May 19, 2022

New Study From MIT and Harvard “Identifies New Cheating Method in MOOCs”

Note: The study mentioned in the post below does not appear to be available on arXiv at this time. Check here to see if it’s online since we posted this item at 8pm Eastern. We will update this post with a direct link to the full text working paper as soon as it becomes available.

From MIT: and Harvard:

In a new working paper, researchers at MIT and Harvard University identify a new method of cheating specific to open online courses and recommend a number of strategies that prove effective in preventing such cheating.

The working paper, “Detecting and Preventing ‘Multiple-Account’ Cheating in Massive Open Online Courses,” was published today on, an online repository for electronic preprints.

Isaac Chuang — a professor of electrical engineering and physics, senior associate dean of digital learning at MIT, and one of the authors of the working paper — explains that he and his colleagues were inspired to examine the problem in an effort to better understand all the opportunities that online courses provide, including both learning and cheating.


Andrew Ho, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an author of the working paper, adds that the paper describes “a new cheating technique that is particular to MOOCs. It is enabled by specific design features, including the ability to create multiple accounts for free. This is a method of cheating that allows you to acquire a certification for a course in an hour, which is not possible through conventional cheating approaches. This is cheating of a different kind.”

While analyzing data gathered from learners using the edX online learning platform, the researchers noticed that certain users were answering assessment questions “faster than is humanly possible,” according to Chuang. Upon further examination, the researchers realized that a number of learners appeared to be employing a cheating strategy they refer to as “copying answers using multiple existences online” (or CAMEO).


The researchers examined data gathered from 1.9 million course participants in 115 MOOCs offered by HarvardX and MITx from the fall of 2012 through the spring of 2015. They discovered that in 69 courses where users were found to have been employing the CAMEO strategy, 1.3 percent of the certificates earned (1,237 certificates) appeared to have been obtained through such cheating. Additionally, they found that among earners of 20 or more certificates, 25 percent appear to have used the CAMEO strategy. In some courses CAMEO users may account for as many as 5 percent of certificates earned.


“One of the most interesting lessons from the paper is that there are ways to mitigate cheating that are straightforward and implementable by the teams creating online course content,” Chuang explains. “We also expect platform improvements, such as virtual proctoring, to help reduce cheating.”

“This paper addresses a growing challenge as higher education digitizes: ensuring that the work that students do is their work,” says George Siemens, executive director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge research lab at the University of Texas at Arlington, who was not involved in the research.

Learn More, Read the Complete Post from MIT

Full Text Working Paper


Detecting and Preventing “Multiple Account” Cheating in Massive Open Online Courses


Curtis G. Northcutt

Andrew D. Ho
Harvard University

Isaac L. Chuan


We describe a cheating strategy enabled by the features of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and detectable by virtue of the sophisticated data systems that MOOCs provide. The strategy, Copying Answers using Multiple Existences Online (CAMEO), involves a user who gathers solutions to assessment questions using a “harvester” account and then submits correct answers using a separate “master” account. We use “clickstream” learner data to detect CAMEO use among 1.9 million course participants in 115 MOOCs from two universities. Using conservative thresholds, we estimate CAMEO prevalence at 1,237 certificates, accounting for 1.3% of the certificates in the 69 MOOCs with CAMEO users. Among earners of 20 or more certificates, 25% have used the CAMEO strategy. CAMEO users are more likely to be young, male, and international than other MOOC certificate earners. We identify preventive strategies that can decrease CAMEO rates and show evidence of their effectiveness in science courses.

Direct to Full Text (14 pages; PDF)

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