Most students have been there -- fighting to finish a paper at the last minute. A new website's offering students a new "solution" to this problem by letting them buy, literally, more time through use of corrupted computer files.
Corrupted-Files.com allows students to purchase a corrupted file for $4.95 that they can submit to professors. According to the website, the idea is that a student can gain extra time to finish their assignment before the grader notices that the file doesn't work. When they realize the submitted file won't open, the student can feign surprise about the corruption and submit a new working file that contains the assignment.
Software bugs, hardware failures or shutting down the computer or removing a USB device while saving can corrupt a file, said Dr. John Aycock, a University of Calgary computer science associate professor.
The website is meant to give students an excuse to get extra time to finish their work. Instead of the run of the mill excuses -- "my computer crashed" or "grandma died" -- the student can say "it doesn't work, how could that be?"
According to the website, "it's a fine line" between a good excuse and cheating. Corrupted-Files.com encourages students to ask their professors for extensions before buying a file and discourages procrastination.
"It's probably something that I wouldn't recommend students do, because I think it smacks of academic misconduct," said U of C Student Rights Advisor Robert Clegg.
That said, submitting a file from the website wouldn't be categorized as plagiarism because it doesn't involve taking someone else's work or recycling one's own. The ploy wouldn't technically qualify as cheating, which involves simple things like looking over your shoulder at someone else's test, either, said Clegg.
The penalty for using one of these files would range from an F in the course or on the assignment to expulsion or suspension, said Clegg.
For professors, technology has brought problems by making it easier for students to plagiarize and cheat. Websites like Corrupted-Files.com may mean that professors have to be even more suspicious of what students are doing.
Most professors require hard copies of students' work alongside digital copies. Dr. Loren Falkenburg, an associate professor at the U of C's Haskayne School of Business, requires assignments be submitted as both a hard and digital copy specifically to avoid problems with cheating.
Falkenburg said that submitting corrupted files might trick professors at first, but that after a couple of times a pattern will appear and it will stop working.
"I can't believe that students would go to that much effort just to turn in their assignments late," said Falkenburg.
"If you had put half as much work into doing the assignment as you've put into convincing me why your assignment should've been marked easier or whatever, you would've learned something and you would've had a higher mark.
"After a while you almost don't believe what you're hearing, even if it's true, or you make students jump through more hoops than you would've if you hadn't been lied to over the years."
The Corrupted-Files.com website says their "files cannot be opened, traced or reverse engineered." The website also says they change the files periodically so that they "stay fresh."
"In my experience, when a file is corrupted, some of it is usually salvageable," said Aycock. "That means that buying corrupted files as an excuse probably wouldn't fly with a tech-savvy prof. who would look at them closely."
Falkenburg said she appreciates it when students are honest with her instead of using excuses or lying, and that professors can usually tell the difference between an excuse and the truth.
"Part of university and part of meeting deadlines is time management, so my advice to [students] is work on time management skills rather than trickery and deception," said Clegg.