Sharing Sites: Protecting Your Content Material and Final Exam Concerns

Unfortunately, Academic Integrity continues to be a larger than usual issue this semester.  Web sites that purport to help student learning (Chegg, Course Hero) unfortunately also serve as repositories for old exams and solutions, as well as your course notes and materials.  Some even go so far as advertising that solutions to new problems can be obtained within half an hour – solutions which are then available to other subscribers.  This is highly problematic, especially with final exams approaching and makes your job as an instructor that much harder.

Addressing this challenge requires a two-fold approach: (i) minimizing the potential for these sites to be used inappropriately and (ii) controlling the content that is available on the sites.  Ideally you have been marking all your materials as copyrighted (only requires a copyright notice in the footer); this should include exams, assignments, course notes, slides, etc.  The next step is to Google your course or some bits of your content to see if you get a hit from any of these sites – especially those that encourage students to seek help with course assignments (and exams).  

Removing copyrighted material

The DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) allows you to demand that these sites remove your copyrighted material.  It requires a little bit of effect, but mostly just identifying the URLs of the material and a somewhat formulaic (legalistic) letter.  Mike Thompson shared a letter he has used successfully with Course Hero.  Chegg’s address for a similar letter is 3990 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, CA 95054.  You can also use the site’s online take-down forms, but that can be more time consuming if you have multiple pages to take down as you need to complete the form for each URL.

You can also choose to be strategic and allow some materials to remain (notes) while insisting that others be removed (old exam solutions).

Minimizing potential issues with final exams

With many classes having online final exams, or some students taking the final remotely, the ease of searching online poses a significant academic integrity problem.  Students shouldn’t be searching, but we, as instructors, also need to play a part in not making searching for an answer online easy and successful.  Here are some tips to frustrate would be searchers:

  • Avoid re-using old problems as solutions are likely in some student organization’s files or online
  • Avoid using problems from another textbook as the solutions to those problems are likely online
  • In some courses it is very hard to create entirely new problems that can be solved in 15 minutes.  At least make the problem look different to a search engine.  Reword the problem changing some of the wording and some parts of the problem.  Can you change what is given and what needs to be solved for?  Can you adjust the geometry, or the components or materials?  Can you move parts around in an accompanying figure?  The longer it takes a student to find a similar problem and adapt it to your problem, the less value in an exam setting and the higher likelihood of errors in their adaptation of the solution.
  • Consider asking for an explanation of some component of the solution as a part of the problem.  This likely won’t be online and if a student seeks help, the wording likely will be off from your class’s approach.
  • Search for your exam problems online in advance of the exam and make sure they don’t show up easily.
  • After the exam, again search for your problems.  Google can show a match on Chegg and Course Hero even payment is required to see the full solution.  If you find your exam problem on one of these sites, this is a clear academic integrity issue and the Dean’s office can, on your behalf, request a list of who posted the problem and who accessed the problem.  This is not 100% successful as student often use false names and email addresses. You can decide whether you want to let students know you will be checking on this to maintain the integrity of your exam in fairness for all students.
  • Requiring no backtracking in an exam can be frustrating for students as they don’t know how long to spend on each problem.  But you could break the exam into two parts with no backtracking between parts, thereby reducing the amount of time for a “purchased” solution to arrive.