With new technologies come new ways to cheat. Yik Yak, the anonymous, location-based app that has been a hotbed of cyberbullying on college campuses, is also the newest tool for students seeking to cheat on exams.
J. Scott Christianson, an assistant teaching professor in the department of management at the University of Missouri at Columbia, has been monitoring Yik Yak recently to see what students are talking about.
When he was on the app, he saw several yaks about an exam. It looked as if a student had just gotten out of the test and was using Yik Yak to share what he or she could remember about the questions, seemingly an attempt to provide a cheat sheet for students who would be taking it later.
In November the student newspaper at the State University of New York at Stony Brook reported that students there had used Yik Yak to share answers on quizzes and tests, especially in large lecture classes.
Given the app’s anonymity, it’s likely that Yik Yak seems a safe way to spread the word. There have been cases in which students who have threatened violence have been identified and arrested, but, to campus officials, the users are all but untraceable.
Students have found many ways to violate academic integrity over the years — this one is just more high-tech. Tracy Mitrano, director of Internet culture, policy, and law at Cornell University, says she thinks using Yik Yak in this way is not unlike seeking help from websites like Course Hero or from fraternities and sororities that are rumored to keep filing cabinets of old tests.
But Yik Yak could allow such cheating to be done on a much broader scale that’s also more difficult to police, says Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor of journalism and communications at Lehigh University who has done research on the app. With smaller networks of students, like teammates, club members, or fraternity brothers, the answers have to travel person to person. But with Yik Yak, they can reach many students at once. “That they can just broadcast this out in the open makes it a little more dangerous,” he says.
Professors could use some methods to try to prevent students from sharing information about their exams — not recycling questions, making multiple versions of tests, not passing tests back, and instead requiring that students who wish to view them do so in the faculty member’s office, Mr. Littau says.
Professors could also try to interfere with the process. Mr. Christianson says a professor or teaching assistant could “poison the well” by submitting posts on Yik Yak that mislead or misdirect students. But it seems unlikely that faculty members would take the time to do that, he says. Unlike students, professors have better things to do than troll Yik Yak.