How academic integrity is affected by students selling written works


Photo Courtesy of Dan Counsell on Unsplash

According to Yanglong Wang, an Iowa State student, international students communicate with other students on WeChat about writing essays and doing homework for them for upwards of $100. 

Cherry Tran

Written works like essays are a fundamental part of college but students are discovering ways to get essays written for them.

In multiple group chats across WeChat—a Chinese messaging app—international students offer to write essays, do homework and even take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for other students under a hefty price. However, Iowa State has ways to crack down and prevent misrepresented work.

Yanglong Wang, a senior in philosophy, says within the Chinese international student community, he sees multiple people posting offers to do classwork for other students on WeChat with prices ranging up to a few hundred dollars.

“There would be people posting if anybody needs help with writing essays or writing other homework, math, GRE, all those kinds of stuff. That’s how people find out they offer help,” Wang said.

Once a student reaches out to those offering help, they would receive a price request alongside evidence (in screenshots) of previous work and payments made to the person willing to do the assignments.

“They’d provide evidence of how much support they get and usually, the price for writing an essay is pretty expensive,” Wang said.

Brendan O’Brien, the director of the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), said that in the 30 years he’s worked with international students, the overwhelming majority are academically strong students who earn their grades, and if there were any signs of academic dishonesty, it might be unintentional.

“I would say in the great majority of the cases of international students who’ve had issues with academic integrity it hasn’t really been an attempt to cheat, as much as it’s been the unfamiliarly with the U.S. academic system, the various rules and things related to citing a work and plagiarism,” O’Brien said. “A language barrier may lead to some misunderstanding.”

Iowa State defines academic misconduct as any action that creates an unfair advantage for oneself or disadvantage for any other members of the community. Some examples include obtaining unauthorized information, misrepresentation or plagiarism. Students are prohibited from selling their work to another person who plans to submit that as theirs. Misrepresentation can sometimes get muddled with plagiarism.

“Plagiarism is pretty distinct; it’s when you represented someone else’s idea, words, artistic representation of photo, it could be music or computer coding… without any acknowledgement, that’s plagiarism,” said Sara Kellogg, assistant dean and director of the Office of Student Conduct. “When you have someone else do your work for you, that’s much different from plagiarism. That’s just cheating.”

Academic misconduct isn’t unique to international students as it also happens with domestic students. However, there’s a variety of reasons why an international student specifically would choose to do something dishonest.

“I think there may be a correlation with how Chinese people originally are and raised under the Chinese educational system,” Wang said. “The Chinese educational system is heavily rely on testing, which you don’t have GPA that rely on homework, but test means everything. Test determines which college you go to; test determine what kind of quality of education that you receive.”

China’s exam-oriented culture can be traced back to imperial China and its civil service examination system which continues to be used to promote and maintain state systems with competitive exams, according to a study done on China’s education fever. With reliance on heavy memorization, China’s exam-oriented education system has been blamed for suppressing students’ qualities and conditions them to view education as nothing more than passing a test.

Wang says with China’s heavy reliance on test-taking, students are more prone to copying each other on non-test-related work such as homework and essays. Based on his personal experience in China, he and his classmates would copy each other’s homework before class started.

“Usually there’s no consequences [from copying work] because of that it not contribute to your GPA,” Wang said.

ISSO has been working with the Office of Student Conduct to provide various academic resources to international students to prevent academic misconduct.

“We tell international students whatever they need they can come see us and we’ll try to help them,” O’Brien said. ISSO also has the International First Year Experience, a course designed to help undergraduate international students succeed within their first year. Academic integrity is one of the topics implemented in the course.

“We have a brochure that we’ve developed with ISSO that intends to help inform international students specifically. We work with them for some of their orientation programming as well. We try to identify where are the trends and the more prevalent areas you kind of need to be thinking about,” Kellogg said.

The Office of Student Conduct is currently working on an online learning module with the Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching that provides all students with information on academic integrity and preventative measures to avoid possible misconduct.

“It’ll provide examples of what the different types of cheating are. It will talk about resources, it’ll talk about the policies and the process, what happens, how does this work, it will talk about why academic integrity is important,” Kellogg said. Hopefully, the learning module will be ready in the upcoming fall and will be monitored by instructors, Kellogg continued.

“Academic integrity is something that impacts all of us. It can impact all students,” O’Brien said. “The important thing is to help students have coping skills so if they do become stressed, they can manage their stress better and not make poor decisions like buying papers off the internet or having other people do their papers for them.”

Regardless of whether a student is international or domestic, once a faculty member suspects that their student is doing something academically dishonest, the same procedure is followed. There’s a recommended process the Office of Student Conduct suggests instructors follow to try to obtain evidence that supports the allegation.

“Sometimes there are things that don’t necessarily—it might be suspicious but if we just don’t have the evidence to support it then we have to recognize suspicion isn’t enough to indicate academic misconduct,” Kellogg said.

Once a faculty member refers something to the office where they believe an assignment isn’t written in a student’s voice, the Office will start its investigations. Sometimes students can get pass detection software and so the Office has its process of checking for traces of academic misconduct working with Canvas and Iowa State’s Information Technology Services. If there is enough evidence to conclude academic misconduct has happened, the student will have to meet with the Office.

“It involves a meeting with us. One of the hearing officers will talk with the student about what happened, how did you end up here, what was going on. Each situation is really considered by itself,” Kellogg said. “Sometimes, students have a lot of things going on. We’re trying to work through so ultimately, we can make sure, as sure as we can be, that students don’t have to make those choices in the future.”

The hearing officers consider reasons why each student may do something academically dishonest and will decide the most appropriate outcome. Ultimately, the instructor will make the academic decision regarding their student.

“There’s not a whole lot of ways to stop someone from doing something once they decide that’s the action they’re going to take, but maybe giving them some information in advance might help prevent that decision making,” Kellogg said.