Academic Misconduct in a High Tech World: Applying Old Law to New Tricks

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Online classes are not the only educational innovation spawned by the advent of the Internet.  It also facilitates academic misconduct through student use of online paper mills, test-taking services, whole-class taking services, and course specific crowd-sourced study resources.  This presentation examines the current legal environment of such high tech improprieties.


Linda K. Enghagen is an attorney and Professor in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. An early entrant into distance education, her teaching career began in 1984 when she first taught Engineering Law & Ethics in the university’s video-based distance education program. In 1990, she became the first woman awarded the Outstanding Instructor Award from National Technological University. She is also the recipient of three outstanding teaching awards from the University of Massachusetts. Professor Enghagen’s early involvement in distance education led to her work related to legal literacy in the issues of the information age. In particular, this led to her interest in copyright law as it relates to educational settings. She serves as a Copyright Law Research Specialist for the Online Learning Consortium and regularly offers online workshops for them in relation to copyright compliance in educational settings. Her scholarly contributions related to intellectual property are directed to the needs of faculty members including two books, Technology and Higher Education: Approaching the 21st Century and Fair Use Guidelines for Educators, as well as numerous articles such as Plagiarism: Intellectual Dishonesty, Violation of Law or Both?, Fair Use in an Electronic World and Copyright Law and Fair Use—Why Ignorance Isn’t Bliss. She has created pamphlets and brochures about copyright law such as Copyright Compliance Made Simple: Six Rules for Course Design, Educators, Technology and the Law: Common Questions/Direct Answers and Legal Literacy in the Information Age: Ten (easy to understand) Rules of Thumb. In addition, she has been a guest commentator on a local NPR affiliate where she discussed copyright piracy in a piece entitled Napster Worries Me. In addition to regularly delivering conference presentations related to copyright issues, Professor Enghagen is a frequent speaker at workshops, seminars and symposia on copyright law in higher education.

Extended Abstract

Over the course of 2016, a number of headlines highlighted the underbelly of the Internet in relation to academic misconduct.  Cheating has gone high tech and it is no longer a simple matter of copy and paste.  The “U. of Iowa Investigates Possible Cheating in Online Courses” talks about students who allegedly recruited others to take their online tests for them.  “The New Cheating Economy” examines online paper mills and companies students can hire to take entire courses for them.  “Confessions of a Fixer” details how a former coach facilitated a scheme that assisted athletes in cheating their way through college sometimes without the students even being aware of it.  Then there are web sites such as Course Hero that provide course specific crowd-sourced study resources.  The study resources are organized by university, course name and number, and often include the faculty member’s name as well.  Students post the resources for others to use.  This sometimes includes tests and assignments with answers. 

It is incumbent on today’s educational leaders to address these threats to the integrity of modern education.  While the fit may be clunky and albeit not designed with information technologies in mind, there are legal tools that can be employed in response.  First, colleges and universities can incorporate relevant academic misconduct policies specifically addressing high tech cheating.  Second, it is well established law that colleges and universities can withhold or revoke a student’s degree for academic fraud.  This rule does not change when that fraud is perpetrated online.  Third, a number of states have laws prohibiting companies from selling term papers to students.  Finally, faculty members who find their course materials improperly posted to a crowd-sourced study resources site can get them removed by sending the site a D.C.M.A. take-down notice.

This presentation examines the various forms of modern academic misconduct in today’s high tech environment in light of the old laws that apply to these new tricks.