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Researchers Discover a Cheating Technique to Acquire MITx and HarvardX Certificates


Researchers at MIT and Harvard have identified, through a new algorithm they developed, a new method of cheating with edX’s certifications. This technique allowed cheaters to acquire a certification for a course in an hour. It was used in 69 MOOCs offered by HarvardX and MITx from the fall of 2012 through the spring of 2015. This falsification was detected in 1,237 earned certificates, or 1.3 percent, and among less-educated males outside the United States. In the U.S. the rate was 0.4 percent.

Their working paper, “Detecting and Preventing ‘Multiple-Account’ Cheating in Massive Online Courses”, has been published on an online repository.

The paper’s co-author Isaac Chuang, an MIT professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics, said he noticed that some users answered questions “faster than is humanly possible”. The cheating strategy was based on “copying answers using multiple existences online”. A user gathers solutions to assessment questions using a “harvester” account and then submits correct answers using a separate “master” account.

Isaac Chuang said in MIT News that “this is a well-known issue in academics, and it’s happening in new ways in online settings”“This could seriously devalue MOOC certification”.

The authors suggest, as preventions techniques, to restrict solutions to assessments until after they are due, as well as randomize questions so that each learner receives a customized set of problems.

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