Charting crowd-sourced plagiarism
Concurrent Session 4
This presentation explores the problematic of crowd-sourced plagiarism on ‘study aid’ web platforms by reviewing the results of two studies to measure the frequency and kind of coursework shared from a sample university, and discussing the academic imperatives, obligations, and recourses to address the ‘underground’ crowd-sourcing of academic course materials.
As online education accelerates into unknown futures it will need to confront the increasingly problematic, but veiled influence of crowd-sourcing ‘study aid’ web platforms. Students of all levels and subjects are sharing completed academic coursework through a growing network of ‘study aid’ web platforms like CourseHero.com. Websites like Coursehero.com advertise themselves as providers of “course-specific study materials,” but in common practice they also represent platforms for the sharing of completed coursework. Students know that these platforms offer the space to trade completed coursework, often with the intention of submitting the work of others as their own. These websites facilitate the crowd-sourced exchange of coursework, and effectively support plagiarism. For online educators, who frequently lack the adaptability to quickly revise or recreate course materials, this sort of illicit sharing can compromise the validity or integrity of entire courses. However, apart from popular and professional academic media, little scholarly attention is paid to theses platforms. Virtually no rigorous, actionable scholarly data exists concerning the scope or extent of coursework shared through these platforms.
Additionally problematic, these platforms and the behavior they support thrive in opacity. Driven by the nonproprietary, non-rivaled market conditions of the networked information economy (Benkler 2006, Weller 2011), crowd-sourcing ‘study aid’ web platforms represent affinity spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration through play and enjoyment rather than traditional methods of encouragement or persuasion (McCarthy & Naha, 2011). The dominance of interest and play as the agentic forces behind these technologically enabled, socially produced affinity spaces means they tend to resist structures of control and governance (Jenkins, 2006; McCarthy & Naha, 2011). Further, beyond centers of academic norms an power, spread across global internet connections, platforms like CourseHero.com operate behind logins, pay-walls, and community guidelines that obscure data like the exact numbers and nature of documents being uploaded and shared from administrators, instructors, and researchers.
The presentation first describes the development of a custom web crawler used as the data collection mechanism to study the scope and scale of course materials being shared on ‘study-aid’ web platforms. The web program, dubbed Course Villain, is the product of the Presenters’ work to survey and chart the ‘underground sharing’ of their course materials on CourseHero.com. Course Villain allows users to generate custom queries, generate aggregate reports of new query matches, review matches, and help auto-populate CoureHero.com’s “Copyright Infringement Policy” document. A brief demonstration of the program will be offered to presentation attendees, along with guidance on how to access and use the free program.
This presentation then reviews the results and conclusions of two studies that attempt to measure the frequency and kind of coursework from a sample university uploaded onto CourseHero.com. The first study of coursework upload frequency (manuscript currently under review at Journal of Academic Ethics) failed to produce a clear or meaningful measurement of how much or frequently coursework was uploaded, but demonstrates the methodological challenge of monitoring such space and the importance of continued study. The second, ongoing study (analysis pending) will survey the kind of General Education subject documents and coursework are being shared on CourseHero.com. The apparent widespread use of these crowd-sourcing ‘study aid’ websites and results these studies’ experiments demonstrate that addressing these issues is an important step into measuring the impact of these wellsprings of academically dishonest behavior.
The presentation concludes by inviting attendees to participate in a discussion about the implications of crowd-sourced plagiarism and the online platforms that support it. The Presenters guide a discussion on what the implications of this problematic are on the relationships between intellectual property, academic freedom, and academic integrity. With a bend towards strategizing actionable mitigation, the Presenters engage the audience to explore our disciplinary, institutional, and individual imperatives, obligations, and recourses to address the ‘underground’ sharing of academic course materials.
Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. Yale University Press.
Jenkins. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York, NY: University Press.
McCarthy, S., & Naha, L. M. (2011). Playful affinity: A case study of the digital writing and research lab as a collaborative graduate student research network. In L. McGrath (Ed.), Collaborative approaches to the digital in English studies. Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press.
Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. London, UK. A&C Black.