Is sending a corrupted file cheating?

New online service allows students to send doctored files to unsuspecting profs

What’s the craziest excuse you’ve ever given a professor for missing a deadline? Maybe your computer crashed, or your e-mail didn’t send properly. Maybe you faked an illness or family emergency. Maybe you insisted your TA lost the paper.

Chances are high that your professor has heard it all before. And for most, telling the difference between who’s telling the truth and who isn’t is easier than most students might think.

“Undergraduates who lie about dead grandparents outnumber honest students by at least 10 to 1,” writes one professor on the ranting website RateYourStudents. “What’s especially distressing is how EASY they find it to lie, and how OBVIOUS their lies are.”

But a new online service is toeing that line a bit more closely.

At Corrupted-Files.com, students can buy a corrupted file — either Word, Excel or Powerpoint — for just US$3.95 a pop. The files come in a range of sizes, from 2, 5, 10, 30 or 40 pages, to suit any length of assignment, and can be downloaded from the company’s website. The student can then re-name the file (i.e. Karen_English101) and send it as an attachment to their prof. Custom files can be ordered for a price of US$8.95.

According to the site, “it will take your professor several hours if not days to notice your file is ‘unfortunately‘ corrupted. Use the time this website just bought you wisely and finish that paper!” Apparently, the files can’t be opened traced and reversed, and new files are uploaded periodically. “We take pride in our corruption!”

For its part, the website says the service isn’t plagiarism, which is defined by the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary as the “use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”

But is it cheating? Because they’re buying themselves an extension, the site says that students will be getting an “unfair advantage” and says students should first ask their teacher for an extension before they use a corrupted file.

So, what do you think? Cheating or not?




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Is sending a corrupted file cheating?

  1. Definitely cheating. I knew a lot of people who had “dead grandparents” or other “emergencies” in order to get more time for essays or extensions on exams. It’ll bite them in the butt one day.

  2. It’s only cheating if you use another student’s corrupt file lol

    But seriously, it’s not cheating though it is a bit underhanded. This is why a lot of profs that I know who ask for electronic copies of assignments, also want a hardcopy one handed in.

    —————
    And seriously, 4 bux for something that I can easily do at home with notepad? Come on now.

  3. As a former VP Academic of a student union, I would say that the intentional use of a corrupted file could be easily considered as academic dishonesty (which is semantically different than ‘cheating’). The claim of an “unfair advantage” and undermining the integrity of the course and the assignment reinforce the dishonesty.

    And it is plagiarism. If the goal of the student is to pass off a corrupted file to unwittingly get an extension and they don’t create the file themselves, they are using plagiarized work to accomplish their aim.

    No matter how you look at it any student who does this risks a zero on their assignment – possibly the course, along with a note of academic dishonesty on their transcript. If they’re a repeat offender, it could lead to suspension or expulsion.

  4. @Evan they may risk a zero on the assignment, but (if the student is clever enough) it would be quite difficult to prove it was done intentionally and thus that it should be grounds for any higher disciplinary action.

  5. @Danny – notice I didn’t say much about the enforcement/burden of proof. Proving that a student intentionally sent a corrupted file is something that would be quite difficult. I think that there are ways around this issue – like uploading the text into a field (kind of like these comments) rather than submitting a file. The other option is to say that the onus is on the students to ensure that their files are not corrupted. Better yet, why not switch to a cloud system like Google Docs?

  6. I don’t think this would be considered cheating in the strictest sense of the term, but I think Evan nailed it that this would definitely be considered academic dishonest that, if discovered could lead to essentially identical sanctions against the student as one who was caught cheating.

    As far as actually catching this goes… well, if it were my class, there’s a good chance the student would get the assignment marked late anyway. It is the student’s responsibility to have the assignment handed in, on time, in the correct format. I wouldn’t give them an extension any more than I give people extensions to people who send me an email saying “Here’s my assignment” and forget the attachment. Unfortunately, it’s things like these that will likely make professors think twice about giving extensions under any circumstances.

  7. I’ve written close to 50 papers for my 24-mostly-history-and-political-science courses in my undergrad, and not one was handed in electronically. Even the 25% of those papers that had to be handed in to turnitin.com required hard copies to be concurrently submitted in class…

  8. Yes, cheating but not plagiarism. That’s quite obvious. However it’s unfortunate if it forces profs to ask for hard copies, because online submitting would save a lot of paper.

  9. I’m with ABarlow, except for the “good chance” of it being late. I tell my students that they are free to submit assignments electronically, but if I can’t open them, they are not considered submitted. This goes for corrupted files, missed attachments, emails filtered by the university’s anti-spam software, even files in a strange format that my software can’t handle.

    Sadly, this little scam probably works because too many professors refuse to be tough on students when it comes to assignments. Good students are indirectly penalized, grades are inflated, and tough but fair guys like me come off looking like jerks.

  10. The problem with this is that google documents will easily get the text from within a corrupted document. I used this 2 days ago when my daughter’s couldn’t open her law paper. U uploaded it to google documents and then cut and paste the text into a new document.

    If a student sent me a corrupt file I would do the “google fix” myself and mark them on their content. Whatever the contents of the “corrupt” file might be, it would not get a high mark.

  11. To Gordon James,

    A corrupted file can be unsalvageable- of course it can.

    Just because it worked for your slightly damaged file, does not mean it can open every single corrupted file, ever.

    Even the best surgeons can’t put someone back together again if they have a bad enough accident, and file recovery software is no different. Deep inside that mess of data…… sometimes the content simply no longer exists.

    • Wow, that’s a really clever way of thniking about it!

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