Cheaters beware: Big Brother is watching

The University of Central Florida videotapes test-takers to combat cheating

Students of the University of Central Florida better be clever if they hope to fool the system and cheat on exams. The school — which the New York Times describes as “the frontier in the battle to defeat student cheating” — features a testing centre where students are videotaped while writing exams. If something suspicious is spotted, the camera zooms in on the student and a computer system records what part of the exam she is currently working on. (The exams are all taken on computers.)

If monitoring isn’t enough to creep out the civil libertarian in you, associate dean Taylor Ellis’ ominous pledge to track cheaters down may raise hairs on your arms: “I will never stop it completely, but I’ll find out about it,” he promises would-be fraudsters.

I believe him. Ellis has banned chewing gum during exams as it could cover up the sound of text messaging or other covert operations. All scrap paper is date-stamped and collected at the end of the exam. If you must wear a cap, it must be on backwards so you can’t hide notes under the brim. And the computers are recessed into desks to prevent students from secretly photographing the screens (although, admittedly, I have no idea how that would help).

In recent surveys, some 61 per cent of 14,000 American students asked admitted to cheating on tests or assignments, according to the New York Times. Yet Ellis claims there have only been 14 suspected cheaters of 64,000 exams taken at last semester at Central Florida, which says to me that he’s either incredibly successful or incredibly unsuccessful.

Like any particularly nasty virus, students adapt fast, and a plethora of websites to help students cheat and share homework are cropping up as fast as can update its algorithms. On Course Hero, students can share notes, past exams and homework assignments. On Cramster science and engineering students can find solutions for homework assignments from 77 textbooks.