- 8 Minutes

The Cheat Code Epidemic: How AI is Breaking Academic Trust

By: Noor Akbari

Key Takeaways:

  • Honor codes falling short: Traditional academic honor systems can no longer combat the growing wave of AI-enhanced cheating methods.
  • Network effects amplify cheating: The network effect, when the value of a service increases as more people use it, causes academic cheating to become a self-reinforcing cycle.
  • Balancing integrity and privacy: Educators must carefully weigh the costs, privacy concerns, and potential unintended harms needed to safeguard academic integrity.
  • Preserving the essence of education: Upholding integrity is not merely a moral duty but a modern necessity to maintain trust in educational qualifications and ensure genuine learning.

I've watched what were once iron-clad honor codes crumble in front of my eyes. Flashback to Afghanistan, my homeland, post-U.S. invasion in 2001, when our economy was injected with a tidal wave of billions of dollars. You'd think this would be a cause for joy. But despite the nation’s deeply rooted honor codes – specifically those of Islam, a faith strictly followed in Afghanistan– corruption sprouted and spread like wildfire.

Folks around me who once struggled to make ends meet were suddenly erecting gorgeous houses and driving flashy cars. A bizarre allure; a magnetic pull that even the staunchest believer couldn't resist –it's like a spell, isn't it? Newfound prosperity within a system that inherently rewards it. And it wasn't merely the sudden wealth that shook our society, but also the flood of opportunities. This economic shock to our society acted as a catalyst, turning corruption into something not just accepted, but expected, to maintain the new status quo.

As people watched corruption reward their peers in my home country, it became increasingly tempting (and valuable) to follow suit. It was almost as though corruption had taken on a network effect. 

So, why did this happen? Good question – and one as old as time. Those tendencies were already lurking within the deep recesses of human nature. Without access or opportunity, adhering to honor or religious code was far simpler. The steep and swift flood of billions changed everything. Our strong Islamic traditions and our outright disgust for corruption couldn't prevent it from seeping into the very essence of our society. The future, once bright, appeared dim. There was suddenly a desperate, gnawing need for robust oversight, transparency, and responsibility – to turn corruption into an unattractive path.

And I reckon a similar trend is emerging in the academic world. The rise of new, mind-bending technology is equipping students with unforeseen chances to cheat at an exponential rate. Integrity is at risk of erosion, making cheating, not only okay but something to be valued.

Our goal should be  clear: make sure academic credentials keep their weight and significance. In today’s world of education, nothing's more critical.

How Generative AI Lowers Barriers

In our brave new world, artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept, but an everyday reality. In this landscape, Generative AI – a buzzing branch of artificial intelligence – is redefining our digital interactions. But don't let the glitz blind you. Alongside its remarkable power, it carries an equal and opposite risk:  the potential for a viral, unstoppable spread of academic dishonesty.

Gone are the days when cheating was a glance over a shoulder or a surreptitious note tucked into your sleeve. With the surge of online learning and the simultaneous widespread adoption of Generative AI, cheating barriers are disappearing. Now, students can hit a button and – voilà! – they can conjure up assignments, essays, and even research in mere seconds. This isn't old-world cheating, but a phenomenon that has evolved faster than the very environments it betrays. It’s a method of dishonesty that is altogether different and infinitely more daunting.

As it turns out, accessibility is a double-edged sword in the context of academic dishonesty. To cheat successfully, you once needed resources or the right connections. Now, AI-powered tools are free and democratized, setting the stage for misuse. It's like an undiscovered country, bursting with possibility and temptation, and guess what? Everyone's got the key.

Enter: something called the "normalization effect." Cheating's no longer a solitary, shameful act. Instead, it’s seeping into the very culture of education. Driven by a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), students see their peers succeed at acing assignments effortlessly and are drawn into cheating. Sharing AI-generated content within groups, or "collaborative cheating", only adds fuel to the fire, transforming cheating from what  was once a desperate act  into a social trend.

Cheating is contageous. As more students turn to dishonesty, others will feel pressured to follow, whether to maintain social favor or academic success. It's a downward spiral, a self-feeding frenzy that could, if left unchecked, infect entire educational systems.

Just take contract writing services as an example. Websites enabling students to hire third-party writers to complete assignments are frighteningly accessible. A recent study found that 6% of students have used these services. Chances are, the actual figure's higher. And get this – 80% of students know about these sites, even if they don’t report using them. Though concrete data on this subject may be scarce, the undeniable spread of contract cheating has thrown open the gates to academic dishonesty. Add in a sprinkle of peer pressure, and the very soul of education is at risk.

And it doesn't end there. The emergence of collaborative cheating through file-sharing sites paints a grim picture for academia. A study from the early days of COVID-19 unearthed over 20,000 likely-outsourced assignments in just three months of 2020, with STEM fields making up over 60% of these. In one single day, more than 4,000 contract cheating files – worth an estimated $300,000 – were uploaded by roughly 500 users. Educators can’t possibly keep up.This rapid spread of academic dishonesty through technology sends a clear, urgent warning: we need to act – now.

Network Effects and the Self-Reinforcing Cycle of Cheating

Network effects describe how a product or service gains value as more people use it—think of how social networks like Facebook become more valuable when everyone you know joins. But apply this phenomenon  to the context of academic cheating, and you've got a dark horse racing towards the finish line.

Generative AI's role in pushing cheating viral is playing right into the network effect's hands. More students using AI to cheat doesn't just add to the cheater's tally; it takes the problem, puts it on steroids, and embeds dishonesty into the heart of academia.

Picture this: a student stumbles upon an AI program that cranks out flawless essays. They tell a friend, who tells another friend, and suddenly the entire class is on-board. Cheating morphs from a sneaky shortcut into the go-to way to get assignments done.

But this isn't some hypothetical nightmare; it's playing out in real time. Research shows that academic dishonesty can easily spin out of control. Cheating may start small but can quickly snowball, piling pressure on others to join the bandwagon and sparking a self-fueling cycle that turns bad behavior into normalcy.

As this wildfire spreads across classrooms, schools, even whole education systems, cheating becomes self-perpetuating. What's terrifying about this self-fueling cycle is its ability to create a lasting culture of cheating. Once a society normalizes dishonesty, getting rid of it becomes a herculean task. 

And the real victims here are, of course, the students. Sure, students might snag what they view as short-term wins by cheating, but only at the cost of essential skills like critical thinking, creativity, and true understanding of their subjects. If educators ignore novel methods of cheating, students risk becoming successful products of  a broken system that prizes shortcuts over real growth, rather than credentialed experts.

We're teetering on the edge of a potential precipice here. If we let this trend spiral out of control, we risk creating a generation that sees education not as a journey of discovery, but as a game to be played and won, regardless of the methods.

In the next section, we'll dive into why old-school safeguards like honor codes are falling short against this tsunami. But as we wade into this storm, let's keep our eyes on the ball. What's at stake isn't just grades; it's our future, the core of who we are as a society that values education.

Honor Codes Are Not Enough to Stop Viral Spread

Time for a reality check. Honor codes, once heralded as defenders against academic dishonesty, just don't cut it anymore. In the face of generative AI, these once-mighty barricades look more like fragile sandcastles, washed away by the surging waves of tech-driven cheating.

Why the downfall? Simply put,  in a world where a student can craft an academic masterpiece with a mere mouse click, relying on honor codes alone is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. 

When cheating goes viral, cracks in academic honor codes become chasms in the entire education system. Without more substantial measures, more adequate oversight, and more equal tools to deter academic dishonesty, these codes are hollow. 

As the CEO of Rosalyn AI, a company heavily invested in the topic of academic integrity, I've  witnessed how the right technology can be a game-changer in the fight for fair and honest education. At Rosalyn, we’ve  coupled the power of remote AI proctoring with the all-important control of human oversight, to make monitoring not just a barrier to cheating but a guiding light toward integrity. It's a scalable, low-cost, and – above all–  accessible solution.

Of course, this isn't about turning education into a Big Brother scenario or treating students with suspicion. Rather, it’s about accepting that the environment has changed, the players have better tools that can create a breeding ground for easy cheating, and our strategies must evolve to preserve the value of education. 

We need to arm educators, institutions, and students with tools to stand strong in this brave new world. And yes, that means considering AI proctoring with caution, weighing the urgent need to maintain academic honesty against the sacred right to privacy. 

The battlefield's changed, and so must we; let’s discuss how.

Considering the Benefits of Preserving Academic Integrity in the age of Privacy Concerns

We're in a sticky situation, and there's no getting around it. The push for academic integrity through methods like remote proctoring faces real criticism. While concerns over student privacy hold absolute validity  it’s crucial to pause for a moment and consider what's at stake in this discussion. In my view, the potential degradation of academic credentials carries a weight far heavier than any current privacy  criticisms.

Technology's here to stay. So is the temptation to cheat. Our world isn’t slowing down, and the pressures on students are downright intense. What we're looking for isn't a return to the good old days, but a  clear path forward that grasps our current reality and provides an adequate antidote to new methods of cheating.

Sure, critics might say tight oversight could step on privacy rights. As someone deeply entrenched in Edtech,  privacy is a  concern that's always on my radar, but so is preserving the value of our education system. I stand committed to creating safeguards to protect privacy, but we can't let privacy become a fortress for dishonesty in the context of modern education environments.

With digital education picking up speed, the spotlight on integrity shines brighter than ever before. The need for online proctoring isn't some trivial matter; it's a call to arms to protect our trust in educational credentials. It goes beyond stopping cheating. It's about upholding the credibility of qualifications that can shape lives and futures.

This isn't about platitudes. Integrity's more than a lofty goal; it's the cornerstone of our education and, by extension, the quality of our workforce. Upholding it isn't just the "right thing to do" — it's essential for our collective success for generations to come.

So, as we wrap things up, let's hold on to this truth: Protecting integrity isn't an option; it's a calling. Our choices today aren't just for us; they'll resonate through  generations, painting a picture of a world that either honors genuine achievements or falls prey to the seductive but empty promise of deception.

Harnessing AI's Potential While Avoiding Unintended Harms

Education's ground is shaking, and many tremors stem from widespread access to Generative AI tools. We are standing at a fork in the road,staring down a future where the meaning of education hangs in suspension.

I can’t press the urgency of this moment enough. Seeing corruption's destructive path in Afghanistan, my homeland, I know all too well how it can spiral out of control if left unchecked.

Fortunately, we’re not helpless here. By understanding that old-school measures like honor codes are falling short and by championing matching technological oversight in digital academic environments, transparency, and good old accountability, we can keep the significance of our diplomas and degrees intact. We can stand up for the bright intellectual spark that lights our society, our jobs, our entire way of living.

Tech-driven proctoring? It's not just a handy tool; it's a game-changer. It deters cheating by making it harder and less attractive. . At Rosalyn, we're on a mission to keep education fair and breathe life into academic integrity.

As we inch closer to a time where AI could either lift us to new intellectual heights or pull us down into a quagmire, let's pick the path of honesty, insight, and planning ahead. Let's tap into AI's unbelievable promise but keep our eyes wide open to the hidden pitfalls.

Here's to us – to our future. Together, we can craft a tomorrow that doesn't just pay lip service to education, but embodies its very heart and soul.

Noor Akbari is the Co-founder and CEO of, a trailblazing AI proctoring platform aimed at democratizing education and safeguarding academic integrity in online assessments.

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