What You May Have Missed In the News

Topics: Blog, News

As I set about to write this blog post, it occurred to me that we haven’t yet had any “news posts”. The “news posts” are intended to highlight a news item (or multiple connected news items) that may have an impact on education and/or integrity but perhaps did not receive the attention and discussion it should have. So, I thought this week, it was time for a “news post”.

In particular, I have four news pieces in mind that I think deserve our attention. I’ve resisted talking about these pieces because I didn’t want to give the featured practices and companies any free advertising or airtime. However, I’ve come to realize that when those of us in the field of integrity/ethics are silent in response to these news pieces, we are contributing to the ethical fading that makes it difficult for society and education professionals to determine what is and isn’t legitimate in higher education. And when ethical fading reaches its peak, we all become bystanders and we risk the decline of the institutional integrity of our colleges and universities, not to mention the educational sector itself.

So, here are are four things that were in the news that you might have missed and may want to know about.

Chegg, a company that promises to be a “smarter way to student”, has partnered with the Owl at Purdue (a well respected online writing center for university students), “to improve the writing skills of millions of students”. In the news piece, Purdue professors challenge the legitimacy of this partnership and wondered why Owl “would partner with a company that has a reputation for helping students to cheat on their homework” and, the professors say, a company that facilitates the violation of copyright laws. To be sure, Chegg has an honor code and if a professor discovers answers to homework assignments posted on Chegg, they will remove those posts and conduct an investigation to determine who posted the question. However, most often the posters have created an account that allows them to be anonymous so their identity cannot be determined. And in that case, Chegg’s honor code cannot be fully executed.

The Owl partnership isn’t the first for Chegg. You may have also missed that in 2017, Chegg and Kaplan Test Prep companies partnered to offer “high quality test prep services” through Chegg. Since, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the test prep companies have long-ago gained legitimacy in the education sector, this partnership, along with the one with Purdue, affords legitimacy to Chegg. Perhaps the legitimacy is warranted, but perhaps it isn’t. At this point, we do not know because we have no quality assurance process to evaluate and accredit such companies or partnerships.

In other news, CourseHero, a company that promises to help students succeed and “learn deeply”, has partnered with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to “support rising stars in the academy who love teaching and demonstrate excellence as educators.” According to an Inside Higher Education piece in May of 2018, educators are also questioning whether sites like CourseHero and Quizlet are “learning tools or cheating aids.” So, it seems reasonable to suggest that a quality assurance process may help foundations like Woodrow Wilson pick and choose appropriate partnerships that advance, rather than undermine, their mission and reputation.

To be sure, news items like this tend to fly under the radar. There is so much going on in higher education and other stories (like Operation Varsity Blues, growing anxiety among college students, and the growing hunger problem of college students) seem to grab more attention. It’s not that one story or issue is more important than the next (although I’ve previously posted on how issues that impact the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs always receive more attention). Rather, we must have the bandwidth necessary to tackle all issues that undermine the integrity of our educational institutions. At the very least, these news stories emphasize my earlier point that it may be far past time to develop quality assurance and accreditation channels for the “side-hustle” companies that operate on the outskirts of the educational sector yet have a tremendous influence on our operations.

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.