic analysis methodologies were used to analyze the data collected in this study. Content analysis refers to the process in which presentations of behavior or qualitative data from self-reports are analyzed (Karataş, 2015 ). Content analysis is more related to the initial analysis and the coding process, where researchers look for redundant and similar codes (Humble & Mozelius, 2022 ). The thematic analysis occurs after the coding process as researchers aggregate similar codes to form major concepts or themes. Basically, thematic analysis converts qualitative data into quantitative data. Once data is transcribed, it is reviewed repeatedly so that the researcher can identify trends in the meaning conveyed by language. The themes identified are re-analyzed so that they become more refined and relevant and given codes (Boyatzis, 1998 ; Braun & Clarke, 2006 ). The researcher can then annotate the transcript with the codes that have been identified. In this study, we started with the content analysis as a more basic way of approaching the data material, and then proceeded with the thematic analysis to detect, analyze, and report themes, as well as organize and describe data in dimensions. As distinct and fundamental qualitative approaches, the two should be used by qualitative researchers as transparent structures provide researchers with clear and user-friendly methods for analyzing data (Vaismoradi et al, 2013 ).

Each student was assigned a code to safeguard their anonymity and confidentiality during the study. The name of the institution was also taken out of the transcribed focus group sessions. The researcher ran a pilot focus group with some students who were not in the sample to verify the understandability of the questions for the focus group interviews’ reliability and validity.

When there were any discrepancies, the meeting platform’s transcriptions were compared to the audio recordings and modified. The written data was afterwards uploaded to the MAXQDA 2020 program, which allows for systematic data analysis (Kuckartz & Rädiker, 2019 ). The earliest codes were constructed using an inductive approach, and codes that were connected to each other were grouped together and assigned names. Following that, the emerging themes were explained in a way that readers could comprehend. Finally, the researcher provided an interpretation of the findings as well as supporting images.

Research question 1

The first question analyzed students’ perceptions regarding why more students got engaged in contract cheating during the pandemic. In line with the statements of the participants, the motivators category was defined with ten different codes in order of frequency: wanting to get easy grades, having more opportunities to cheat, challenges of online education and difficult assignments, culture/pressure, and insecurity/lack of ability emerged as some major motivators (Fig.  1 ).

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Motivators for contract cheating

The participants’ statements regarding the major motivators are below:

“For starters, the online education sort of opened the window of opportunity for students. Now when you see a before and after image, you would think that before we didn’t have access to these sorts of resources. People usually were very busy going to day to day classes. They didn’t have time to research these sort of things. I believe that because people had a bit more free time to do many activities or do whatever during the pandemic because of online education or online learning, they were able to come across these resources through search engines and were able to practice how to use these facilities.” (FG3-1).

Among the motivators, the challenges of online education and the difficulty of assignments in online learning were also mentioned as a reason for resorting to contract cheating. Participants mentioned that students had difficulty accessing information and could not focus during online education:

“Although there are office hours, maybe they need face to face with the professor, in order to learn how to write it properly, because personally when I had an essay writing class, it was easy for me because when we wrote one paragraph, we would review it one on one with the professor. So I feel like that’s why when it came to online, the percentage got a lot higher than when we were on campus.” (FG5-3).

An interesting code that came out of student responses was the culture in Kuwait. Participants mentioned that Kuwaiti children grow up in an environment where everything is done for them. Another element of the culture is the pressure on students to get good grades and graduate with a high GPA to be eligible for government jobs, therefore cheating is considered almost acceptable.

“In Kuwait, in particular, culturally speaking, because of how Kuwaitis were raised or brought up or how they live through an environment of luxury and lack of hardship, to say the very least, it led them to this mindset where they could do these things because they have the option of doing so because it’s so easy to them.” (FG3-1).

Research question 2

When participants were asked what stopped some students from contract cheating during the online education, their responses revealed six different codes. The major deterrents of cheating emerged as moral and religious values and having certain personality traits. Some minor deterrents were fear of getting caught, not wanting to risk future job prospects, and getting trapped in a vicious cycle, also seeing contract cheating as a waste of money (Fig.  2 ).

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Reasons for not misconducting

One of the most popular responses was the student’s moral values as a reason for not cheating in their assignments.

“Some students, have strong moral values. So, no matter what challenges they face, they would not resort to cheating, because they believe that it’s wrong.” (FG1-2).

Kuwait is officially an Islamic country and Kuwaitis are quite religious people. This was also perceived as part of the non-cheating students’ set of moral values.

“Religion definitely does play a role because in Islam we know that if you cheat to get yourself success, everything you earn from that success is going to be forbidden upon you, so you won’t benefit in the end. But nowadays the religious commitment is not that big.” (FG4-2).

Another code that the participants’ responses revealed was certain personality traits. Under this code participants mentioned three different subcodes: self-confidence, motivation to learn, and competitiveness (Fig.  3 ).

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Hierarchical code—subcodes model of reasons for not misconducting

Participants mentioned that when students have enough self-confidence, motivation, and competitiveness, they do not need any help, they are excited about their achievements, and they cannot trust anyone else to do their work for them.

“I think some students do not like to depend on other people to do their work. Also they are not trustworthy like they can’t trust them to do their work as they feel more confident doing their own work. In this way they will improve themselves to become a better person.” (FG2-4). “Eventually people we will come back to fully on a real life and we’ll be in a position where you cannot cheat. So, in order to enhance our knowledge, or to do better in future classes, they wouldn’t cheat, so they can actually learn something.” (FG5-4).

Another reason why some students did not cheat was the fear of getting caught, according to students’ perceptions. Participants mentioned that some students did not resort to cheating because they were afraid of the outcomes in case they get caught. This was also similar to another deterrent mentioned by students as not wanting to risk future job prospects. Some quotes below exemplify such perceptions:

“I think one of the biggest things that most students fear when it comes down to plagiarizing or cheating is getting caught. But I also think what would devastate a student is if the teacher or the instructor make an example out of the student. Because if you pull out their assignment in front of the entire class and say that ‘this is plagiarized, and because of that, I will give you a zero’, you know you would be set as an example, and I think that would break a student, and so I think that thought or the fact that you’re getting caught. And then being exposed is what really scares or that fear that set a lot of students aside from wanting to plagiarize or cheat.” (FG1-2). “This would affect them in long term, and they wouldn’t be able to do stuff that normal person would be able to do and complete their assignments and all of that stuff. They will have problems in their jobs later on their lives.” (FG4-3). “I think it’s all a certain mindset. Some students don’t cheat because they realize there’s no meaning to it in a sense that if you do cheat your whole life, you’ll keep cheating… if you cheat now, you’re going to cheat in your whole life and there’s no point to it.” (FG3-1).

Research question 3

Students were asked about their perceptions towards the consequences cheating students faced. Did cheaters get caught? Did they get penalized sufficiently when they were caught? Did cheating ever go unnoticed? The responses revealed six different codes, which could be summarized as most of the time cheating went unnoticed, and when it was noticed, they received certain punishments ranging from failing the assignment and/or the course or being suspended from the university (Fig.  4 ).

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Punishments when students get caught

The most striking response as analysis revealed was most participants thought instructors did not even realize that cheating took place.

“I think it’s less likely that the professor will catch the student until and unless they know the student and his past assignments. Because the professors don’t know anything about them. They don’t know how they’ve been doing. I think they get their assistants to check the paper so they are very less likely they can catch the culprit.” (FG4-3).

In case students got caught contract cheating, the most common consequence they faced was getting a zero and failing that specific assignment. Failing the entire course or being suspended from the university for a semester and blacklisted on a list that circulates among faculty members were also mentioned by some participants was another repercussion mentioned by some participants.

“I had no experience with people getting caught with cheating, but like usually if they get caught they just get a zero for the essay. For that particular assignment, not for the whole course.” (FG4-1).

Students also talked about being interrogated by the instructor as a consequence of cheating. This interrogation sometimes took place in private, but sometimes in public, in front of their peers, which was a big source of embarrassment for the student:

“To make it even better, they should do the punishments publicly so other students can see this person is being punished for this reason so they can scare everyone else from being humiliated in front of the class. Well, what we did in our old school if someone cheats, they rip the paper on the spot and then kick the student out the class.” (FG5-1).

Research question 4

The final research question of the study focused on solutions to this academic misconduct and asked students to make suggestions to prevent this problem. Students were reminded to consider all the stakeholders in their suggestions, such as students, instructors, and the administration of the institution in which they are studying. Their responses revealed nine codes as seen in Fig.  5 . The solutions could be classified as positive and negative ones, with the positive, more nurturing solutions being changing teaching and assessment methods, educating students about cheating, giving students second chances, offering more learning support services, conducting face-to-face education and raising awareness on social media and on campus. Some students were in favor of more punitive solutions, such as applying harsher punishments and stricter control, and using anti-cheating software and equipment.

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Suggestions for combatting contract cheating

The suggestion with the highest frequency was changing the teaching and assessment methods. Participants mentioned that education system relies too much on rote learning, memorization and should include more hands-on assignments and projects. As a result, assessment types should move from multiple choice, written exams to more applied methods and performance assessment.

“That’s the only way I could see this work is if the entire like education industry changed the way they move forward with their teaching and their learning, make it more practical with experience… more than just about grades. The fact that you know your grades are on the line and students compare one of their grades, their GPA over the other, the pressure is intense, and that’s where you know people resort to things that are much easier. But if it’s more about, having fun, learning, experiencing, things are quite practical to the world out there specifically tailored to what they want to do in the future, that would completely eliminate the. You know, the problem of plagiarism and cheating or whatnot, because then they’re doing something they love doing.” (FG1-2).

The next common code was educating students about cheating. Participants mentioned that students need to be educated about cheating and given clear warnings about the outcomes. Some participants expressed the need for a more nurturing environment for students and that they should be given a second chance when caught. Offering more learning support services was also proposed as a solution as some participants to encourage students to seek more help from legal sources.

“I do believe that a severe punishment would refrain the students from cheating, but what would be an even better learning objective to make them understand that cheating would be wrong, plagiarizing would be wrong is to let them understand how severe it is beforehand so they wouldn’t do it in the first place, not by punishing them if they cheated. Making it sink down deep end that this is how severe cheating is… this is what will happen. Because some students don’t really understand the full gravity of what they’re doing and what would happen if they’re caught.” (FG3-1).

“Maybe they’re lazy, but in most cases they need help, they need people to help them with things they don’t understand. They need help with things that they probably don’t know. Or maybe they weren’t focused in class on a particular day. Students need help, like education is not easy. It’s a learning process. We as people learn through mistakes and experiences, but we also need a guiding hand in order for us to succeed in life and for us we should not focus solely on punishments because at the end of the day students or these young people are the future of the nation of Kuwait of this country. If we can guide them to a better path instead of punishing them and then going on a very darker or very negligent path, it would have been much better. Not only for us,

Other codes that came out of our analysis were conducting face-to-face education, using anti-cheating software and equipment in exams to detect cheating, warning classmates about the outcomes of cheating, and raising awareness on social media. Some participants asked for harsher punishments to combat cheating.

The first research question on the motivators of contract cheating revealed the fact that some students outsourced their tasks because they just wanted to get easy grades and online learning made this a possibility by providing more opportunities to cheat. Many students were just looking to get by and pass the course because the shift to online education has drastically affected their ability to learn and retain information, and they only intended to cheat in the short-term.

According to Gallant (cited in Dey, 2021 ), there was probably increased cheating because there were more temptations and opportunities. When colleges shut down or restricted in-person access, students were taking exams in their bedrooms, with unrestricted access to their phones and other information technologies. This spurred cheating to take on new and different forms. Regarding students cheating in online courses, if students feel anonymous and unlikely to be adequately monitored, they may assume that the likelihood of being caught cheating is virtually zero and cheat more in online classes using online resources. Previous research has shown that participants had a higher propensity to cheat when chances of being caught were less likely (Kajackaite & Gneezy, 2017 ). Despite being supervised through a web camera, the teachers cannot control the surroundings or the computer screens of the students. In class, students are regularly monitored and watched and thus are less free to consult sources of information, but with the physical distance, those odds decrease, and so cheating increases.

College students could not help but want to be a part of the herd since they did not want to be left out when their peers were earning good scores without putting in any effort. This is further reinforced by research findings that students are less inclined to cheat when they believe their peers are trustworthy and the misconception of “everyone else is doing it” encourages cheating (Carpenter et al., 2006 ; Daniels et al., 2021 ; Turner & Uludag, 2013 ). Observing their peers’ cheating activities in online classes through group chats, as our participants’ responses reveal, encourages more students to cheat, especially after the initial shock has worn off and they felt more at ease, in the second semester of online education.

The difficulties of online education have been cited in various research as a factor that contributed to contract cheating. Along with the opportunities online learning provided, stress and pressure started building up and the pandemic essentially intensified a feeling of potential loss among college students. Asking questions during exams was difficult without the in-person experience. Students were able to ask questions via email or attend virtual office hours, but many missed the ease of raising a hand and getting a question answered in real time. According to a study conducted in Vietnam (Tran, et al., 2021 ), students had generally negative feelings toward online education, with 63.31% of respondents stating that they disliked online exams and 64.8 percent stating that online learning was only marginally effective and only a temporary solution. The difficulties in assessing and testing online, as well as not understanding the course and communicating with peers, were identified as negatives.

With the outburst of the pandemic, many students found their surroundings transformed completely. Such a change probably caused an increased fear of loss with students being away from their friends and normal social environment, away from the usual learning atmosphere and resources they are used to. They developed a fear of losing social connections, falling behind in class, losing internship and career opportunities, etc. In a study that surveyed students from all over the USA (Hoyt et al., 2021 ), students reported that the loss of their social life had a major influence on their mental state during the pandemic. When these results are considered with the established idea that increased fear of loss can cause a biological reaction that increases dishonest behavior, it can reasonably be assumed that one of the primary reasons colleges all over the world detected abnormally high cheating rates among their students is an increase in a fear of loss (Arie, 2021 ). Similar findings were seen in other research, including as in Hong Kong, where students said they struggled to maintain self-discipline when studying alone on online platforms (Mok et al, 2021 ); students experienced stress, worry, and pressure as a result of the pandemic (Sahu, 2020 ), and they did not find online learning to be totally rewarding, particularly when they experienced disruptions during online classes due to insufficient educational and institutional assistance (Fauzi & Sastra Khusuma, 2020 ; Xie & Yang, 2020 ).

The purpose of our second study question was to examine students’ perspectives of the motivations for not cheating. Students’ responses emphasize the importance of students’ own moral compass, as well as particular personality traits like self-confidence, ambition to learn, and competition, as key deterrents to cheating. This is consistent with research that emphasizes the role of attitudes and beliefs in preventing academic misconduct and promoting an ethical culture (Rundle et al., 2019 ; Grym and Liljander, 2016 ) Strong individual views and ideals regarding integrity, according to Reedy et al. ( 2021 ), minimize the likelihood of students cheating. Following these two major deterrents, fear of being caught emerges as a third code, which is corroborated by the findings of an Australian study by Rundle et al. ( 2019 ). Three significant predictors of fear of detection and punishment were identified in Rundle’s regression analysis (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and consistency of interest), implying that students who scored high on these are more likely to report fear of detection and punishment as a reason for not engaging in contract cheating. These findings imply that appealing to students’ values and beliefs while conveying clear messages about academic integrity could be an effective method for improving the integrity of online and offline exams.

The study’s third finding concerned the implications of cheating. Students were asked what the consequences and punishments were when cheaters were caught. Surprisingly, the highest frequency was observed in the code that cheaters were not generally caught, and contract cheating went unnoticed. This finding is intriguing in a way as we are not sure whether instructors really fail to recognize cheating or tend to ignore it and not take any action as it is difficult to present hard evidence to prove contract cheating. Research found that faculty were able to identify 62% of contract cheating when they were advised to specifically look for it (Dawson & Sutherland-Smith, 2019 ); but when they were unaware of the possible presence of contract cheating, they could not detect any (Lines, 2016 ). Although Erguvan’s study ( 2021 ) on faculty awareness of contract cheating found that faculty members are confident in their ability to spot it even when cases are detected, teaching staff are concerned that proving cheating may be difficult (Walker & Townley, 2012 ). Faculty members frequently express concerns about cheating during online education, but they have not always been able to detect and punish cheating as they would like to, due to a lack of security measures, reliable plagiarism detection tools, and training on online assessment and cheating prevention measures (Meccawy et al, 2021 ). Because of the problem’s complexity and the difficulties to solving it, faculty members may simply choose to ignore it (Coren, 2011 ; McCabe, 2005 ).

When faculty members detect students cheating on an assignment, the most typical repercussions include failing the work and being interrogated by the teacher, sometimes in private and sometimes in public. Students, on the other hand, stated that failing an assignment is not a strong enough deterrent to cheating because these assignments are often so little in proportion that they have little impact on students’ total grade in the course. Another study found that academic dishonesty is frequent among Kuwaiti university students because the danger of detection and severity of sanctions for academic misconduct is minimal (Alsuwaileh et al., 2016 ). Participants believe academic dishonesty remains widespread because sanctions are not enough. According to most of the participants, embarrassment is the only informal sanction for academic dishonesty, and they would be embarrassed more by the lecturer than by their friends or families.

According to the findings of the fourth research question, students believe that the existing educational system merely promotes students to memorize and does not teach them the real skills they need in their jobs. Students expressed their desire for a change in the university's educational and assessment techniques. Indeed, there is a growing body of research on the function of evaluation in contract cheating prevention and detection. Some suggest increasing the use of invigilated (Clarke & Lancaster, 2006 ; Lines, 2016 ) and in-class viva voce examinations (Carroll and Appleton, 2001 ) to reduce the potential for cheating. Others focus on reducing motivations to cheat through increasing student engagement by choosing personalized topics (Sutherland-Smith, 2013 ), and using authentic assessment, which aims to engage students in “real-world” tasks (Collins et al, 2007 ; QAA, 2020 ).

However, some researchers are skeptical about the impact of changing the assessment in curbing contract cheating and suggest that authentic assessment does not necessarily assure academic integrity and that educators need to be aware that cheating may take place even in applied and “authentic” exams such as oral exam/viva or practical exam (Harper et al., 2021 ; Ellis et al, 2020 ).

Text-rich forms of assessment, according to Harper et al. ( 2021 ), should keep their place in university assessment strategies, not because they are impervious to contract cheating, but because faculty get more proficient in detecting cheating in written assignments like research papers, which enable them to develop more personalized relations with students. This supports the students’ belief that, in addition to assessment, a shift in pedagogy could play a role in minimizing contract cheating.

Our research suggests that students want to be educated about academic integrity and given explicit warnings about the consequences, but they also believe punishments should be severe enough to work as deterrents. The rational choice theory may offer hints about how to curb the plagiarism problem in this regard. Universities should increase the benefits associated with non-plagiarized papers and publicly circulate information about plagiarism; otherwise, any punishments or sanctions will not be deterrent to plagiarism. Academic integrity values may be fostered, and students can become familiar with this culture through course objectives and activities. A system of progressive educational punishment might likewise be implemented (Cinali, 2016 ; Mervis, 2012 ). Faculty members and university administrators should diminish the benefits of plagiarism and increase the costs and the probability of detection. If students still choose to plagiarize, they must take higher risks into account; otherwise, they need to either be experts in hiding plagiarism or make greater effort in producing plagiarism that is hard to detect, which will reduce the time-saving benefits of plagiarism (Collins et al., 2007 ) and in turn reduce the number of students committing plagiarism.

Conclusion and recommendations

The findings of this study reveal that as per students’ perceptions, online learning has driven more students to contract cheat, primarily by approaching an essay mill or a tutor and paying them to do the work for them. Students expressed they were tempted by the opportunities presented by online learning, such as not having any proctoring or an obligation to turn on their webcams during exams, ease of finding a tutor to do the work at a very affordable rate, and not having the motivation and skills to cope with the challenges of online classes, therefore choosing the easy way. Some students described the feeling as “being part of the herd,” which could be compared to the new trendy acronym FOMO (fear of missing out), that basically refers to the feeling or perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you are, which is often exacerbated by social media.

To summarize, academic integrity violations have been on the rise as a result of COVID-19-mandated online or hybrid education systems which may tempt many students to continue using their tried and tested methods of cheating when they return to face-to-face instruction. Therefore, violations of academic integrity necessitate a rethinking of teaching and evaluation methodologies. Higher education institutions must adapt to the changing contract cheating marketplace and ensure that the faculty are aware of contract cheating and can recognize the indicators of contract cheating. Students should be given the message that their tutors are aware of contract cheating services. To keep up with the constant changes in technology, academic integrity processes must be current, resilient, and assessed on a regular basis.

If we do not take immediate action, contract cheating will likely reach epidemic proportions. We need to take a comprehensive approach that includes a focus on assessment design, a strengthened culture of integrity, and robust technical tools. We should also urge academics to perform ongoing research on ways to improve academic integrity during and post pandemic higher education instruction.


The author is confident this paper will add significant value to the body of existing literature; however, we cannot be sure that the focus groups have captured a representative sample of students studying in higher education institutes in Kuwait. It is also important to note that the study is limited to the experiences and assumptions of students who participated in the study and therefore the findings should not be generalized.


Abbreviations, author contributions.

Deniz Erguvan as the sole author of this manuscript wrote the literature review, collected and analyzed the data, and produced the discussion section of the manuscript. The author read and approved the final manuscript.

Author’s information

DE has been teaching undergraduate students in a private university in Kuwait for the past 12 years. She is quite familiar with contract cheating practices and shes observed a significant surge in contract cheating among students during the pandemic.

This study has been funded by Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait, internal seed grant number 234553.

Availability of data and materials


The author declares no competing interests.

Publisher's note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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  • Original Article
  • Open access
  • Published: 12 February 2018

Addressing cheating in e-assessment using student authentication and authorship checking systems: teachers’ perspectives

  • Harvey Mellar 1 ,
  • Roumiana Peytcheva-Forsyth 2 ,
  • Serpil Kocdar   ORCID: 3 ,
  • Abdulkadir Karadeniz 3 &
  • Blagovesna Yovkova 2  

International Journal for Educational Integrity volume  14 , Article number:  2 ( 2018 ) Cite this article

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Student authentication and authorship checking systems are intended to help teachers address cheating and plagiarism. This study set out to investigate higher education teachers’ perceptions of the prevalence and types of cheating in their courses with a focus on the possible changes that might come about as a result of an increased use of e-assessment, ways of addressing cheating, and how the use of student authentication and authorship checking systems might impact on assessment practice. This study was carried out within the context of the project TeSLA (an Adaptive Trust-based e-assessment System for Learning) which is developing a system intended for integration within an institution’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) offering a variety of instruments to assure student authentication and authorship checking. Data was collected at two universities that were trialling the TeSLA system, one in Turkey, where the main modes of teaching are face-to-face teaching and distance education, and one in Bulgaria, where the main modes of teaching are face-to-face teaching and blended learning. The study used questionnaires and interviews, building on existing TeSLA project evaluation activities and extending these to explore the specific areas we wished to examine in more depth.

In three of the four contexts cheating was seen by teachers as a serious and growing problem, the exception was the distance education context where the teachers believed that the existing procedures were effective in controlling cheating. Most teachers in all four contexts expected cheating to become a greater problem with increased use of e-assessment. Student authentication was not seen as a major problem in any of the contexts, as this was felt to be well controlled through face-to-face proctored assessments, though the problem of assuring effective authentication was seen by many teachers as a barrier to increased use of e-assessment. Authorship checking was seen as a major issue in all contexts, as copying and pasting from the web, ghost writing and plagiarism were all reported as widely prevalent, and authorship checking was seen as becoming even more important with increased use of e-assessment. Teachers identified a third category of cheating behaviours, which was the accessing of information from other students, from written materials, and from the internet during assessments.

Teachers identified a number of approaches to addressing the problem of cheating: education, technology, assessment design, sanctions, policy, and surveillance. Whilst technology was not seen as the most important approach to prevention, student authentication and authorship checking systems were seen as relevant in terms of reducing reliance on face-to-face proctored examinations, and in improving the quality of assessment through supporting the employment of a wider range of assessment methods. The development of authorship checking based on computational linguistic approaches was an area of particular interest. Student authentication and authorship checking systems were not seen as being able to address the third category of cheating behaviours that the study identified.


Whilst cheating and plagiarism in education are not new phenomena, technology is widely seen as having facilitated its increase, however as part of a multi-faceted approach to addressing the issue, technology may also have an important role in preventing cheating and plagiarism. The use of student authentication and authorship checking systems is one possible technological approach, and is being explored by the TeSLA project (an Adaptive Trust-based e-assessment System for Learning). This study was carried out within the context of the TeSLA project, though it is not an evaluation study of the effectiveness of the particular set of instruments in that project, but rather an exploration of the basic rationale of the project, and the likely value of this and other similar approaches.

Data was collected at two universities that were trialling the TeSLA system, one in Turkey, where the main modes of teaching are face-to-face teaching and distance education (with elements of online support), and one in Bulgaria where the main modes of teaching are face-to-face teaching and blended learning (with a significant element of e-learning), thus providing evidence from four quite different teaching and learning contexts.

To clarify terminology, we define face-to-face learning as the form of learning where the instruction and course activities take place in a classroom. Following Owusu-Boampong and Holmberg ( 2015 ) we will use the term ‘distance education’ as a generic term for different organizational forms of education in which students and teachers are separated in time and place. Following Gaebel et al. ( 2014 ) we define online learning as a form of educational delivery in which learning takes place primarily via the Internet; and blended learning as a pedagogical model combining face-to-face classroom teaching and the innovative use of ICT, blending online and face-to-face delivery.

This paper first briefly highlights some aspects of the literature on the prevalence and prevention of cheating and plagiarism, and provides a description of the TeSLA system. It then sets out the aims, methods, and findings of the study, looking at the perceptions of higher education teachers (and, to a lesser extent, those of their students) on the prevalence and types of cheating, their reflections on possible changes in the frequency and nature of cheating and plagiarism that might come about as a result of an increased use of e-assessment, their views on ways of addressing perceived problems, and their thoughts on the ways in which the use of student authentication and authorship checking systems might impact on assessment practice. The conclusion section discusses the positive role that student authentication and authorship checking systems may have to play in both online and face-to-face assessment as well as the perceived limitations of such systems.

Aims of the study

As explained above, the overall aim of this study is to explore the basic rationale for the use of student authentication and authorship checking systems, and within that overall aim, we set out to examine four specific issues:

How concerned are teachers about the issue of cheating and plagiarism in their courses?

What cheating and plagiarism have the teachers observed?

If e-assessment were introduced in their courses, what impact do the teachers think this might have on cheating and plagiarism?

How do teachers view the possible use of student authentication and authorship checking systems, and how well would such systems fit with their present and potential future assessment practises?

Data collection

This exploratory study is based on data collected from two of the TeSLA pilot universities, one based in Turkey (University A) and the other in Bulgaria (University B). In University A the main modes of teaching are face-to-face teaching and traditional distance education, and in the University B the main modes of teaching are face-to-face teaching and blended learning. By collecting data across four contexts we hoped to gather a range of perspectives in order both to establish widely shared views as well as to identify any differences between the contexts. We built on the existing TeSLA project evaluation tools - questionnaires and interviews - extending them to explore the specific areas we wished to examine in more depth, and also involving an additional sample of teachers who had not been involved in the TeSLA pilot, but who were provided with an introduction to the TeSLA system.

Ethical approval for the studies was obtained from the Ethical Review Committees in the two universities. Questionnaires and interview schedules were developed in English and translated into Turkish and Bulgarian. Three groups of respondents were approached: administrators, teachers and students, though the main focus of this paper is on the teachers’ responses. One administrator from each of the universities was interviewed about the scale of cheating in their university, and issues that would be raised by an increased use of e-assessment. Teachers completed questionnaires asking about: the prevalence of cheating; the types of cheating observed; why they thought students cheated; and how cheating might be prevented. From the teachers who completed the questionnaires two teachers from each context were invited to take part in interviews which explored in more depth: how serious they felt the issue of cheating and plagiarism was in their context; how a move to greater use of e-assessment might impact on cheating; and how the availability of student authentication and authorship checking systems might impact on their assessment design. Students on courses selected for the TeSLA project were invited to sign a consent form allowing the collection of data, and to complete questions asking about: the prevalence of cheating; the types of cheating observed; and why they thought students cheated.

Details of the sample are given in Table  1 .

Data analysis

The quantitative data from the questionnaires will be presented descriptively, though some statistical analyses will be presented in order to examine the distribution of responses across the contexts where this is seen as throwing light on issues arising from the data. The responses to the open questions in the questionnaires and the interviews were analysed thematically. In order to support the analysis and provide some consistency across the language contexts, initial categories for the analysis were developed from the literature and presented in English. These categories were translated into Turkish and Bulgarian and were used as a basis for the initial analysis. Additional categories were developed during the analysis and suggestions made for modifications of existing categories. The results were then compared across the two countries and modifications made to the categories for consistency and coverage. In terms of the topics explored in this paper, although a number of additional categories were developed during the analysis process they were finally subsumed under the main categories and as a result the final categories used for the analysis were substantially the same as those initially proposed. This convergence was possibly the result of the initial framing of the analysis, but had we not adopted this approach then there was a danger that the categorisations in the two countries might have diverged too much, making comparison difficult.

This section of the paper presents an account of the findings from the study. We will first present a description of the four contexts, and then findings related to teachers’ views: the prevalence of cheating; the types of cheating; the reasons for cheating; how cheating might be prevented; the possible impact on cheating of a move to online assessment; and finally the impact of student authentication and authorship checking on assessment design.

Description of the contexts

This study was carried out within two contexts in each of two universities, one in Turkey and one in Bulgaria. In the Turkish university (University A) the two contexts are: a face-to-face context (A_f2f) and a distance education context (A_distance). In the face-to-face context most assessments are conducted in a proctored face-to-face environment, though there is some use of projects, essays and oral presentations. The learning model of the distance education context is based on printed self-study materials, supported by optional online course materials. Assessment is conducted in a proctored face-to-face environment, where the student’s photo is incorporated into the answer form. In the Bulgarian university (University B) the two contexts are: a face-to-face context (B_f2f) and a blended learning context (B_blended). Most classes are taught face-to-face in the first context. Teachers use a variety of continuous assessment methods based on the development of artefacts. A number of courses are offered via blended learning: some use Moodle to access learning resources and for coursework submission; others are fully online courses including both individual and group learning activities; and some use virtual classroom software. A number of courses are presently being developed for national accreditation as distance education courses. All final assessments in both contexts in University B take place in face-to-face proctored environments.

Basic demographic data about those teachers who took part in the study was collected via the questionnaire. In university A, most respondents in the A_f2f context were female, whilst most in the A_distance context were male. In University B most teachers were female. All respondents had a lot of experience of face-to-face teaching, and most teachers had taught a course where at least part of the assessment had been conducted online, though 16% of the teachers in the two face-to-face contexts had no experience of blended, distance or online teaching. About one third of the respondents worked in the field of Education, the other teachers came from the fields of Arts, Computing, Mathematics, Sciences and Social Sciences.

The students in the samples from the two universities were quite different. In University A, the sample was mainly drawn from postgraduate courses, almost all of the face-to-face students already had a degree, as did almost half of the distance students. They were mainly part-time students and there were roughly equal numbers of men and women. In University B the students were mainly female, full-time students taking their first degree.

Prevalence of cheating

Teachers were asked how many students they thought had cheated in their courses, and how often they had reported cheating, the results are shown in Table  2 .

The wording of both of these questions are subject to a degree of interpretation on the part of the respondents which may affect the quality of the responses. University policies and procedures will impact on what counts as academic misconduct, and to what extent formal reporting is required, and indeed the answers to these questions should be seen as reflecting both the prevalence of cheating and the influence of the institutional contexts. These figures should therefore not be seen as providing accurate indicators of the levels of cheating, but rather as indicators that the teachers in both universities felt that there was a significant amount of cheating and plagiarism in the courses that they teach. In order to provide additional information about how seriously teachers viewed cheating, this issue was explored further during the interviews.

In the face-to-face context in University A , the teachers thought that cheating was common, and usually serious, though, perhaps, sometimes to be tolerated:

Cheating is quite common in formal education. This can be tolerated in the context of certain courses; the software course is one of them. Students definitely make use of websites when writing code … I believe that this is not harmful in the beginning phase. (A_f2f_T1)
To be honest, I believe cheating is one of the major problems that we encounter in higher education. The main problem is that the students are quite unaware about what constitutes plagiarism and cheating. (A_f2f_T2).

The teachers in the distance context in University A were less concerned about cheating, feeling they had effective measure in place:

A majority of the courses that are included in the open university system use multiple choice tests. Thus, the students are provided with exam booklets and optical answer sheets. The rates of cheating are very low since there are exam room heads and supervisors in exam rooms … it is not a serious problem currently due to face-to-face and supervised administration of exams.(A_distance_T1)

The teachers in the face-to-face context in University B saw cheating, and particularly plagiarism, as a significant problem:

Plagiarism, transcription and other forms of fraud in higher education assessment are certainly becoming more common. Therefore, in order to limit the problem, I stopped giving the students homework which they could bring in the class for assessment, instead I carry out oral, in-person, exams. (B_f2f_T2)

The teachers in the blended context in University B were experimenting with a variety of assessment methods, which presented issues for controlling cheating:

[I use a] project-based learning approach. The students are divided into small groups and asked to create a series of artefacts (joint report, picture story, blog and presentation). These products are partly developed in the classroom and partly in the VLE in shared workspaces for each group – forum or wiki. This way of working makes it difficult to determine the degree of authorship and contribution of each student to the final product. It also creates opportunities for others to contribute when students work from home … By constantly monitoring work on a project in the face-to-face sessions and in Moodle, and by conducting the final face-to-face written exam with an invigilator, fraud is prevented to a certain extent. (B_blended_T1)

In summary, across three of the four contexts cheating and plagiarism were seen as major problems, and the use of e-assessment was seen as exacerbating the problem. The exception is the distance education context in University A, where the teachers interviewed said that the systems in place were effective in preventing cheating.

Types of cheating

In the questionnaires, teachers were asked to rate the frequency with which they encountered 14 types of cheating and plagiarism. To facilitate comparison of the frequency of types of cheating, a mean score for the teachers’ responses was calculated, allocating a mark of 4 for ‘often’, 3 for ‘sometimes’, 2 for ‘occasionally’, 1 for ‘rarely’, and 0 otherwise, these are shown for each university in Table  3 , this table also shows the results for the Mann-Whitney U-test, the use of which is explained below.

In order to examine how the responses to each of the 14 questions about the frequency of types of cheating (the dependent variables) varied between universities (the independent variable), the Mann-Whitney U-test was used because the dependent variables are ordinal variables. A one-tailed test was used with a significance level of 0.01. The sample sizes are: 31 for University A and 100 for University B. The null hypothesis for each question from the questionnaire is that it is equally likely that a randomly selected value from University A will be less than or greater than a randomly selected value from University B (i.e. the two samples from University A and University B have the same distribution).

As can be seen from Table 3 , the p values for the Mann-Whitney U-test for five types of cheating in face-to-face assessments were less than 0.01, and so the null hypothesis can be rejected in these cases. The five types of cheating were:

Copying from the work of other students in the exam room

Receiving hints from other students in the exam room

Copying from materials (on paper, on a mobile device, etc) taken into the exam hall

Using a device with headphones to receive assistance from someone outside the exam room

Giving an excuse to leave the exam room temporarily, and then gaining access to outside help.

In each case the mean score for University A was less than for University B. One possible explanation for the differences in the frequency of these five types of cheating might be that there is a somewhat stricter supervision of examination rooms in place in University A than in University B. However, these differences in themselves should not be seen as implying that examination surveillance in general is stricter in one university than another as other factors such as assessment design would need to be taken into account in order to make such a judgement.

Teachers and students were asked to identify any other types of cheating that they had observed. Teachers mentioned some additional variants of ‘copying from materials’ (e.g. planting information in the room on a previous day and also using invisible ink) and of plagiarism (including translation from other languages). Teachers in both contexts in University A mentioned invigilators helping students, and students in both these contexts also mentioned getting help from the invigilator. Other types of cheating identified by students included the use of translations of foreign language texts and using fake data in research projects.

From Table 3 , it is clear that, in both face-to-face and online assessment, the most common categories of cheating that teachers experienced were plagiarism and ghost writing, this was followed by copying (from other students or from notes, via mobile phones or the internet), and lastly impersonation. Student authentication would not, therefore, seem to be a major issue for the teachers at the moment, probably because impersonation is seen as being well controlled through the use of face-to-face proctored assessments. Authorship checking, on the other hand, would seem to be highly relevant, as the major cheating observed was ghost writing and plagiarism. However, another category of cheating behaviours that was of concern to teachers in both face-to-face and online assessment was small scale copying (from other students or from notes, via mobile phones or the internet), though this category is less seen in face-to-face assessments in University A than in University B. This category of cheating is unlikely to be picked up by authorship checking instruments as it is on too small a scale. This category is similar to that class of cheating behaviours identified by Watson and Sottile ( 2010 ) referred to earlier as particularly likely to occur in online tests and quizzes.

Reasons for cheating and means of prevention

The teachers and students were asked why they thought that students cheated, and presented with a list of options to select from. The most popular options chosen by both teachers and students were:

Wanting to get higher grades

The internet encourages cheating and plagiarism, and makes it easy to do

There would not be any serious consequences if cheating or plagiarism was discovered.

In response to an open question, teachers provided a range of other possible reasons, principally suggesting that students were lazy and wanted to take the easy way out, however some teachers put the responsibility on the university rather than the student, saying that students had not been educated about cheating and plagiarism, and that poor learning content encouraged students to cheat.

Students came up with some other suggestions:

Lack of knowledge about what cheating and plagiarism are

High expectations from their parents

‘I work and I have no time to learn’

‘When you have three assessments in a week’

Students don’t engage with course content unless it is provided in an interesting and accessible way.

The views expressed by the teachers might lead one to expect that they would prioritise approaches to the prevention of cheating that emphasise sanctions. However, when asked about ways of preventing cheating and plagiarism, educational approaches were the most commonly described approach, with approaches based on the use of technology, changed assessment design and increased sanctions also very popular. Comments related to technology use in the prevention of cheating included references to student authentication, plagiarism checking, performance tracking, jamming devices for mobile phones, and surveillance cameras.

Impact of increased use of e-assessment on cheating

The administrator interviewed in University A was principally concerned about the technical and security issues associated with any increased use of e-assessment:

The online exams can be organised in two ways. The first one is administered in computer laboratories where supervisors are present, and completed within a certain period of time on the internet using a limited number of computers. The second one is administered completely on the personal computers of learners, and there are no supervisors during exams. If the exams are to be administered without any supervisors, the systems should be developed and cleared to prevent students from helping each other cheat. It should not be regarded as just the internet access of a computer with a web camera.

The administrator interviewed in University B was principally concerned about existing institutional approaches to cheating and plagiarism:

There is no well-established mechanism to stop the process of attempting to cheat and plagiarise by the students ... There is not a department with such competencies, and there is no electronic system to check the text materials. I have noticed that this problem is massively neglected by the teachers.

In the questionnaire given to teachers, they were asked whether they would be concerned about an increase in cheating if there was a greater use of e-assessment. The results are shown in Table  4 .

Many teachers are concerned that an increase in the use of e-assessment will impact on cheating, though there are differences in the degree of concern between contexts, most striking is the statistically significant difference between the A_distance and B_blended contexts (Chi-square = 9.545, d.f. =2, p  < 0.01). The use in the A_distance context of tightly controlled face-to-face proctored examinations for large numbers of students provides a high degree of confidence in the assessment process and hence these teachers are particularly concerned about any change in the way in which assessment is carried out. The teachers in the B_blended context, on the other hand, have developed an assessment approach using significant elements of e-assessment for small groups of students that involves close monitoring, and have fewer concerns about an increased use of e-assessment.

Each of the four contexts will now be discussed in turn, looking firstly at the replies to an open question in the questionnaire asking about the possible impact on cheating of an increased use of e-assessment, and then at the interviews with the two teachers in each context exploring this same issue.

In the face-to-face context in University A the teachers thought that students would take advantage of e-assessment in order to cheat unless there were strict controls, and they were sceptical about the extent to which systems for student authentication and authorship checking could be effective. One teacher referred to the TOEFL iBT Test as an ideal model of e-assessment in a strictly controlled environment. The teachers interviewed shared these concerns, though they also saw some advantages in e-assessment, in part because of the opportunity for more creative assessments:

Having the students perform online activities that will make them use higher level cognitive skills, such as writing blogs and making discussions will presumably reduce the acts of cheating. (A_f2f_T1)

and, in part, because it would facilitate the use of tools that identify, and so discourage, cheating and plagiarism:

It is very difficult to read the exam papers and assignments one by one. It will be faster to read them using technology ... When reading the written material, sometimes we fail to see that the student had cheated … there are online tools such as ‘iThenticate’ … which help to read and see cheating much faster. (A_f2f_T1)
I have begun to use ‘Turnitin’ to collect student work … because the students know this, they are extra careful in their submitted assignments. (A_f2f_T2)

In the distance education context in University A the teachers also thought that students would attempt to take advantage and to cheat, and that existing controls would be insufficient to prevent this. However, they also argued that there were possible preventative steps which would lessen the impact: the adoption of appointment based tests such as those used in the TOEFL iBT Test; and the redesign of multiple choice exams through developing new question types, increasing the number of questions based on reasoning, and using a wider range of questions based on materials outside the textbook.

The concerns felt by teachers in this context are illustrated by this comment from one of the interviewees:

...the participants will attempt cheating to pass the exam with the easiest way. The conditions that prevent students from cheating will not exist in the online environments ... Thus, the participants will definitely try to cheat … In this environment, they may try to have someone else take the exam instead, or cheat from the internet or the printed resources. (A_distance_T2)

In both the face-to-face and blended contexts in University B many teachers thought that there would be some loss of control over the assessment process and that this would lead to greater cheating even with a student authentication system as there was no control over other people communicating with the student, or over the student accessing other materials. However, some teachers argued that technology actually created better opportunities for control (particularly through authorship checking with Plagiarism Checking and Forensic Analysis) and that appropriate design of assessment could also help to limit cheating, examples included: keeping the time for the assessment task short so there was little opportunity for cheating: and setting more creative assignments that would be harder to copy from elsewhere. It was also argued that e-assessments should have a low weight in the overall assessment and be complemented by a face-to-face final exam.

Teachers concerns were well expressed by this teacher:

I also think that a problem arises in solving a test or a written/oral exam in the online environment because the teacher does not have the opportunity to follow what materials or tools the student uses during the exam itself … In a written exam, for example, even with Voice, and Face Recognition, I cannot be sure that the student does not use any help on the computer screen or on his knees to help. So, yes, certainly online testing and e-assessment definitely worry me. (B_f2f_T2)

In summary, teachers in all four contexts felt that greater use of e-assessment would increase the prevalence of cheating, though there was also recognition that technology also provides opportunities to support assessment and reduce cheating. The teachers most concerned were those in the distance education context in University A, where there are large student numbers presently being assessed in strictly controlled proctored face-to-face environments. University B is starting to develop distance education programmes and is concerned about how it should develop assessment in that context. When talking about technology, a number of teachers referred positively to their use of plagiarism detection software, and whilst student authentication instruments were seen as useful, there were concerns that they do not prevent communication with other people, or the copying of materials, during the assessment task.

Possible roles for student authentication and authorship checking systems

Two teachers in each of the four contexts were interviewed. They were asked how they might use student authentication and authorship checking systems such as TeSLA to address existing problems with cheating, or how they might use such systems to support new forms of assessment. The teachers’ comments are presented for each context below.

In the face-to-face context in University A the teachers thought that such a system would reduce cheating, but one teacher’s experience of issues arising from the use of other plagiarism detection software prompted a degree of caution:

Making the students type their answers and informing them that their keystrokes and syntactic patterns are recorded would be really helpful to prevent cheating. Nevertheless, I don’t yet know the stress this will cause in students. ‘Turnitin’ already makes them very stressed because it gives all the possible matches, even their own names in other assignments they have submitted earlier. Most of the teachers do not even read the work when they see the originality report, they don’t bother checking what is inside. (A_f2f_T2)

However, the teachers welcomed the possibilities of easier access to assessment for students:

Especially for the disabled students, these can minimise effort. Because the system will recognise their keystroke patterns and sentence structure, their tests can be given online which will help these disadvantaged groups as they will not need to travel to the exam. (A_f2f_T 2)

One teacher explained how the use of such systems might impact on her assessment activities, firstly by enabling her to re-introduce book reading activities which she had dropped because of fears about cheating and plagiarism, and secondly in moving multiple choice tests online:

... if it is the TeSLA system we are using, I can see to what extent the assignment is taken from another resource or to what degree the students had copied from each other or from the pages on the internet since I know about the content of the text book and students’ homework in it.
I use multiple choice tests in the mid-term and final exams ... I would like to administer them online ... to do an exam on their tablet PCs and mobile phones within a certain period of time after receiving their biometric data. (A_f2f_T1)

In the distance education context in University A exams are presently carried out face-to-face because of the risk of cheating and plagiarism. Teachers thought that a reliable e-assessment system which incorporated additional checks together with those provided by student authentication and authorship checking would enable them to carry out some assessments online:

The students will probably not have the chance to cheat from other resources as long as the exam durations are acceptable and not very long ... I suggest that the students should not be allowed to open any other applications on the computer when the exam application is open in TeSLA. (A_distance_T2)

University A wishes to move away from a reliance on multiple choice tests, and TeSLA was seen as supporting the use of a wider range of assessment activities, including taking some existing formative e-assessment activities and using them summatively, and thus re-balancing the overall assessment towards a greater use of continuous assessment:

In the open university system, the project assignments to be given to the students can be checked by the Keystroke Dynamics instrument. This way, it can be determined if a student had done the assignment personally ... Voice Recognition can be used very effectively. They can record their assignments on mobile phones, and do them on the computer as well … TeSLA instruments can be used for projects, term papers, or portfolios. (A_distance_T1)
It is possible to use activities that are provided in the VLE for continuous assessment purposes that encourage students to search and learn, even in courses with large number of students … The Forensic Analysis instrument … encourages me to give homework to students in courses having relatively small number of students as the system recognizes the writing styles. This way, I have the chance to determine whether the student has done it themselves. (A_distance_T2)

In the face-to-face context in University B , teachers also welcomed the possibilities of easier access to assessment for students:

.. these are wonderful tools in cases where it is impossible, or very difficult, for students to attend university … (such as) SEN students, students from programs abroad, students with temporary difficulties attending exams. (B_f2f_T1)

One teacher commented that although the TeSLA system had potential, it was limited and therefore unlikely to impact on her existing assessment design:

The instruments developed in TeSLA are definitely interesting and have the potential to limit some of the problems associated with testing fraud. In the online environment, Face and Voice Recognition would eliminate the possibility of impersonation. The Keystroke Dynamics instrument is useful when the student responds in writing to a question in a real environment. Unfortunately, all three instruments cannot cope with the problem of the presence of hidden aids that examinees may use.
Currently, using TeSLA would not change the assessment methods that I use in general. As an option … I might conduct oral exams in an online environment, but only when it is possible to ensure that the student does not use help materials on paper or on the computer screen. (B_f2f_T2)

In the blended context in University B, teachers again noted the value of flexibility:

… many of our students are working and often cannot attend classes. In this regard, the possibility of replacing face-to-face exams with e-assessment from home would be of great benefit for both teachers and students. (B_blended_T2)

This teacher explained in some detail how he would integrate the tools within the assessment process:

… the final written exam, conducted under the supervision of a lecturer, is more heavily weighted than the continuous assessment, because students might receive external help when working from home. With TeSLA, I could assume that students’ work done at home is their own and then I would increase the weight of the results of the continuous assessment in forming the final grade in the discipline. As forms of assessment, I would keep the writing a wiki report (integrated with the TeSLA instruments Keystroke Dynamics and Plagiarism Detection) … I would change the final written exam from writing on paper to writing on a computer under the supervision of a teacher, integrating the Keystroke Dynamics and Plagiarism Detection instruments … as well as the Forensic Analysis instrument … (B_blended_T1)

In summary, in all four contexts the teachers interviewed could see some potential role for student authentication and authorship checking systems, allowing greater assessment flexibility and access. However, the integrations proposed are rarely straightforward, and involve modifications to both the wider technological environment and to administrative arrangements in order to enable such systems to be used effectively.

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The rise of contract cheating during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative study through the eyes of academics in Kuwait

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Contract cheating has gone rampant in higher education recently. When institutions switched to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of contract cheating students climbed to unprecedented levels. Essay mills saw the lack of face-to-face interaction and proctoring on campus as an opportunity and used aggressive marketing methods to attract students. This study asked the opinions of 20 faculty members working in the English departments of private higher education institutions in Kuwait regarding contract cheating through interviews. The data was analyzed with MAXQDA 2020. The findings show that all faculty members can recognize contract cheating easily. Most of them see contract cheating as a serious problem in the higher education system, a threat to the reliability of language assessment, triggered by laziness, the social pressure to graduate with a high GPA, and exacerbated by the cheating opportunities in online education. Academics have developed certain individual strategies in their courses to curb the number of contract cheating students; however, institutional measures differ, and in some, there are no measures or sanctions on contract cheating students.


In recent years, violations of academic integrity by students have increased and received attention from researchers, institutions, journalists, and policy-makers. While these violations vary widely, one emerging problem called ‘contract cheating’ has seen a global rise, across all disciplines. This sinister style of cheating has been aggravated “by the commodification of higher education and the increasingly popular sharing economy” (Williamson, 2019 ).

The phrase ‘contract cheating’ was first created by Clarke and Lancaster ( 2006 ). Contract cheating occurs when somebody other than the student does the assignment, passes it onto the student who turns it in to gain academic credit. Some argue that contract cheating should involve a monetary transaction between a student and a company (paper mill), whereas others define it as a student outsourcing his or her work, without necessarily having to pay anything for it (Eaton & Turner, 2020 ). It is worth mentioning that over the last decade, an industry, in which some companies or agencies, also known as paper mills, are paid to undertake this kind of academic work has emerged (The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2020 ).

Contract cheating can be observed in any kind of written work, such as essay writing, science lab projects, computer-based projects and assignments, or any other technical work. Another point that needs clarifying is the difference between contract cheating and ghostwriting. Although two concepts are sometimes used interchangeably, the intention is not the same. For example, unless the celebrity is a well-known writer, it is presumed that he or she will be getting some assistance with their book. It may be acceptable to some extent to pay someone to ghostwrite a book; however, when contract cheating is involved in an assignment or a test, the instructor is deprived of a valuable tool to evaluate the student’s knowledge and score his or her performance reliably (Bretag, 2018 ).

Although students have been documented to pay third parties to carry out academic work in their name since the 1970s, with the advent of the Internet there has been a surge in contract cheating. Globally, universities are literally struggling to combat contract cheating. According to Lee ( 2019 ), in Australia, 16 universities were shocked by almost 1000 students utilizing a website to ghostwrite essays. The New York Times highlighted the rise of contract cheating in North America, in 2019. The Varsity Blues Scandal also clearly displayed that student were cheating to gain admissions into reputable universities and thus hiring others to complete assignments on their behalf (Lee, 2019 ). Bretag et al. ( 2019 ) stated that 5.8% of university students take part in one or more types of cheating; however, a high percentage of students participate in ‘sharing’ behaviors, such as buying, selling, or trading assignments for others. Studies from various countries have found the prevalence of contract cheating to range from 3.5% in Australia (Curtis & Clare, 2017 ) to 18.9% in Turkey (Eret & Ok, 2014 ). Also, a study in Czechia found 34% of students knew someone who got engaged in contract cheating, and 87% of students were aware of paper mills (Foltynek & Kralikova, 2018 ).

There are some strong indications that the potential for academic cheating has become even worse during the COVID-19 pandemic when universities all over the world had to shift to online learning. This shift has allowed more opportunities for students to complete assignments with online assistance; as a result, contract cheating has emerged as a real threat to academic integrity. Students believed that cheating in online exams was easier than the ones held in person; therefore, they tend to cheat more during online (King et al. 2009 )

Many universities use software systems such as Turnitin, AntiPlag, TeSLA, and other software to detect plagiarism, and these systems are constantly improving (Pàmies et al. 2020 ; Jiffriya et al. 2013 ; Edwards et al. 2019 ). Nevertheless, none of these tools can reliably detect contract cheating. Some progress has been made in forensic linguistics to ensure academic integrity and punish academic misconduct (Peytcheva-Forsyth et al. 2019 ; Sousa-Silva, 2020 ), but technology is not developing fast enough to curtail all plagiarism practices, particularly, contract cheating.

While contract cheating seems to be triggered by an array of factors ranging from social, economic to cultural, and from educational, academic to personal (Awdry & Ives, 2020 ; Ali & Alhassan, 2021 ), one thing that most scholars would agree on is the ever-increasing visibility and aggressive marketing strategies of essay mills, particularly with the advent of social media. Essay mills have discovered innovative ways to satisfy students’ requirements and now they reach their potential customers through online advertising, emails, and phone calls. According to the e-book of contract cheating by the plagiarism detection software Turnitin ( 2021 ), essay mills have really made it easy for students to use their services by reaching students at the right time, offering a professional and allegedly legitimate experience, and following up students, i.e., their customers with perseverance.

Although contract cheating is mostly linked with essay mills, it surely does not apply exclusively to essay mills. According to Lancaster and Clarke ( 2016 ), students can use essay writing services, friends, family, and other students, and private tutors among many others. In fact, recent studies found that students are more likely to get help from people that they know (friends, parents), rather than from commercial sites and that money usually does not change hands with contract cheating (Armond & Varga, 2021 ; Turnitin, 2017 ). Indeed, 10.4% of students stated that they used a professional service, whereas 60.2% turned to a current or former student. From among the students who asked for help from other students, only 13.2% paid for this service (Turnitin, 2017 ). In many cases of contract cheating, friends or classmates informally exchange favors or just help each other out.

Contract cheating is a serious academic misconduct that threatens the academic integrity of the student’s grades and their qualifications. The consequences are not limited to individuals, as contract cheating also raises suspicion about all the degrees awarded by an institution. The effects of plagiarism and cheating continue even after formal education is completed (Williamson, 2019 ). Some studies demonstrated that undergraduate students, who engage in academic misconduct, are more likely to display inappropriate behaviors during their work life and there is a strong correlation between self-reported academic dishonesty and the level of corruption of a country (Guerrero-Dib 2020 ; Orosz et al. 2018 ). According to Bretag ( 2019 ), contract cheating is a threat to public safety as future doctors, engineers, and social workers who have outsourced their learning could pose a serious risk for the society. When researchers and scientists purchase their theses, publications, and qualifications, they will even endanger the credibility of science.

Contract cheating in Kuwait

According to the Kuwaiti media, students engage in all types of academic dishonesty in Kuwaiti higher education institutes (AlSuwaileh et al. 2016 ). Indeed, the cases of cheating and plagiarism are generally reported in newspapers; however, there are very few empirical research studies on this issue. For example, a report revealed that one third of the university students admitted to buying papers, generally from shops around the campus which primarily seem to be providing printing and photocopying services (Al Jiyyar, 2017 ). The Kuwait Ministry of Commerce has closed such businesses from time to time due to complaints from the Ministry of Education, banning them from advertising research services, but particularly during the pandemic, most of these shops had to close and shifted their services to online platforms.

As these reports and studies (AlSuwaileh & AlRadaan, 2015 ; Al Jiyyar, 2017 ; Hamed & AlAhmad, 2018 ; Al Darwish & Sadeeqi, 2016 ) reveal, although academic misconduct is quite prevalent in Kuwait higher education institutes, they are not reported or sometimes go unnoticed. Students do not face consequences and professors are generally left to their own devices with plagiarizing and cheating students, as sometimes there are no academic integrity policies in place.

Although contract cheating is an increasingly challenging problem facing the higher education sector, literature review indicates research gaps deserving attention. Through a systematic literature review of 51 peer-reviewed articles on contract cheating in higher education, Ahsan ( 2021 ) has found contract cheating research concentrates on only a few countries, such as Australia, UK, and Canada whereas the USA, China, India, and other emerging countries remain under-researched. Moreover, various contextual aspects which may influence contract cheating such as society, culture, and religion have also not been adequately explored. Another topic that has not been researched yet is contract cheating during and in the post COVID-19 era.

Thus, this paper will investigate contract cheating in private higher education institutes in Kuwait, an under-researched country in this sense. The existing literature on contract cheating in Kuwait is indeed scarce and the very few studies found mostly focused on students. The faculty members’ viewpoints regarding how COVID-19 has influenced contract cheating practices of students will also be analyzed in the study, a research gap indicated by Ahsan, ( 2021 ).

This research is unique in a sense that it will be the first one investigating contract cheating to gather empirical evidence in a Kuwaiti context through the eyes of the faculty members working in private higher education institutes. The use of commercial contract cheating services is a borderless phenomenon; the student, their university, and the writer and company could all be in different countries. Therefore, we can assume that country-specific analysis will contribute to the higher education literature and help higher education sector to combat this form of academic misconduct.

The key questions in this study will be

What is the overall awareness level of faculty members in recognizing contract cheating?

How has online education during the pandemic affected contract cheating?

What do faculty members suggest as a solution to combat contract cheating?


The research design in this study could be described as exploratory qualitative, as participants’ perspectives were obtained through semi-structured interviews. The questions in the interview were developed to gain participants’ perceptions of contract cheating in the courses that they teach within their institutes. The questions were adapted from similar studies conducted by Ali and Alhassan ( 2021 ) who conducted a qualitative study among higher education institutes in Oman, a culturally similar country to Kuwait; and Awdry and Newton ( 2019 ) who surveyed staff views in Australian and British universities via a questionnaire. This study has expanded on these previous studies by including questions assessing faculty members’ viewpoints regarding the impact of COVID-19 on contract cheating.

Research population

The population of the research is 20 faculty members who were employed in four different private higher education institutions in Kuwait, teaching English language, literature, or writing skills, during the 2020–2021 academic year. The researcher used purposive sampling to access faculty members who would most likely have the experience to provide quality information and valuable insights on the research topic. According to Layder ( 2013 ), in purposive sampling the sample is ‘handpicked’ for the research, where the researcher already knows something about the specific people or events and deliberately selects them because they are likely to produce the most valuable data. This type of sampling aimed to ensure that the sample is as diverse as possible to be able to identify a full range of perspectives that are associated with contract cheating within the Kuwaiti higher education context.

The sample was selected according to the following criteria: fulltime faculty members working in various private higher education institutes in Kuwait during the pandemic who agreed to be interviewed and recorded in an online interview and signed the consent form. The participants in this study represent different disciplines, institutes, and national and cultural backgrounds.

Data collection

The faculty members were interviewed on an online platform due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews offer an advantage over surveys as researchers can get more details on vague answers. According to Brown ( 2001 ), interviews have a high return rate and fewer incomplete answers.

For the reliability and validity of the interviews, the researcher conducted some pilot interviews with some faculty who are not in the sample to check the understandability of the questions. After the interview, the recorded voice file and the written interview text were sent to each interviewee to obtain their approval to avoid any misunderstandings.

Due to the interactive nature of the interview and the various biases and limits that may impact human decision-making, the interviewer did not deviate from the interview questions and kept a neutral body language with all interviewees. After the interview, the recorded voice file and the written interview text were sent to each interviewee to obtain their approval to avoid any misunderstandings.

Data analysis

Data analysis in qualitative research includes preparing and organizing the data, coding it, and bringing the codes together and reducing them to themes, then presenting the data in the form of figures, tables, or a discussion (Creswell, 2018 ). The data obtained in this research were examined through thematic and content analysis methods.

Thematic analysis is a method used to identify, analyze, and report the themes in the obtained data, and it enables the data to be organized and described in the smallest dimensions (Boyatzis, 1998 ; Braun & Clarke, 2019 ). Content analysis is the systematic, objective and, if possible, quantitative analysis of the content of various documents (Bilgin, 2006 ). The main purpose of content analysis is to reach concepts and relationships that will help explain the collected data. While the introductory findings of the participants are evaluated with thematic analysis, the content of the participants’ opinions is systematically examined with content analysis (Karatas, 2015 ).

For data analysis, the audio recordings obtained from the interviews were transcribed. To protect the anonymity and confidentiality of the participants, each interviewee was given a code (P1 to P20). The institution names were also removed from the transcribed interviews.

Written interview data were transferred to the MAXQDA 2020 program. The MAXQDA program, uses visual analysis tools extensively, and can be used in mixed research methods in addition to basic statistical analyses, provides a more systematic analysis of data compared to hand-held analysis (Kuckartz & Rädiker, 2019 ). An inductive approach has been adopted in the analysis of the data transferred to the MAXQDA 2020 program. The data was read repeatedly, and the first codes were generated. Codes related to each other were grouped under the same themes and named relevantly. Afterwards, the themes obtained were explained in detail. Finally, the researcher interpreted the findings and supported them with various visuals.

Research question 1

The first research question of the study was geared towards analyzing the awareness level of faculty members in terms of recognition and detection of contract cheating. The perception of contract cheating theme has been examined under 3 different categories. These are awareness of contract cheating, telltale signs, and the most common cheating strategy.

Awareness of contract cheating

Awareness of contract cheating category was defined with three different codes. These are: being aware of contract cheating, receiving such assignments, aware but not being able to prove cheating. Most participants expressed that they are aware of contract cheating taking place around them, and in many ways:

“I was surprised to see how common it is in Kuwait. Last year, some of them even tried to contact me on Instagram, obviously having no idea who I am and where I work. They were the ghostwriters themselves, thinking that I was a student" (P7)
"Yes. I'm very aware with that. And this thing became evident, especially now with our online teaching. You can see a clear distinction between the linguistic fingerprint of the students and of the one answering the questions.” (P8)

In the same category, participants expressed they receive such cheated or plagiarized work from their students:

“I have had many students, even before this online environment. After I pressed them, this is plagiarized, you could not have written this yourself, they would, tell me I've had my friend, family member, sister, whoever, helped me.” (P4)
“Yes, I have received some assignments. I suspected that they are ghost written assignments because, the level of assignments was very high for those students, for example, their English is not very good, but the assignment language was very high.” (P14)

Some participants mentioned that they have a hunch that students cheat, but they cannot always prove it: “I don't have a lot of evidence. This is the problem, because I know that it doesn't matter whether they turned the camera on, there could always be somebody there doing it for them” (P5)

Telltale signs

This category was defined with four different codes: perfectness of the assignment, not editing the work, checking the property of Microsoft/Google Docs, and assignment submission time, as displayed in Fig. 1 .

figure 1

Telltale signs of contract cheated assignments

Participants mentioned that contract cheating students submit assignments that are grammatically flawless and much better than their real level:

“But I look up the GPA, there’s somebody who has a very low GPA, he's really struggling and then he has an essay, and you would like to publish it in the newspaper because it’s so good… well then it's clear.” (P1)

“Well, one would be a flawless essay written by a student who can barely speak English and we still know our students, even though we teach online, they speak in class, or they send us messages that are sometimes ungrammatical. So, we know students who have given us work, that's produced by someone else.” (P11)

Another code participants mentioned was that contract cheating students do not modify their submission according to the specific instructions of the given assignment. The work taken from the ghostwriter generally does not follow the template that the instructor has shown in class:

“Some of the essays are received from my students were written in a totally different manner, not necessarily incorrect but just different than the one I told them in terms of the components of the essay, the order of the ideas to follow… So, in that sense, it is easily noticeable.” (P7)

Unusual file properties after checking Microsoft/Google Docs make participants suspect that somebody else has contributed to the assignment:

“I have instances where I can check the properties Microsoft submission or PowerPoint, and you can tell who forgot to remove their name from the properties. And tell, even it's a certain paper mill. You can look it up on Google and find out how much they charge.” (P2)

Assignment submission time, whether it was too late or early was seen as a red flag by some participants.

“Some of my students submit work 20 minutes late. We have some timed assignments; they have to write it and finish in class on time. 60 minutes is still long enough, but if they are communicating with their buddy, … the communication fails, so they're desperate to submit their work 10 minutes 20 minutes later, depending on the source.” (P4)
“Because we use Pearson, students who cheat start the quiz later, they don't start on time, 25-30 minutes later and then they finish in seven minutes instead of 45 minutes, so it's just not possible to finish in seven minutes or 20 minutes and submit something perfect.” (P20)

Most common cheating strategy

The most common cheating strategy category was defined with two different codes: paper mills and friends and family. Participants mentioned that the most common cheating strategy that they encounter is paper mills:

“With the incidents that I found, I found 20% of them to have family members, that have majored in either English or good at English to write their essays. But the majority 80% is fee-based.” (P8)
“Students are now familiar with Turnitin and that the old submissions will be immediately detected; therefore, they are now avoiding those types of help. So, ghostwriting, I mean cheating agencies, yes, this is what I have seen in the recent years.” (P12)
“I think before COVID, it was primarily friends, family members, relatives, other classmates that were helping them. And it wasn't necessarily a financial transaction.” (P6)

Research question 2

This question was designed to analyze the perceptions of academics regarding the rise of contract cheating during the pandemic. Most participants perceived the numbers to have risen:

“I observed a massive rise in academic dishonesty during online teaching, across the board, in contract cheating, as well. I think that is just off the chart cheating in everything. I have very low confidence in the integrity of the grades that are currently being produced.” (P3)
“Online has definitely increased the amount of a quiz cheating. When we were on campus if I suspected somebody, I'd bring them to my office and then, interrogate them and they’d be a little intimidated. So, probably they would admit. How can I interrogate the way that I was doing the class in my office? I cannot.” (P5)

Some participants mentioned that contract cheating during the pandemic has not risen, or they were unsure if the pandemic has made any impact on the number of cases:

“I'm not sure because I've always been able to detect contract cheating. I know their strategies have shifted because things are online. So perhaps other instructors are finding an increase, but I think that the increase has always been there, in the last several years.” (P2)

When asked how often they are submitted contract cheated assignments, most participants expressed approximately 0–25% students resort to contract cheating in their courses. Some quotations regarding different perspectives of percentages are given below:

“It depends on each given semester. But I have a class of 28 you might find like five of them that do it. In a class, you might find like three or four and I have one smaller section of 14, you might find like 2.” (P2)
“I would say it could be anything close to 40-50%. It's happening a lot.” (P11)
“The thing is before the pandemic, they weren't able to cheat during the actual midterms on the finals, at least not to this point, but now after the pandemic, I can say this number has gone up to probably 98 or 99%” (P17)

The faculty members were also asked what they consider the major motivators for the rise of contract cheating during the pandemic. The responses to this question in terms of codes could be seen in Fig. 2

figure 2

Motivators for contract cheating and frequencies

Participants mentioned that student’s reasons to contract cheat are their laziness to do the necessary work and wish for easy access to good grades. The participants said the following:

“I believe the first reason is the reluctance to make an effort, going to college or studying in a certain program.” (P7)
“Lack of motivation and lack of willingness to learn because it's a learning process, that's not something that some people are interested in” (P13)

The second most frequently mentioned code was the culture and the social pressure to be university graduate in Kuwait:

“This is a very common thing in our society unfortunately. They're very lazy, but they want the grade because it's for their reputation and for the society.” (P15)

Some participants also brought up opportunity as a motivator. Opportunity in this context involves the absence of proctoring; having money to buy the work; and easy access to such services.

“The opportunity is there constantly. Once these essay mills realize that this guy's a student at university, through social media, friend of a friend, they contact them. So, the opportunity presents itself. And I think in some places, students feel they are a fool not to take advantage of it.” (P9)
“They have money, and they know that they can hire someone easily. So sometimes I think a group of students are sharing the money. So, it is not a costing a lot for them.” (P14)

Participant 18, linked the rise of contract cheating to COVID burnout:

“Maybe one of the motives that's inspiring people is burnout. And everyone has a bit of COVID burnout. They're at home isolated, I think that burnout might be part of the incentive that people find it harder to get motivated.” (P18)

Research question 3

When asked about the solutions the faculty members could suggest helping eliminate the problem of contract cheating, their responses revealed 3 different categories: personal strategies to combat cheating, institutional measures taken to combat contract cheating, general suggestions for combatting contract cheating, as displayed in Fig. 3 .

figure 3

Dealing with contract cheating hierarchical code-subcodes model and frequencies

Strategies to combat contract cheating

Eight different strategies that faculty members have adopted are shown in Fig. 4 .

figure 4

Changing the assessment type was the most adopted strategy, particularly during the pandemic. Participants mentioned that they change both the type of assignments and the questions that they ask in their exams or quizzes:

“I've reduced the amount of anything in my course that is written…So now, everything in my class is pretty much presented orally.” (P2)
“We revised the type of assignments that we had students do. We accomplish the curriculum goals in a different way, using a different kind of assignment. We just worked around it by using a different activity.” (P6)

The next most frequently mentioned strategy was getting to know the student, trying to find out the true level of the student throughout the course:

“Before giving an assignment, I would usually ask these students to do specific tasks, a writing assignment, an essay… So, when I receive their essays, I have their linguistic fingerprint. In case you suspect contract cheating, you go back to previous essays, you will see a discrepancy in the quality of the way it was written.” (P8)

Using certain software to detect and prevent the contract cheating in exams or assignments is also a commonly used strategy:

“…during the assessments we used an app called lockdown browser which disables access to all the websites and apps, other than the one used for the assessment.” (P7)

Some participants confront the student, and give their cheating students a 0/F or low grade that is enough to fail that student in that course:

“Sometimes I've caught people and said, “The writing style in this assignment is so different from the other things that you've submitted.” then they'll say, well, my sister helped me or, or I had a friend or something like that…” (P18)
“I would just give them a zero and that will drop their grade, which is a huge punishment. Cause it drops the grade big time, 20% or 25%, without a possibility of doing a make-up...” (P13)

A few participants mentioned that if faculty members are involved in the whole process and guiding the student during that time, cheating will be much harder, and students will not resort to contract cheating:

“I never give them an assignment and say, bring me a 30-page paper, with 50 references. I tell them, I want you to know exactly what you're doing... then I want to know your methodology. How do you want to research these questions? … show me your interview questions. Who are you going to interview exactly and why? Like baby steps...” (P13)

As well as using camera and microphone in online teaching, some participants mentioned that they prevent students cheat by giving them as little time as they can only do the exam or assignment:

“In my opinion if you want honest answers, create a huge question bank, randomize it and the key is, time pressure. Otherwise, if you give them enough time then you'll get perfect answers across the board because it's all debated in the WhatsApp group.” (P3)

Measures taken by the institution

The measures the institutions are taking to curb contract cheating could be classified in 8 different codes, as could be seen in Fig. 5 .

figure 5

The most popular measure taken by institutions is informing students about the outcomes, through syllabus, integrity statements or in classes, verbally:

“Every university calls it different. I remember in Iowa, we used to have those things that students have to sign, and they’re very well aware, if they are caught cheating, this is not going to be your decision anymore. This is a contract. I'm sorry but you have to be directly sent to the head of department to deal with you, and the head of department should only tell them, you signed here.” (P5)

The next code mentioned by participants is there were no institutional measures. Some participants mentioned some institutions take no action against cheating:

“We haven't talked about it in our department. Until recently I think they were not aware of it. They always say Turnitin, and that's good and then you see that it doesn't control the internet. Contract cheating is a completely different matter and, no, we haven't talked about it” (P1)

Some institutions have an academic integrity committee to deal with contract cheating:

“We have a committee, a great appeal committee or a committee to look at this. They are more willing to step up because they don't have to deal with the student. It's more like a collective issue, it’s not a one-on-one battle with them.” (P6)
“When we have the anti-cheating rules and how I know that if the case gets to the academic integrity committee, ... I was part of that committee, and the consequences were very dire…very severe.” (P8)

Participants expressed that if the student is caught cheating, they will fail that course, as an institutional policy. More severe measures would be suspending the student from the university, and/ or making a note in the student’s file:

“Cheating in any assignment is considered as serious academic misconduct, any work that has been copied plagiarized or completed by someone other than the submitting student will get a zero.” (P14)
“There were several instances of ghost writing, the students were caught and kicked out of university for a semester” (P6)

Some institutes were quite flexible with this academic misconduct and participants said they give the student a second chance to submit their work again, with a small penalty:

“We give them only a two-day window. So, if they resubmitted the work within the first 24 hours after we emailed them, they lose 40% of the grade.” (P17)

Suggestions for combatting contract cheating

Suggestions for combatting contract cheating category were defined with 6 different codes, as shown in Fig. 6 .

figure 6

Participants mentioned that the institution should take stricter, deterrent punishments and have more control over students to prevent cheating:

“The only idea that we had that would probably make them not do that is to implement some severe punishments.” (P5)
“…to have clear and severe consequences for cheating. They should make it clear that if a student receives an F in any course, due to plagiarism his case should be reviewed by a panel, and he should be taken off the government scholarship.” (P8)

Another suggestion mentioned was the need for face-to-face education. Participants expressed there is more control over students in face-to-face education, so cheating takes place less often:

“The moment they come to campus, there is no way to cheat. Even if they continue to take the exam on their computer as long as they are in class with their computer, and the phones are not with them, they are under control… if we can bring them here only for the final exam, this is good enough to control everything.” (P20)

Participants also expressed students need to be educated about cheating at young ages:

“Maybe it takes some time, but so they can attend plagiarism seminars. We can start this from lower grades from schools, from middle school, maybe a teacher explains why this is wrong. So maybe culture can change in maybe next 10 years... So, we have to start this during childhood, not when they are adults.” (P14)
“You need positive encouragement, you need training, for students as well as for faculty… training for students, at the foundation level and the early years especially, focusing on the importance of learning, how to learn as the main benefit of education, rather than just getting a degree that gets you a job.” (P18)

Some participants brought up the need for some software that detects cheating. Participants mentioned that most institutions use certain programs and browsers that detect cheating:

“We need to use a lockdown browser or some serious software. I mean, we're using freeware now, safe exam browser doesn't cost anything.” (P6)

A few participants mentioned that students should be integrated in the cheating policy development process:

“In order to raise students’ awareness of academic dishonesty policy, higher educational institutions should involve students in this process, because when students are involved, they can also suggest measures to prevent the ghostwriting or any form of plagiarism. Students can share their rules and the policy brought by the university, with their peers, with other students.” (P12)

Changing the assessment type was also brought up as a suggestion to combat contract cheating:

“I think amending assessment is one of them. Maybe we need to get away from the traditional kind of idea of ‘Here is the essay. Here are the essay questions. And this is the deadline…’ because that just gives them a window of opportunity to cheat, to order their essays.” (P11)

The findings regarding the first theme of this study, which is perceiving what contract cheating is, show that faculty members are aware of contract cheating, all have received contract cheated assignments or know a colleague who has received such an assignment. They can detect an assignment or an exam that has been produced by somebody else due to the perfectness of the work produced, discrepancy between the level of the submitted work and students’ level displayed in class or in written communication, and by looking at technical details such as submission time and file properties in Google docs and Microsoft word.

These findings are in line with other studies conducted pre and post pandemic, in other countries. In a study conducted among Omani university instructors (Ali & Alhassan, 2021 ), participants expressed that contract cheating is a serious and difficult to detect form of plagiarism which can threaten academic integrity. A survey of eight Australian universities found the most common signals that prompt faculty’s suspicions are the mismatch of their knowledge of students’ academic and linguistic abilities and the quality of student work (Harper et al. 2019 ). Indeed, although some programs claim to be able to identify authors by their style, a ghostwritten work is probably original and will not be detected by software alone. Singh and Remenyi ( 2016 ) suggest that contract cheating can be detected only if the evaluator is personally acquainted with the student’s level of subject knowledge and his or her natural writing style.

The participants in our study linked contract cheating to motivators such as laziness, desire to get easy grades, the ease of access to contract cheating services and the cultural and social pressure on the youth to finish university with a high GPA to increase their chances of getting a job in the public sector. The reasons to resort to contract cheating in the literature have been listed as the perception that there are lots of opportunities to cheat, increased accessibility contract cheating services, students’ (mis)perception that cheating is easy, challenging workloads, and lack of motivation and personal factors such as gender, personality, age, and grade average point (Bretag et al.  2019 ; Lines, 2016; Gullifer & Tyson, 2010). Awdry and Ives ( 2020 ) found personal factors, discipline, and country do not predict contract cheating, and likewise the participants in our study have not linked personal factors to the rising numbers of contract cheating. As some participants expressed, stress factor during the pandemic has motivated some students to take the easy way out. Studies from Bangladesh (Khan, et al. 2021), Hong Kong (Mok, et al. 2021 ), and Vietnam (Tran, et al. 2021 ) also found that students mentally and psychologically struggled during the pandemic, and some showed signs of depression; they did not find online learning satisfying; they lacked the computer skills and sometimes the equipment to complete online assignments.

As for our prevalence finding, although participants mostly agreed that 25% of their students are contract cheating, some expressed a much higher percentage. Most of them believe the number has jumped during the pandemic, due to the opportunities provided by online learning platforms. Lancaster and Cotarlan ( 2021 ) compared pre- and post-pandemic numbers of student applications to a file sharing platform and saw the numbers up by 196.25%. This big jump coincides with the time when many courses moved to be delivered and assessed online. Sarah Eaton ( 2020 ) said the increase in contract cheating has gone from about 40% to over 200%, based on reports published by schools across the country, in Canada. Similarly, according to Keate ( 2021 ), in the University of Waterloo in Canada cheating rose by 146% in August 2020, in the University of Calgary by 269%. compared to the previous year. The Quality Assurance Agency in the UK (2020) found out during the COVID-19 around 900 essay mills were providing ghost-written essays.

Our findings indicate that academics are convinced that during the pandemic, paper mills, rather than family members, have been behind the rising contract cheating cases. Participants have expressed their opinion that online learning has provided more opportunities for students to contract cheat and has tempted more students to get easy grades. Eaton ( 2020 ) suggests that students who previously did not give in to such companies “have found themselves bombarded with offers of help on social media from predatory commercial enterprises wanting to make the most of a stressful situation” (p. 83). This study supports our finding which basically suggests there are more opportunities for students to contract cheat in online learning. Eaton ( 2020 ) lists the reasons of increased contract cheating during the pandemic as faculty members not adapting their assessment to e-learning, lack of awareness about students’ file-sharing platforms, which include exam questions and answers, students’ increased stress level during the pandemic which may lead to academic misconduct, and aggressive marketing strategies of commercial contract cheating companies during the pandemic.

Our findings also focused on individual strategies, suggestions, and institutional measures to prevent contract cheating. Most participants agreed that informing the students of the consequences of cheating, changing the assessment type are some of the successful strategies in this regard. Getting to know the students better, assessing their classroom participation, using various software to monitor their activities during an exam were all adopted strategies by the participants in our study. The importance of making students aware of the consequences, was emphasized by some faculty in our study and in University of California (Reddin, 2021 ), faculty members put together a strongly worded honor statement and asked all students to sign it to be able to take the exam. By this way, students were given a clear message that if they violated the honor code, they could get dismissed from the university. This honor statement became successful and reduced the number of contract cheaters in the university.

Awareness and detection of contract cheating by academics alone is not enough to ensure that universities effectively deal with the problem. Some measures should be implemented by institutions, policies and processes should be clearly communicated to students to maintain academic integrity. Some participants have expressed that the institutions they work for have taken no measures to combat contract cheating or they are not applying them consistently. Similarly, Harper et al. ( 2019 ) found that students are prone to rationalizing cheating when there is a perceived lack of care or interest from academic staff or the university. A study conducted on Iranian ELT students (Ahmadi, 2014 ) also revealed that having lenient professors is a major reason for engaging in plagiarism. When professors do not show enough care in dealing with plagiarism, students consider plagiarism an easy task.

Exams are a significant element of university level language assessment, and they need to adapt to an online environment to ensure integrity. Most participants in our study pointed the significance of changing assessment types. Bretag et al. ( 2020 ) asserts that while there no assessment type was perceived to be immune to outsourcing, assessments that are least likely to be outsourced were ‘reflection on practicum’, ‘in-class task’, ‘personalized and unique’ assessments, and viva voces. Adjusting exams to online environment and using oral assessments is also suggested by Hillier ( 2020 ). Williamson ( 2019 ) maintains that designing assessment, which is meaningful, reasonable, timely, and closely linked to learning outcomes is the institution’s responsibility. Assessment can be designed to both reduce the chances of cheating and increase the chances for students to demonstrate their understanding: an oral examination of written assignments would help.

Use of software or turning cameras on was also brought up by some faculty members to ensure academic integrity in exams; however, some of these strategies are controversial. The financial cost of such software may be overwhelming (Hillier, 2020 ), also online proctoring services providing security measures such as biometric data, eye movement, and keystroke tracking, may be violating privacy (Hill et al. 2021 ). With the use of such services, the good will of some students “who may feel the surveillance is so intrusive it breaches their basic rights” may be lost (Hill et al. 2021 ). Thus, as some participants in our study stated, going back to face-to-face learning, even only for final exams would ensure exam security. Hiring large centers to ensure social distancing or conducting exams outdoors with an increased number of invigilators is a viable solution (Harper et al. 2019 ).

Conclusion and recommendations

Overall, the findings of the study reveal that faculty members have a high level of awareness of contract cheating. They believe online learning has created more opportunities to contract cheat and thus, a minimum of one quarter of their students are resorting to essay mills in the online learning environment. They also believe some cultural habits such as a desire to have everything easy, laziness, and social pressure to graduate with a university degree are acting as incentives to resort to contract cheating. Faculty members did not show much difference in their recognition of contract cheating regarding the institution they work for, although measures adopted by the institutions were different. It was obvious that there was a lack of consistency of measures taken at the institutional level, with faculty members developing their own strategies, and institutional procedures initiated in only some cases. Some private universities did not have any strategies or measures to combat this misconduct, whereas some had honor codes, academic integrity committees and various software tools to curb contract cheating. Faculty members think going back to face-to-face teaching will alleviate some of the problems they are confronting now, but even if they must continue online for some more time, changing the assessment types and using more interactive approaches with their students is the best weapon they will be using to deal with contract cheating.

Faculty members certainly differ in their experiences of academic integrity in their relevant institutes which result in their adoption of different approaches on how to sanction contract cheating. It was not possible from this data to determine the reasons for these differences among academics, but it will be significant to explore and address these differing perceptions in further studies.

While the use anti-plagiarism software and vigilant proctoring was widely accepted, some inconsistent policies or not so user-friendly properties of these tools were also acknowledged. Institutions should explore these technological tools carefully and invest some money on installing them and training their staff and students to ensure academic integrity across all universities.

Also, while trying to ensure academic integrity and developing policies, institutions need to recognize that the faculty perspectives may not be shared by students. High school and college students should be trained about ethical values, the significance of academic integrity in university, and its consequences for their future careers. This should also entail consultation with students about institutional policies and their implementation. In recognizing academic integrity as a shared cultural issue, institutions and academics will need to pay more attention to students’ perspectives in this area.

Universities must ensure that their assessment processes are reliable and transparent, and that the value of qualifications awarded to students is in line with standards. Unfortunately, contract cheating services, and the students resorting to this misconduct constitute a risk to achieving this. Contract cheating is not just the responsibility of individual students, academics, or institutions, but it is a universal issue which government agencies, regulatory authorities, and leaders in higher education should be involved in. Higher education institutes, policy, and decision-makers should acknowledge the problem of contract cheating and along with student bodies, faculty members, and other universities, should work towards increasing academic integrity across the higher education institutes in the country.


There are some limitations to the methodology used in this article. The sample size was modest but provided rich qualitative data. We used a convenience sample, i.e., faculty members and institutions were chosen for this study because they were accessible to the researcher. Thus, we cannot be sure that the survey has captured a representative sample of faculty members working in private higher education institutes in Kuwait. Finally, investigating academics’ perceptions provides only one side of the story. What faculty members believe to be true are based on their own experience and assumptions. Full interpretation of the findings requires consideration of the views of students.

Availability of data and materials

The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author, DE. The data are not publicly available as they contain information that could compromise the privacy of research participants.

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This study has been funded by Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait, internal seed grant number 234553.

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Deniz Erguvan as the sole author of this manuscript wrote the literature review, collected and analyzed the data, and produced the discussion section of the manuscript. The author read and approved the final manuscript.

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DE has been teaching undergraduate students in a private university in Kuwait for the past 11 years. She is quite familiar with contract cheating practices that some students have been undertaking in her courses. She has also observed a significant surge in contract cheating among her students during the pandemic.

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Essays About Cheating: Top 5 Examples and 9 Writing Prompts

Essays about cheating show the value of honesty, see our top picks for examples and prompts you can use in writing.

In the US, 95% of high school students admitted to participating in some form of academic cheating . This includes exams and plagiarism. However, cheating doesn’t only occur in schools. It’s also prevalent in couples. Psychologists say that 50% of divorce cases in the country are because of infidelity . Other forms of cheating exist, such as cheating on a diet, a business deal, etc.

Because cheating is an intriguing subject, many want to read about it. However, to write essays about cheating appropriately, you must first pick a subtopic you’re comfortable discussing. Therefore, we have selected five simple but exemplary pieces you can read to get inspiration for writing your paper.

See below our round-up of top example essays about cheating.

1. Long Essay On Cheating In School By Prasanna

2. the reality of cheating in college essay by writer kip, 3. why cheating is wrong by bernadette mcbride, 4. what counts as cheating in a relationship by anonymous on gradesfixer, 5. emotional cheating by anonymous on papersowl, 1. types of cheating, 2. i was cheated on, 3. is cheating a mistake or choice, 4. tax evasion and cheating , 5. when i cheated, 6. cheating in american schools and universities, 7. review a famous book or film about cheating, 8. a famous cheating quote, 9. cause and effects of cheating.

“Cheating is a false representation of the child’s ability which he may not be able to give without cheating. It is unfair to everyone involved as it deprives the true one of the chance to come on the top.”

Prasanna begins the essay by defining cheating in schools and then incorporates how this unethical behavior occurs in reality. She further delves into the argument that cheating is not learning but an addiction that can result in students losing self-confidence, sanity, and integrity. 

Apart from showing the common causes and harmful effects of cheating on students, Prasanna also adds parents’ and teachers’ critical roles in helping students in their studies to keep them from cheating.

“It’s human nature to want to win, and some of us will go against the rules to do so. It can be harmless, but in many cases, it is annoying, or even hurtful.”

Kip defines cheating as human nature and focuses his essay on individuals who are hell-bent on wanting to win in online games. Unfortunately, these players’ desire to be on top is all-consuming, and they’re willing to go against the rules and disregard their integrity.

He talks about his experiences of being cheated in a game called AoE. He also incorporates the effects of these instances on newbies. These cheaters will humiliate, dishearten, and traumatize beginners who only want to have fun.

Check out these essays about cooperation .

“A cheater is more than likely lying to themselves more than to the people around them. A person can only go so far before their lies catch up to them, begin to accumulate, and start to penalize you.”

Mcbride dedicates her essay to answering why cheating is wrong, no matter the circumstance. She points out that there will always be a definite punishment for cheaters, whether they get caught. Mcbride believes that students who cheat, copy, and have someone else do their work are lazy and irresponsible. These students will never gain knowledge.

However, she also acknowledges that some cheaters are desperate, while some don’t realize the repercussions of their behaviors. At the end of the essay, she admits to cheating but says she’s no longer part of that vicious cycle, promising she has already realized her mistakes and doesn’t want to cheat again.

“Keep in mind that relationships are not based on logic, but are influenced by our emotions.”

The author explains how it’s challenging to define cheating in a relationship. It’s because every person has varying views on the topic. What others consider an affair may be acceptable to some. This includes the partners’ interaction with others while also analyzing the individual’s personality, such as flirting, sleeping in the same bed, and spending time with folks.

The essay further explains experts’ opinions on why men and women cheat and how partners heal and rebuild their trust. Finally, examples of different forms of cheating are discussed in the piece to give the readers more information on the subject. 

“…emotional cheating can be described as a desire to engage in another relationship without physically leaving his or her primary relationship.”

There’s an ongoing debate about whether emotional cheating should be labeled as such. The essay digs into the causes of emotional cheating to answer this issue. These reasons include lack of attention to each other, shortage of affectionate gestures, and misunderstandings or absence of proper communication. 

All of these may lead to the partner comparing their relationship to others. Soon, they fall out of love and fail to maintain boundaries, leading to insensitivity and selfishness. When a person in a relationship feels any of these, it can be a reason to look for someone else who can value them and their feelings.

9 Helpful Prompts in Writing Essays About Cheating

Here are some cheating subtopics you can focus your essay on:

Essays About Cheating: Types of cheating

Some types of cheating include deception, fabrication, bribery, impersonation, sabotage, and professional misconduct. Explain their definitions and have examples to make it easier for readers to understand.

You can use this prompt even if you don’t have any personal experience of being cheated on. You can instead relay events from a close friend or relative. First, narrate what happened and why. Then add what the person did to move on from the situation and how it affected them. Finally, incorporate lessons they’ve learned.

While this topic is still discussed by many, for you, is cheating a redeemable mistake? Or is it a choice with consequences? Express your opinion on this matter. Gather reliable evidence to support your claims, such as studies and research findings, to increase your essay’s credibility.

Tax evasion is a crime with severe penalties. Explain what it is and its punishments through a famous tax evasion case your readers can immediately recognize. For example, you can use Al Capone and his 11-year imprisonment and $215,000 back taxes . Talk through why he was charged with such and add your opinion. Ensure you have adequate and reliable sources to back up your claims.

Start with a  5 paragraph essay  to better organize your points.

Some say everyone will cheat at some point in their life. Talk about the time you cheated – it can be at a school exam, during work, or while on a diet. Put the perspective that made you think cheating was reasonable. Did you feel guilt? What did you do after, and did you cheat again? Answer these questions in your essay for an engaging and thrilling piece of writing.

Since academic cheating is notorious in America, use this topic for your essay. Find out which areas have high rates of academic cheating. What are their penalties? Why is cheating widespread? Include any measures the academe put in place.

Cheating is a frequent cause of conflict on small and big screens. Watch a film or read a story and write a review. Briefly summarize the plot, critique the characters, and add your realizations after finishing the piece. 

Goodreads has a list of books related to cheating. Currently, Thoughtless by S.C. Stephens has the highest rating.

Use this as an opportunity to write a unique essay by explaining the quote based on your understanding. It can be quotes from famous personalities or something that resonates with you and your experiences.

Since cheating’s cause and effect is a standard prompt, center your essay on an area unrelated to academics or relationships. For instance, write about cheating on your diet or cheating yourself of the opportunities life presents you.

Create a top-notch essay with excellent grammar. See our list of the best grammar checkers.

distance cheating essay

Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.

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Andrew Huberman’s Mechanisms of Control

The private and public seductions of the world’s biggest pop neuroscientist..

Portrait of Kerry Howley

This article was featured in One Great Story , New York ’s reading recommendation newsletter. Sign up here to get it nightly.

For the past three years, one of the biggest podcasters on the planet has told a story to millions of listeners across half a dozen shows: There was a little boy, and the boy’s family was happy, until one day, the boy’s family fell apart. The boy was sent away. He foundered, he found therapy, he found science, he found exercise. And he became strong.

Today, Andrew Huberman is a stiff, jacked 48-year-old associate professor of neurology and ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He is given to delivering three-hour lectures on subjects such as “the health of our dopaminergic neurons.” His podcast is revelatory largely because it does not condescend, which has not been the way of public-health information in our time. He does not give the impression of someone diluting science to universally applicable sound bites for the slobbering masses. “Dopamine is vomited out into the synapse or it’s released volumetrically, but then it has to bind someplace and trigger those G-protein-coupled receptors, and caffeine increases the number, the density of those G-protein-coupled receptors,” is how he explains the effect of coffee before exercise in a two-hour-and-16-minute deep dive that has, as of this writing, nearly 8.9 million views on YouTube.

In This Issue

Falling for dr. huberman.


Millions of people feel compelled to hear him draw distinctions between neuromodulators and classical neurotransmitters. Many of those people will then adopt an associated “protocol.” They will follow his elaborate morning routine. They will model the most basic functions of human life — sleeping, eating, seeing — on his sober advice. They will tell their friends to do the same. “He’s not like other bro podcasters,” they will say, and they will be correct; he is a tenured Stanford professor associated with a Stanford lab; he knows the difference between a neuromodulator and a neurotransmitter. He is just back from a sold-out tour in Australia, where he filled the Sydney Opera House. Stanford, at one point, hung signs (AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY) apparently to deter fans in search of the lab.

With this power comes the power to lift other scientists out of their narrow silos and turn them, too, into celebrities, but these scientists will not be Huberman, whose personal appeal is distinct. Here we have a broad-minded professor puppyishly enamored with the wonders of biological function, generous to interviewees (“I love to be wrong”), engaged in endearing attempts to sound like a normal person (“Now, we all have to eat, and it’s nice to eat foods that we enjoy. I certainly do that. I love food, in fact”).

This is a world in which the soft art of self-care is made concrete, in which Goop-adjacent platitudes find solidity in peer review. “People go, ‘Oh, that feels kind of like weenie stuff,’” Huberman tells Joe Rogan. “The data show that gratitude, and avoiding toxic people and focusing on good-quality social interactions … huge increases in serotonin.” “Hmmm,” Rogan says. There is a kindness to the way Huberman reminds his audience always of the possibilities of neuroplasticity: They can change. He has changed. As an adolescent, he says, he endured the difficult divorce of his parents, a Stanford professor who worked in the tech industry and a children’s-book author. The period after the separation was, he says, one of “pure neglect.” His father was gone, his mother “totally checked out.” He was forced, around age 14, to endure a month of “youth detention,” a situation that was “not a jail,” but harrowing in its own right.

“The thing that really saved me,” Huberman tells Peter Attia, “was this therapy thing … I was like, Oh, shit … I do have to choke back a little bit here. It’s a crazy thing to have somebody say, ‘Listen,’ like, to give you the confidence, like, ‘We’re gonna figure this out. We’re gonna figure this out. ’ There’s something very powerful about that. It wasn’t like, you know, ‘Everything will be okay.’ It was like, We’re gonna figure this out. ”

The wayward son would devote himself to therapy and also to science. He would turn Rancid all the way up and study all night long. He would be tenured at Stanford with his own lab, severing optic nerves in mice and noting what grew back.

Huberman has been in therapy, he says, since high school. He has, in fact, several therapists, and psychiatrist Paul Conti appears on his podcast frequently to discuss mental health. Therapy is “hard work … like going to the gym and doing an effective workout.” The brain is a machine that needs tending. Our cells will benefit from the careful management of stress. “I love mechanism, ” says Huberman; our feelings are integral to the apparatus. There are Huberman Husbands (men who optimize), a phenomenon not to be confused with #DaddyHuberman (used by women on TikTok in the man’s thrall).

A prophet must constrain his self-revelation. He must give his story a shape that ultimately tends toward inner strength, weakness overcome. For Andrew Huberman to become your teacher and mine, as he very much was for a period this fall — a period in which I diligently absorbed sun upon waking, drank no more than once a week, practiced physiological sighs in traffic, and said to myself, out loud in my living room, “I also love mechanism”; a period during which I began to think seriously, for the first time in my life, about reducing stress, and during which both my husband and my young child saw tangible benefit from repeatedly immersing themselves in frigid water; a period in which I realized that I not only liked this podcast but liked other women who liked this podcast — he must be, in some way, better than the rest of us.

Huberman sells a dream of control down to the cellular level. But something has gone wrong. In the midst of immense fame, a chasm has opened between the podcaster preaching dopaminergic restraint and a man, with newfound wealth, with access to a world unseen by most professors. The problem with a man always working on himself is that he may also be working on you.

Some of Andrew’s earliest Instagram posts are of his lab. We see smiling undergraduates “slicing, staining, and prepping brains” and a wall of framed science publications in which Huberman-authored papers appear: Nature, Cell Reports, The Journal of Neuroscience. In 2019, under the handle @hubermanlab, Andrew began posting straightforward educational videos in which he talks directly into the camera about subjects such as the organizational logic of the brain stem. Sometimes he would talk over a simple anatomical sketch on lined paper; the impression was, as it is now, of a fast-talking teacher in conversation with an intelligent student. The videos amassed a fan base, and Andrew was, in 2020, invited on some of the biggest podcasts in the world. On Lex Fridman Podcast, he talked about experiments his lab was conducting by inducing fear in people. On The Rich Roll Podcast, the relationship between breathing and motivation. On The Joe Rogan Experience, experiments his lab was conducting on mice.

He was a fluid, engaging conversationalist, rich with insight and informed advice. In a year of death and disease, when many felt a sense of agency slipping away, Huberman had a gentle plan. The subtext was always the same: We may live in chaos, but there are mechanisms of control.

By then he had a partner, Sarah, which is not her real name. Sarah was someone who could talk to anyone about anything. She was dewy and strong and in her mid-40s, though she looked a decade younger, with two small kids from a previous relationship. She had old friends who adored her and no trouble making new ones. She came across as scattered in the way she jumped readily from topic to topic in conversation, losing the thread before returning to it, but she was in fact extremely organized. She was a woman who kept track of things. She was an entrepreneur who could organize a meeting, a skill she would need later for reasons she could not possibly have predicted. When I asked her a question in her home recently, she said the answer would be on an old phone; she stood up, left for only a moment, and returned with a box labeled OLD PHONES.

Sarah’s relationship with Andrew began in February 2018 in the Bay Area, where they both lived. He messaged her on Instagram and said he owned a home in Piedmont, a wealthy city separate from Oakland. That turned out not to be precisely true; he lived off Piedmont Avenue, which was in Oakland. He was courtly and a bit formal, as he would later be on the podcast. In July, in her garden, Sarah says she asked to clarify the depth of their relationship. They decided, she says, to be exclusive.

Both had devoted their lives to healthy living: exercise, good food, good information. They cared immoderately about what went into their bodies. Andrew could command a room and clearly took pleasure in doing so. He was busy and handsome, healthy and extremely ambitious. He gave the impression of working on himself; throughout their relationship, he would talk about “repair” and “healthy merging.” He was devoted to his bullmastiff, Costello, whom he worried over constantly: Was Costello comfortable? Sleeping properly? Andrew liked to dote on the dog, she says, and he liked to be doted on by Sarah. “I was never sitting around him,” she says. She cooked for him and felt glad when he relished what she had made. Sarah was willing to have unprotected sex because she believed they were monogamous.

On Thanksgiving in 2018, Sarah planned to introduce Andrew to her parents and close friends. She was cooking. Andrew texted repeatedly to say he would be late, then later. According to a friend, “he was just, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be there. Oh, I’m going to be running hours late.’ And then of course, all of these things were planned around his arrival and he just kept going, ‘Oh, I’m going to be late.’ And then it’s the end of the night and he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry this and this happened.’”

Huberman disappearing was something of a pattern. Friends, girlfriends, and colleagues describe him as hard to reach. The list of reasons for not showing up included a book, time-stamping the podcast, Costello, wildfires, and a “meetings tunnel.” “He is flaky and doesn’t respond to things,” says his friend Brian MacKenzie, a health influencer who has collaborated with him on breathing protocols. “And if you can’t handle that, Andrew definitely is not somebody you want to be close to.” “He in some ways disappeared,” says David Spiegel, a Stanford psychiatrist who calls Andrew “prodigiously smart” and “intensely engaging.” “I mean, I recently got a really nice email from him. Which I was touched by. I really was.”

In 2018, before he was famous, Huberman invited a Colorado-based investigative journalist and anthropologist, Scott Carney, to his home in Oakland for a few days; the two would go camping and discuss their mutual interest in actionable science. It had been Huberman, a fan of Carney’s book What Doesn’t Kill Us, who initially reached out, and the two became friendly over phone and email. Huberman confirmed Carney’s list of camping gear: sleeping bag, bug spray, boots.

When Carney got there, the two did not go camping. Huberman simply disappeared for most of a day and a half while Carney stayed home with Costello. He puttered around Huberman’s place, buying a juice, walking through the neighborhood, waiting for him to return. “It was extremely weird,” says Carney. Huberman texted from elsewhere saying he was busy working on a grant. (A spokesperson for Huberman says he clearly communicated to Carney that he went to work.) Eventually, instead of camping, the two went on a few short hikes.

Even when physically present, Huberman can be hard to track. “I don’t have total fidelity to who Andrew is,” says his friend Patrick Dossett. “There’s always a little unknown there.” He describes Andrew as an “amazing thought partner” with “almost total recall,” such a memory that one feels the need to watch what one says; a stray comment could surface three years later. And yet, at other times, “you’re like, All right, I’m saying words and he’s nodding or he is responding, but I can tell something I said sent him down a path that he’s continuing to have internal dialogue about, and I need to wait for him to come back. ”

Andrew Huberman declined to be interviewed for this story. Through a spokesman, Huberman says he did not become exclusive with Sarah until late 2021, that he was not doted on, that tasks between him and Sarah were shared “based on mutual agreement and proficiency,” that their Thanksgiving plans were tentative, and that he “maintains a very busy schedule and shows up to the vast majority of his commitments.”

In the fall of 2020, Huberman sold his home in Oakland and rented one in Topanga, a wooded canyon enclave contiguous with Los Angeles. When he came back to Stanford, he stayed with Sarah, and when he was in Topanga, Sarah was often with him.

When they fought, it was, she says, typically because Andrew would fixate on her past choices: the men she had been with before him, the two children she had had with another man. “I experienced his rage,” Sarah recalls, “as two to three days of yelling in a row. When he was in this state, he would go on until 11 or 12 at night and sometimes start again at two or three in the morning.”

The relationship struck Sarah’s friends as odd. At one point, Sarah said, “I just want to be with my kids and cook for my man.” “I was like, Who says that? ” says a close friend. “I mean, I’ve known her for 30 years. She’s a powerful, decisive, strong woman. We grew up in this very feminist community. That’s not a thing either of us would ever say.”

Another friend found him stressful to be around. “I try to be open-minded,” she said of the relationship. “I don’t want to be the most negative, nonsupportive friend just because of my personal observations and disgust over somebody.” When they were together, he was buzzing, anxious. “He’s like, ‘Oh, my dog needs his blanket this way.’ And I’m like, ‘Your dog is just laying there and super-cozy. Why are you being weird about the blanket?’”

Sarah was not the only person who experienced the extent of Andrew’s anger. In 2019, Carney sent Huberman materials from his then-forthcoming book, The Wedge, in which Huberman appears. He asked Huberman to confirm the parts in which he was mentioned. For months, Huberman did not respond. Carney sent a follow-up email; if Huberman did not respond, he would assume everything was accurate. In 2020, after months of saying he was too busy to review the materials, Huberman called him and, Carney says, came at him in a rage. “I’ve never had a source I thought was friendly go bananas,” says Carney. Screaming, Huberman threatened to sue and accused Carney of “violating Navy OpSec.”

It had become, by then, one of the most perplexing relationships of Carney’s life. That year, Carney agreed to Huberman’s invitation to swim with sharks on an island off Mexico. First, Carney would have to spend a month of his summer getting certified in Denver. He did, at considerable expense. Huberman then canceled the trip a day before they were set to leave. “I think Andrew likes building up people’s expectations,” says Carney, “and then he actually enjoys the opportunity to pull the rug out from under you.”

In January 2021, Huberman launched his own podcast. Its reputation would be directly tied to his role as teacher and scientist. “I’d like to emphasize that this podcast,” he would say every episode, with his particular combination of formality and discursiveness, “is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford. It is, however, part of my desire and effort to bring zero-cost-to-consumer information about science and science-related tools to the general public.”

“I remember feeling quite lonely and making some efforts to repair that,” Huberman would say on an episode in 2024. “Loneliness,” his interviewee said, “is a need state.” In 2021, the country was in the later stages of a need state: bored, alone, powerless. Huberman offered not only hours of educative listening but a plan to structure your day. A plan for waking. For eating. For exercising. For sleep. At a time when life had shifted to screens, he brought people back to their corporeal selves. He advised a “physiological sigh” — two short breaths in and a long one out — to reduce stress. He pulled countless people from their laptops and put them in rhythm with the sun. “Thank you for all you do to better humanity,” read comments on YouTube. “You may have just saved my life man.” “If Andrew were science teacher for everyone in the world,” someone wrote, “no one would have missed even a single class.”

Asked by Time last year for his definition of fun, Huberman said, “I learn and I like to exercise.” Among his most famous episodes is one in which he declares moderate drinking decidedly unhealthy. As MacKenzie puts it, “I don’t think anybody or anything, including Prohibition, has ever made more people think about alcohol than Andrew Huberman.” While he claims repeatedly that he doesn’t want to “demonize alcohol,” he fails to mask his obvious disapproval of anyone who consumes alcohol in any quantity. He follows a time-restricted eating schedule. He discusses constraint even in joy, because a dopamine spike is invariably followed by a drop below baseline; he explains how even a small pleasure like a cup of coffee before every workout reduces the capacity to release dopamine. Huberman frequently refers to the importance of “social contact” and “peace, contentment, and delight,” always mentioned as a triad; these are ultimately leveraged for the one value consistently espoused: physiological health.

In August 2021, Sarah says she read Andrew’s journal and discovered a reference to cheating. She was, she says, “gutted.” “I hear you are saying you are angry and hurt,” he texted her the same day. “I will hear you as much as long as needed for us.”

Andrew and Sarah wanted children together. Optimizers sometimes prefer not to conceive naturally; one can exert more control when procreation involves a lab. Sarah began the first of several rounds of IVF. (A spokesperson for Huberman denies that he and Sarah had decided to have children together, clarifying that they “decided to create embryos by IVF.”)

In 2021, she tested positive for a high-risk form of HPV, one of the variants linked to cervical cancer. “I had never tested positive,” she says, “and had been tested regularly for ten years.” (A spokesperson for Huberman says he has never tested positive for HPV. According to the CDC, there is currently no approved test for HPV in men.) When she brought it up, she says, he told her you could contract HPV from many things.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about truth-telling and deception,” Andrew told evolutionary psychologist David Buss on a November 2021 episode of Huberman Lab called “How Humans Select & Keep Romantic Partners in Short & Long Term.” They were talking about regularities across cultures in mate preferences.

“Could you tell us,” Andrew asked, “about how men and women leverage deception versus truth-telling and communicating some of the things around mate choice selection?”

“Effective tactics for men,” said a gravel-voiced, 68-year-old Buss, “are often displaying cues to long-term interest … men tend to exaggerate the depths of their feelings for a woman.”

“Let’s talk about infidelity in committed relationships,” Andrew said, laughing. “I’m guessing it does happen.”

“Men who have affairs tend to have affairs with a larger number of affair partners,” said Buss. “And so which then by definition can’t be long-lasting. You can’t,” added Buss wryly, “have the long-term affairs with six different partners.”

“Yeah,” said Andrew, “unless he’s, um,” and here Andrew looked into the distance. “Juggling multiple, uh, phone accounts or something of that sort.”

“Right, right, right, and some men try to do that, but I think it could be very taxing,” said Buss.

By 2022, Andrew was legitimately famous. Typical headlines read “I tried a Stanford professor’s top productivity routine” and “Google CEO Uses ‘Nonsleep Deep Rest’ to Relax.” Reese Witherspoon told the world that she was sure to get ten minutes of sunlight in the morning and tagged Andrew. When he was not on his own podcast, Andrew was on someone else’s. He kept the place in Topanga, but he and Sarah began splitting rent in Berkeley. In June 2022, they fully combined lives; Sarah relocated her family to Malibu to be with him.

According to Sarah, Andrew’s rage intensified with cohabitation. He fixated on her decision to have children with another man. She says he told her that being with her was like “bobbing for apples in feces.” “The pattern of your 11 years, while rooted in subconscious drives,” he told her in December 2021, “creates a nearly impossible set of hurdles for us … You have to change.”

Sarah was, in fact, changing. She felt herself getting smaller, constantly appeasing. She apologized, again and again and again. “I have been selfish, childish, and confused,” she said. “As a result, I need your protection.” A spokesperson for Huberman denies Sarah’s accounts of their fights, denies that his rage intensified with cohabitation, denies that he fixated on Sarah’s decision to have children with another man, and denies that he said being with her was like bobbing for apples in feces. A spokesperson said, “Dr. Huberman is very much in control of his emotions.”

The first three rounds of IVF did not produce healthy embryos. In the spring of 2022, enraged again about her past, Andrew asked Sarah to explain in detail what he called her bad choices, most especially having her second child. She wrote it out and read it aloud to him. A spokesperson for Huberman denies this incident and says he does not regard her having a second child as a bad choice.

I think it’s important to recognize that we might have a model of who someone is,” says Dossett, “or a model of how someone should conduct themselves. And if they do something that is out of sync with that model, it’s like, well, that might not necessarily be on that person. Maybe it’s on us. Our model was just off.”

Huberman’s specialty lies in a narrow field: visual-system wiring. How comfortable one feels with the science propagated on Huberman Lab depends entirely on how much leeway one is willing to give a man who expounds for multiple hours a week on subjects well outside his area of expertise. His detractors note that Huberman extrapolates wildly from limited animal studies, posits certainty where there is ambiguity, and stumbles when he veers too far from his narrow realm of study, but even they will tend to admit that the podcast is an expansive, free (or, as he puts it, “zero-cost”) compendium of human knowledge. There are quack guests, but these are greatly outnumbered by profound, complex, patient, and often moving descriptions of biological process.

Huberman Lab is premised on the image of a working scientist. One imagines clean white counters, rodents in cages, postdocs peering into microscopes. “As scientists,” Huberman says frequently. He speaks often, too, of the importance of mentorship. He “loves” reading teacher evaluations. On the web, one can visit the lab and even donate. I have never met a Huberman listener who doubted the existence of such a place, and this appears to be by design. In a glowing 2023 profile in Stanford magazine, we learn “Everything he does is inspired by this love,” but do not learn that Huberman lives 350 miles and a six-hour drive from Stanford University, making it difficult to drop into the lab. Compounding the issue is the fact that the lab, according to knowledgeable sources, barely exists.

“Is a postdoc working on her own funding, alone, a ‘lab?’” asks a researcher at Stanford. There had been a lab — four rooms on the second floor of the Sherman Fairchild Science Building. Some of them smelled of mice. It was here that researchers anesthetized rodents, injected them with fluorescence, damaged their optic nerves, and watched for the newly bright nerves to grow back.

The lab, says the researcher, was already scaling down before COVID. It was emptying out, postdocs apparently unsupervised, a quarter-million-dollar laser-scanning microscope gathering dust. Once the researcher saw someone come in and reclaim a $3,500 rocker, a machine for mixing solutions.

Shortly before publication, a spokesperson for Stanford said, “Dr. Huberman’s lab at Stanford is operational and is in the process of moving from the Department of Neurobiology to the Department of Ophthalmology,” and a spokesperson for Huberman says the equipment in Dr. Huberman’s lab remained in use until the last postdoc moved to a faculty position.

On every episode of his “zero-cost” podcast, Huberman gives a lengthy endorsement of a powder formerly known as Athletic Greens and now as AG1. It is one thing to hear Athletic Greens promoted by Joe Rogan; it is perhaps another to hear someone who sells himself as a Stanford University scientist just back from the lab proclaim that this $79-a-month powder “covers all of your foundational nutritional needs.” In an industry not noted for its integrity, AG1 is, according to writer and professional debunker Derek Beres, “one of the most egregious players in the space.” Here we have a powder that contains, according to its own marketing, 75 active ingredients, far more than the typical supplement, which would seem a selling point but for the inconveniences of mass. As performance nutritionist Adam McDonald points out, the vast number of ingredients indicates that each ingredient, which may or may not promote good health in a certain dose, is likely included in minuscule amounts, though consumers are left to do the math themselves; the company keeps many of the numbers proprietary. “We can be almost guaranteed that literally every supplement or ingredient within this proprietary blend is underdosed,” explains McDonald; the numbers, he says, don’t appear to add up to anything research has shown to be meaningful in terms of human health outcomes. And indeed, “the problem with most of the probiotics is they’re typically not concentrated enough to actually colonize,” one learns from Dr. Layne Norton in a November 2022 episode of Huberman Lab. (AG1 argues that probiotics are effective and that the 75 ingredients are “included not only for their individual benefit, but for the synergy between them — how ingredients interact in complex ways, and how combinations can lead to additive effects.”) “That’s the good news about podcasts,” Huberman said when Wendy Zukerman of Science Vs pointed out that her podcast would never make recommendations based on such tenuous research. “People can choose which podcast they want to listen to.”

Whenever Sarah had suspicions about Andrew’s interactions with another woman, he had a particular way of talking about the woman in question. She says he said the women were stalkers, alcoholics, and compulsive liars. He told her that one woman tore out her hair with chunks of flesh attached to it. He told her a story about a woman who fabricated a story about a dead baby to “entrap” him. (A spokesperson for Huberman denies the account of the denigration of women and the dead-baby story and says the hair story was taken out of context.) Most of the time, Sarah believed him; the women probably were crazy. He was a celebrity. He had to be careful.

It was in August 2022 that Sarah noticed she and Andrew could not go out without being thronged by people. On a camping trip in Washington State that same month, Sarah brought syringes and a cooler with ice packs. Every day of the trip, he injected the drugs meant to stimulate fertility into her stomach. This was round four.

Later that month, Sarah says she grabbed Andrew’s phone when he had left it in the bathroom, checked his texts, and found conversations with someone we will call Eve. Some of them took place during the camping trip they had just taken.

“Your feelings matter,” he told Eve on a day when he had injected his girlfriend with hCG. “I’m actually very much a caretaker.” And later: “I’m back on grid tomorrow and would love to see you this weekend.”

Caught having an affair, Andrew was apologetic. “The landscape has been incredibly hard,” he said. “I let the stress get to me … I defaulted to self safety … I’ve also sat with the hardest of feelings.” “I hear your insights,” he said, “and honestly I appreciate them.”

Sarah noticed how courteous he was with Eve. “So many offers,” she pointed out, “to process and work through things.”

Eve is an ethereally beautiful actress, the kind of woman from whom it is hard to look away. Where Sarah exudes a winsome chaotic energy, Eve is intimidatingly collected. Eve saw Andrew on Raya in 2020 and messaged him on Instagram. They went for a swim in Venice, and he complimented her form. “You’re definitely,” he said, “on the faster side of the distribution.” She found him to be an extraordinary listener, and she liked the way he appeared to be interested in her internal life. He was busy all the time: with his book, and eventually the podcast; his dog; responsibilities at Stanford. “I’m willing to do the repair work on this,” he said when she called him out for standing her up, or, “This sucks, but doesn’t deter my desire and commitment to see you, and establish clear lines of communication and trust.” Despite his endless excuses for not showing up, he seemed, to Eve, to be serious about deepening their relationship, which lasted on and off for two years. Eve had the impression that he was not seeing anyone else: She was willing to have unprotected sex.

As their relationship intensified over the years, he talked often about the family he one day wanted. “Our children would be amazing,” he said. She asked for book recommendations and he suggested, jokingly, Huberman: Why We Made Babies. “I’m at the stage of life where I truly want to build a family,” he told her. “That’s a resounding theme for me.” “How to mesh lives,” he said in a voice memo. “A fundamental question.” One time she heard him say, on Joe Rogan, that he had a girlfriend. She texted him to ask about it, and he responded immediately. He had a stalker, he said, and so his team had decided to invent a partner for the listening public. (“I later learned,” Eve tells me with characteristic equanimity, “that this was not true.”)

In September 2022, Eve noticed that Sarah was looking at her Instagram stories; not commenting or liking, just looking. Impulsively, Eve messaged her. “Is there anything you’d rather ask me directly?” she said. They set up a call. “Fuck you Andrew,” she messaged him.

Sarah moved out in August 2023 but says she remained in a committed relationship with Huberman. (A spokesperson for Huberman says they were separated.) At Thanksgiving that year, she noticed he was “wiggly” every time a cell phone came out at the table — trying to avoid, she suspected, being photographed. She says she did not leave him until December. According to Sarah, the relationship ended, as it had started, with a lie. He had been at her place for a couple of days and left for his place to prepare for a Zoom call; they planned to go Christmas shopping the next day. Sarah showed up at his house and found him on the couch with another woman. She could see them through the window. “If you’re going to be a cheater,” she advises me later, “do not live in a glass house.”

On January 11, a woman we’ll call Alex began liking all of Sarah’s Instagram posts, seven of them in a minute. Sarah messaged her: “I think you’re friends with my ex, Andrew Huberman. Are you one of the woman he cheated on me with?” Alex is an intense, direct, highly educated woman who lives in New York; she was sleeping with Andrew; and she had no idea there had been a girlfriend. “Fuck,” she said. “I think we should talk.” Over the following weeks, Sarah and Alex never stopped texting. “She helped me hold my boundary against him,” says Sarah, “keep him blocked. She said, ‘You need to let go of the idea of him.’” Instead of texting Andrew, Sarah texted Alex. Sometimes they just talked about their days and not about Andrew at all. Sarah still thought beautiful Eve, on the other hand, “might be crazy,” but they talked some more and brought her into the group chat. Soon there were others. There was Mary: a dreamy, charismatic Texan he had been seeing for years. Her friends called Andrew “bread crumbs,” given his tendency to disappear. There was a fifth woman in L.A., funny and fast-talking. Alex had been apprehensive; she felt foolish for believing Andrew’s lies and worried that the other women would seem foolish, therefore compounding her shame. Foolish women were not, however, what she found. Each of the five was assertive and successful and educated and sharp-witted; there had been a type, and they were diverse expressions of that type. “I can’t believe how crazy I thought you were,” Mary told Sarah. No one struck anyone else as a stalker. No one had made up a story about a dead baby or torn out hair with chunks in it. “I haven’t slept with anyone but him for six years,” Sarah told the group. “If it makes you feel any better,” Alex joked, “according to the CDC,” they had all slept with one another.

The women compared time-stamped screenshots of texts and assembled therein an extraordinary record of deception.

There was a day in Texas when, after Sarah left his hotel, Andrew slept with Mary and texted Eve. They found days in which he would text nearly identical pictures of himself to two of them at the same time. They realized that the day before he had moved in with Sarah in Berkeley, he had slept with Mary, and he had also been with her in December 2023, the weekend before Sarah caught him on the couch with a sixth woman.

They realized that on March 21, 2021, a day of admittedly impressive logistical jujitsu, while Sarah was in Berkeley, Andrew had flown Mary from Texas to L.A. to stay with him in Topanga. While Mary was there, visiting from thousands of miles away, he left her with Costello. He drove to a coffee shop, where he met Eve. They had a serious talk about their relationship. They thought they were in a good place. He wanted to make it work.

“Phone died,” he texted Mary, who was waiting back at the place in Topanga. And later, to Eve: “Thank you … For being so next, next, level gorgeous and sexy.”

“Sleep well beautiful,” he texted Sarah.

“The scheduling alone!” Alex tells me. “I can barely schedule three Zooms in a day.”

In the aggregate, Andrew’s therapeutic language took on a sinister edge. It was communicating a commitment that was not real, a profound interest in the internality of women that was then used to manipulate them.

“Does Huberman have vices?” asks an anonymous Reddit poster.

“I remember him saying,” reads the first comment, “that he loves croissants.”

While Huberman has been criticized for having too few women guests on his podcast, he is solicitous and deferential toward those he interviews. In a January 2023 episode, Dr. Sara Gottfried argues that “patriarchal messaging” and white supremacy contribute to the deterioration of women’s health, and Andrew responds with a story about how his beloved trans mentor, Ben Barres, had experienced “intense suppression/oppression” at MIT before transitioning. “Psychology is influencing biology,” he says with concern. “And you’re saying these power dynamics … are impacting it.”

In private, he could sometimes seem less concerned about patriarchy. Multiple women recall him saying he preferred the kind of relationship in which the woman was monogamous but the man was not. “He told me,” says Mary, “that what he wanted was a woman who was submissive, who he could slap in the ass in public, and who would be crawling on the floor for him when he got home.” (A spokesperson for Huberman denies this.) The women continued to compare notes. He had his little ways of checking in: “Good morning beautiful.” There was a particular way he would respond to a sexy picture: “Mmmmm hi there.”

A spokesperson for Huberman insisted that he had not been monogamous with Sarah until late 2021, but a recorded conversation he had with Alex suggested that in May of that year he had led Sarah to believe otherwise. “Well, she was under the impression that we were exclusive at that time,” he said. “Women are not dumb like that, dude,” Alex responded. “She was under that impression? Then you were giving her that impression.” Andrew agreed: “That’s what I meant. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to put it on her.”

The kind of women to whom Andrew Huberman was attracted; the kind of women who were attracted to him — these were women who paid attention to what went into their bodies, women who made avoiding toxicity a central focus of their lives. They researched non-hormone-disrupting products, avoided sugar, ate organic. They were disgusted by the knowledge that they had had sex with someone who had an untold number of partners. All of them wondered how many others there were. When Sarah found Andrew with the other woman, there had been a black pickup truck in the driveway, and she had taken a picture. The women traced the plates, but they hit a dead end and never found her.

Tell us about the dark triad,” he had said to Buss in November on the trip in which he slept with Mary.

“The dark triad consists of three personality characteristics,” said Buss. “So narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.” Such people “feign cooperation but then cheat on subsequent moves. They view other people as pawns to be manipulated for their own instrumental gains.” Those “who are high on dark-triad traits,” he said, “tend to be good at the art of seduction.” The vast majority of them were men.

Andrew told one of the women that he wasn’t a sex addict; he was a love addict. Addiction, Huberman says, “is a progressing narrowing of things that bring you joy.” In August 2021, the same month Sarah first learned of Andrew’s cheating, he released an episode with Anna Lembke, chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic. Lembke, the author of a book called Dopamine Nation, gave a clear explanation of the dopaminergic roots of addiction.

“What happens right after I do something that is really pleasurable,” she says, “and releases a lot of dopamine is, again, my brain is going to immediately compensate by downregulating my own dopamine receptors … And that’s that comedown, or the hangover or that aftereffect, that moment of wanting to do it more.” Someone who waits for the feeling to pass, she explained, will reregulate, go back to  baseline. “If I keep indulging again and again and again,” she said, “ultimately I have so much on the pain side that I’ve essentially reset my brain to what we call anhedonic or lacking-in-joy type of state, which is a dopamine deficit state.” This is a state in which nothing is enjoyable: “Everything sort of pales in comparison to this one drug that I want to keep doing.”

“Just for the record,” Andrew said, smiling, “Dr. Lembke has … diagnosed me outside the clinic, in a playful way, of being work addicted. You’re probably right!”

Lembke laughed. “You just happen to be addicted,” she said gently, “to something that is really socially rewarded.”

What he failed to understand, he said, was people who ruined their lives with their disease. “I like to think I have the compassion,” he said, “but I don’t have that empathy for taking a really good situation and what from the outside looks to be throwing it in the trash.”

At least three ex-girlfriends remain friendly with Huberman. He “goes deep very quickly,” says Keegan Amit, who dated Andrew from 2010 to 2017 and continues to admire him. “He has incredible emotional capacity.” A high-school girlfriend says both she and he were “troubled” during their time together, that he was complicated and jealous but “a good person” whom she parted with on good terms. “He really wants to get involved emotionally but then can’t quite follow through,” says someone he dated on and off between 2006 and 2010. “But yeah. I don’t think it’s …” She hesitates. “I think he has such a good heart.”

Andrew grew up in Palo Alto just before the dawn of the internet, a lost city. He gives some version of his origin story on The Rich Roll Podcast ; he repeats it for Tim Ferriss and Peter Attia. He tells Time magazine and Stanford magazine. “Take the list of all the things a parent shouldn’t do in a divorce,” he recently told Christian bowhunter Cameron Hanes. “They did them all.” “You had,” says Wendy Zukerman in her bright Aussie accent, “a wayward childhood.” “I think it’s very easy for people listening to folks with a bio like yours,” says Tim Ferriss, “to sort of assume a certain trajectory, right? To assume that it has always come easy.” His father and mother agree that “after our divorce was an incredibly hard time for Andrew,” though they “do not agree” with some of his characterization of his past; few parents want to be accused of “pure neglect.”

Huberman would not provide the name of the detention center in which he says he was held for a month in high school. In a version of the story Huberman tells on Peter Attia’s podcast, he says, “We lost a couple of kids, a couple of kids killed themselves while we were there.” ( New York was unable to find an account of this event.)

Andrew attended Gunn, a high-performing, high-pressure high school. Classmates describe him as always with a skateboard; they remember him as pleasant, “sweet,” and not particularly academic. He would, says one former classmate, “drop in on the half-pipe,” where he was “encouraging” to other skaters. “I mean, he was a cool, individual kid,” says another classmate. “There was one year he, like, bleached his hair and everyone was like, ‘Oh, that guy’s cool.’” It was a wealthy place, the kind of setting where the word au pair comes up frequently, and Andrew did not stand out to his classmates as out of control or unpredictable. They do not recall him getting into street fights, as Andrew claims he did. He was, says Andrew’s father, “a little bit troubled, yes, but it was not something super-serious.”

What does seem certain is that in his adolescence, Andrew became a regular consumer of talk therapy. In therapy, one learns to tell stories about one’s experience. A story one could tell is: I overcame immense odds to be where I am. Another is: The son of a Stanford professor, born at Stanford Hospital, grows up to be a Stanford professor.

I have never,” says Amit, “met a man more interested in personal growth.” Andrew’s relationship to therapy remains intriguing. “We were at dinner once,” says Eve, “and he told me something personal, and I suggested he talk to his therapist. He laughed it off like that wasn’t ever going to happen, so I asked him if he lied to his therapist. He told me he did all the time.” (A spokesperson for Huberman denies this.)

“People high on psychopathy are good at deception,” says Buss. “I don’t know if they’re good at self-deception.” With repeated listening to the podcast, one discerns a man undergoing, in public, an effort to understand himself. There are hours of talking about addiction, trauma, dopamine, and fear. Narcissism comes up consistently. One can see attempts to understand and also places where those attempts swerve into self-indulgence. On a recent episode with the Stanford-trained psychiatrist Paul Conti, Andrew and Conti were describing the psychological phenomenon of “aggressive drive.” Andrew had an example to share: He once canceled an appointment with a Stanford colleague. There was no response. Eventually, he received a reply that said, in Andrew’s telling, “Well, it’s clear that you don’t want to pursue this collaboration.”

Andrew was, he said to Conti, “shocked.”

“I remember feeling like that was pretty aggressive,” Andrew told Conti. “It stands out to me as a pretty salient example of aggression.”

“So to me,” said Huberman, “that seems like an example of somebody who has a, well, strong aggressive drive … and when disappointed, you know, lashes back or is passive.”

“There’s some way in which the person doesn’t feel good enough no matter what this person has achieved. So then there is a sense of the need and the right to overcontrol.”

“Sure,” said Huberman.

“And now we’re going to work together, right, so I’m exerting significant control over you, right? And it may be that he’s not aware of it.”

“In this case,” said Andrew, “it was a she.”

This woman, explained Conti, based entirely on Andrew’s description of two emails, had allowed her unhealthy “excess aggression” to be “eclipsing the generative drive.” She required that Andrew “bowed down before” her “in the service of the ego” because she did not feel good about herself.

This conversation extends for an extraordinary nine minutes, both men egging each other on, diagnosis after diagnosis, salient, perhaps, for reasons other than those the two identify. We learn that this person lacks gratitude, generative drive, and happiness; she suffers from envy, low “pleasure drive,” and general unhappiness. It would appear, at a distance, to be an elaborate fantasy of an insane woman built on a single behavior: At some point in time, a woman decided she did not want to work with a man who didn’t show up.

There is an argument to be made that it does not matter how a helpful podcaster conducts himself outside of the studio. A man unable to constrain his urges may still preach dopaminergic control to others. Morning sun remains salutary. The physiological sigh, employed by this writer many times in the writing of this essay, continues to effect calm. The large and growing distance between Andrew Huberman and the man he continues to be may not even matter to those who buy questionable products he has recommended and from which he will materially benefit, or listeners who imagined a man in a white coat at work in Palo Alto. The people who definitively find the space between fantasy and reality to be a problem are women who fell for a podcaster who professed deep, sustained concern for their personal growth, and who, in his skyrocketing influence, continued to project an image of earnest self-discovery. It is here, in the false belief of two minds in synchronicity and exploration, that deception leads to harm. They fear it will lead to more.

“There’s so much pain,” says Sarah, her voice breaking. “Feeling we had made mistakes. We hadn’t been enough. We hadn’t been communicating. By making these other women into the other, I hadn’t really given space for their hurt. And let it sink in with me that it was so similar to my own hurt.”

Three of the women on the group text met up in New York in February, and the group has only grown closer. On any given day, one of the five can go into an appointment and come back to 100 texts. Someone shared a Reddit thread in which a commenter claimed Huberman had a “stable full a hoes,” and another responded, “I hope he thinks of us more like Care Bears,” at which point they assigned themselves Care Bear names. “Him: You’re the only girl I let come to my apartment,” read a meme someone shared; under it was a yellow lab looking extremely skeptical. They regularly use Andrew’s usual response to explicit photos (“Mmmmm”) to comment on pictures of one another’s pets. They are holding space for other women who might join.

“This group has radicalized me,” Sarah tells me. “There has been so much processing.” They are planning a weekend together this summer.

“It could have been sad or bitter,” says Eve. “We didn’t jump in as besties, but real friendships have been built. It has been, in a strange and unlikely way, quite a beautiful experience.”

Additional reporting by Amelia Schonbek and Laura Thompson.

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Is a robot writing your kids’ essays? We asked educators to weigh in on the growing role of AI in classrooms.

Educators weigh in on the growing role of ai and chatgpt in classrooms..

Kara Baskin talked to several educators about what kind of AI use they’re seeing in classrooms and how they’re monitoring it.

Remember writing essays in high school? Chances are you had to look up stuff in an encyclopedia — an actual one, not Wikipedia — or else connect to AOL via a modem bigger than your parents’ Taurus station wagon.

Now, of course, there’s artificial intelligence. According to new research from Pew, about 1 in 5 US teens who’ve heard of ChatGPT have used it for schoolwork. Kids in upper grades are more apt to have used the chatbot: About a quarter of 11th- and 12th-graders who know about ChatGPT have tried it.

For the uninitiated, ChatGPT arrived on the scene in late 2022, and educators continue to grapple with the ethics surrounding its growing popularity. Essentially, it generates free, human-like responses based on commands. (I’m sure this sentence will look antiquated in about six months, like when people described the internet as the “information superhighway.”)


I used ChatGPT to plug in this prompt: “Write an essay on ‘The Scarlet Letter.’” Within moments, ChatGPT created an essay as thorough as anything I’d labored over in AP English.

Is this cheating? Is it just part of our strange new world? I talked to several educators about what they’re seeing in classrooms and how they’re monitoring it. Before you berate your child over how you wrote essays with a No. 2 pencil, here are some things to consider.

Adapting to new technology isn’t immoral. “We have to recalibrate our sense of what’s acceptable. There was a time when every teacher said: ‘Oh, it’s cheating to use Wikipedia.’ And guess what? We got used to it, we decided it’s reputable enough, and we cite Wikipedia all the time,” says Noah Giansiracusa, an associate math professor at Bentley University who hosts the podcast “ AI in Academia: Navigating the Future .”

“There’s a calibration period where a technology is new and untested. It’s good to be cautious and to treat it with trepidation. Then, over time, the norms kind of adapt,” he says — just like new-fangled graphing calculators or the internet in days of yore.

“I think the current conversation around AI should not be centered on an issue with plagiarism. It should be centered on how AI will alter methods for learning and expressing oneself. ‘Catching’ students who use fully AI-generated products ... implies a ‘gotcha’ atmosphere,” says Jim Nagle, a history teacher at Bedford High School. “Since AI is already a huge part of our day-to-day lives, it’s no surprise our students are making it a part of their academic tool kit. Teachers and students should be at the forefront of discussions about responsible and ethical use.”

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Teachers and parents could use AI to think about education at a higher level. Really, learning is about more than regurgitating information — or it should be, anyway. But regurgitation is what AI does best.

“If our system is just for students to write a bunch of essays and then grade the results? Something’s missing. We need to really talk about their purpose and what they’re getting out of this, and maybe think about different forms of assignments and grading,” Giansiracusa says.

After all, while AI aggregates and organizes ideas, the quality of its responses depends on the users’ prompts. Instead of recoiling from it, use it as a conversation-starter.

“What parents and teachers can do is to start the conversation with kids: ‘What are we trying to learn here? Is it even something that ChatGPT could answer? Why did your assignment not convince you that you need to do this thinking on your own when a tool can do it for you?’” says Houman Harouni , a lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Harouni urges parents to read an essay written by ChatGPT alongside their student. Was it good? What could be done better? Did it feel like a short cut?

“What they’re going to remember is that you had that conversation with them; that someone thought, at some point in their lives, that taking a shortcut is not the best way ... especially if you do it with the tool right in front of you, because you have something real to talk about,” he says.

Harouni hopes teachers think about its implications, too. Consider math: So much grunt work has been eliminated by calculators and computers. Yet kids are still tested as in days of old, when perhaps they could expand their learning to be assessed in ways that are more personal and human-centric, leaving the rote stuff to AI.

“We could take this moment of confusion and loss of certainty seriously, at least in some small pockets, and start thinking about what a different kind of school would look like. Five years from now, we might have the beginnings of some very interesting exploration. Five years from now, you and I might be talking about schools wherein teaching and learning is happening in a very self-directed way, in a way that’s more based on … igniting the kid’s interest and seeing where they go and supporting them to go deeper and to go wider,” Harouni says.

Teachers have the chance to offer assignments with more intentionality.

“Really think about the purpose of the assignments. Don’t just think of the outcome and the deliverable: ‘I need a student to produce a document.’ Why are we getting students to write? Why are we doing all these things in the first place? If teachers are more mindful, and maybe parents can also be more mindful, I think it pushes us away from this dangerous trap of thinking about in terms of ‘cheating,’ which, to me, is a really slippery path,” Giansiracusa says.

AI can boost confidence and reduce procrastination. Sometimes, a robot can do something better than a human, such as writing a dreaded resume and cover letter. And that’s OK; it’s useful, even.

“Often, students avoid applying to internships because they’re just overwhelmed at the thought of writing a cover letter, or they’re afraid their resume isn’t good enough. I think that tools like this can help them feel more confident. They may be more likely to do it sooner and have more organized and better applications,” says Kristin Casasanto, director of post-graduate planning at Olin College of Engineering.

Casasanto says that AI is also useful for de-stressing during interview prep.

“Students can use generative AI to plug in a job description and say, ‘Come up with a list of interview questions based on the job description,’ which will give them an idea of what may be asked, and they can even then say, ‘Here’s my resume. Give me answers to these questions based on my skills and experience.’ They’re going to really build their confidence around that,” Casasanto says.

Plus, when students use AI for basics, it frees up more time to meet with career counselors about substantive issues.

“It will help us as far as scalability. … Career services staff can then utilize our personal time in much more meaningful ways with students,” Casasanto says.

We need to remember: These kids grew up during a pandemic. We can’t expect kids to resist technology when they’ve been forced to learn in new ways since COVID hit.

“Now we’re seeing pandemic-era high school students come into college. They’ve been channeled through Google Classroom their whole career,” says Katherine Jewell, a history professor at Fitchburg State University.

“They need to have technology management and information literacy built into the curriculum,” Jewell says.

Jewell recently graded a paper on the history of college sports. It was obvious which papers were written by AI: They didn’t address the question. In her syllabus, Jewell defines plagiarism as “any attempt by a student to represent the work of another, including computers, as their own.”

This means that AI qualifies, but she also has an open mind, given students’ circumstances.

“My students want to do the right thing, for the most part. They don’t want to get away with stuff. I understand why they turned to these tools; I really do. I try to reassure them that I’m here to help them learn systems. I’m focusing much more on the learning process. I incentivize them to improve, and I acknowledge: ‘You don’t know how to do this the first time out of the gate,’” Jewell says. “I try to incentivize them so that they’re improving their confidence in their abilities, so they don’t feel the need to turn to these tools.”

Understand the forces that make kids resort to AI in the first place . Clubs, sports, homework: Kids are busy and under pressure. Why not do what’s easy?

“Kids are so overscheduled in their day-to-day lives. I think there’s so much enormous pressure on these kids, whether it’s self-inflicted, parent-inflicted, or school-culture inflicted. It’s on them to maximize their schedule. They’ve learned that AI can be a way to take an assignment that would take five hours and cut it down to one,” says a teacher at a competitive high school outside Boston who asked to remain anonymous.

Recently, this teacher says, “I got papers back that were just so robotic and so cold. I had to tell [students]: ‘I understand that you tried to use a tool to help you. I’m not going to penalize you, but what I am going to penalize you for is that you didn’t actually answer the prompt.”

Afterward, more students felt safe to come forward to say they’d used AI. This teacher hopes that age restrictions become implemented for these programs, similar to apps such as Snapchat. Educationally and developmentally, they say, high-schoolers are still finding their voice — a voice that could be easily thwarted by a robot.

“Part of high school writing is to figure out who you are, and what is your voice as a writer. And I think, developmentally, that takes all of high school to figure out,” they say.

And AI can’t replicate voice and personality — for now, at least.

Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected] . Follow her @kcbaskin .

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Creativity and Critique in Online Learning pp 123–147 Cite as

That’s Cheating: The (Online) Academic Cheating ‘Epidemic’ and What We Should Do About It

  • David J. Pell 4  
  • First Online: 13 June 2018

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This chapter argues that good practice in (online) teaching such as discussed in this book should recognise that cheating by students, for example, plagiarism, essay mills, impersonation, etc., has become more common and that it should be addressed with greater determination. This assertion is based on the experience, enquiries and views of an academic practitioner. The chapter considers what academic cheating is, the digital age’s impact on it and some of the moral justifications raised for and against cheating. It explains some of the ways in which online opportunities aid cheating, offers some ideas about how such cheating can be detected and concludes by arguing that much more could and should be done to prevent and respond to it.

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This was not typical of the overall rate for the modules which was informally estimated to be 10–15%. Explanations for this are likely to include the probability that I had more foreign students than some colleagues and that there will also have been some differences in how we each set about the detection of cheating. Both of these factors are discussed further in this chapter.

These include USA, Australia, UK, Europe, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, China, Japan, The Gulf, Egypt, Nigeria and Columbia / Latin America.

Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

Such investigations and reports rarely present cases as percentages of all students at the given universities and it is likely that these would make for considerably less dramatic headlines than the absolute figures.

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Pell, D.J. (2018). That’s Cheating: The (Online) Academic Cheating ‘Epidemic’ and What We Should Do About It. In: Baxter, J., Callaghan, G., McAvoy, J. (eds) Creativity and Critique in Online Learning. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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