About Thomas Lancaster

I am an experienced Computer Science academic, best known for research work into academic integrity, plagiarism and contract cheating. I have held leadership positions in several universities, with specialty in student recruitment and keen interest in working in partnership with students. Please browse around the blog and the links, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
Website: http://thomaslancaster.co.uk
Thomas Lancaster has written 165 articles so far, you can find them below.


Creating An Engaged Student Community Through Hackathons

A large proportion of my recent working life has been focused around looking at improving student experience and student engagement. As part of this, I’ve been introducing students to hackathons, usually programming collaborations and competitions where students get to work in teams to develop software and solve problems.

There have been multiple different strategies used to accomplish this, but key has been encouraging students to attend external hackathons, as well as putting on internal hackathons as safe environments for students to participate in. There has also been an element of internal hackathon and programming training, designing to help students to enhance their current skill levels.

I had the opportunity to present some of the progress that we’ve made in this area alongside Liam Sorta, one of the student mentors who has been supporting the project, at a Learning Lab.

The slides for the hackathon presentation are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

One of the main successes from the hackathon strategy came from running BCU Hack, a 24 hour hackathon on 29 February and 1 March 2016, where students stayed overnight to work to develop products matching the overall theme of “Take A Leap”. Several sponsors also attended and/or supplied prizes, so students worked to complete challenges that the sponsors had set. The overall standard of software produced was high, particularly from the overall winners, who created an innovative online site designed to help students to learn Python programming.

The presentation was well received, with visitors from other universities sharing their experiences with hackathons. There was also a discussion about how hackathons could be held across disciplines and how hackathon like events could be held for other subjects, including music.

Importantly, the value of hackathons for improving student employability, developing a portfolio and making contacts, was considered. Hackathons are clearly a valuable way for universities to introducing course defining experiences for their students.

Are All Of Our Students Completing Their Own Work? Examining Contract Cheating Within The Computing Discipline

During a research and learning seminar presented at London Metropolitan University, I focused on the technology behind contract cheating and the related issues behind it. A number of examples showing how Computing academics could be involved in creating the software solutions needed to prevent and detect contract cheating were presented.

The slides for talk are available to access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account. You can also see the slides embedded below.

There are several examples of interest embedded with the slides, but in particular I looked at a Literature Review assignment produced for the Fake Britain TV programme. I also demonstrated a number of other ways that that a student could have that same assignment produced for them. Since this process involves the creation of original work, it is very hard to detect.

Afterwards the discussion focused on the people producing work for students. It was pointed out that many students do not need to use technology at all to get their work done. There are known groups of individuals working and in and around universities providing original academic assignment writing services, which students hear about through word of mouth.

This development is nothing new and just continues to demonstrate the wide range of personal, social, pedagogical and technical responses needed to reduce contract cheating. Continued vigilance is always necessary.

Contract Cheating and Academic Misconduct in Examinations and Tests Video

Here is a video version of my contract cheating talk from the Higher Education Academy STEM Conference, which was recorded in advance of the conference for the benefit of people who could not attend. You can see the slides from the original HEA talk and a short discussion here.

I do have a full teaching and learning seminar available on examination cheating and what can be done about it, which can be presented alongside our contract cheating examples or independently. There is a lot of fascinating stuff available in this field, including much of the technology available to enable students to cheat. Please contact me if you’re interested in me speaking about this at your event or institution.

Contract Cheating and Academic Misconduct in Examinations and Tests

The format of the Higher Education Academy STEM Conference changed rather this year from previous years, with the submission of papers becoming the submission of an abstract and the presentation of a set of slides.

This change worked out well for me, as it allowed me to present an overview of an important area that Robert Clarke and I have been working on – the people who are paying money to cheat on exams. There is some scope to work this into a full paper, but it will be challenging to make it work in a traditional style. Many of the examples of contract cheating in exams aren’t easily found or available to the public, so although we can show it exists, our database of exam cheating examples is limited in number. The presentation format allowed me to work the exam cheating issue into an example filled talk.

The slides for the HEA STEM Conference talk are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

In the talk, I looked at some of the challenges facing the examination assessment method, particularly where impersonators are hired to take exams on behalf of students, or online exams are taken by a third party. There were comments raised expressing surprise about how cheaply such cheating could be done, provided the right worker was hired to help with the job.

There was a lot of post talk discussion (as well as tweeting) about the role that technology now plays in student cheating. Wearable computing is becoming a particular issue, with students having access to minute mobile devices allowing them to communicate with the outside world through pictures or audio. Exactly what equipment students are allowed to take into the exam room with them needs to be carefully considered and the items brought in do now need to be checked.

There was also some interesting discussion about the sites available for students to sell their completed work to, forming a database of “model” answers available to other students to purchase. Although I’d hope that these would be detected by Turnitin, there was discussion about whether these sites should exist and whether students had the rights to sell their work in this way.

A good chat about regulations was included and some of the difficulties of putting cheating cases forward were discussed. I was reminded of the need to ensure that attempting to cheat and attempting to outsource work are both unacceptable in university regulations. I was also reminded of how some cases, particularly those of exam impersonation, can actually lead to criminal charges. Cheating in exams is most certainly not recommended!

Contract Cheating – Exploring The Online Market For Original Student Work

I was invited to present some of the latest findings on contract cheating and what can be done about it to the Pedagogic Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton as part of their lunchtime seminar series. The session went well, presented to a packed and eager audience, and ran well over the scheduled one-hour slot with all of the discussion.

As well as overviewing some of the key research in the field and the subject areas being research on, I shared some of my early findings on some of my new areas of interest, including looking at the marketing profiles behind contract cheating services and the type of people who are ghostwriting and providing undue support to students. I also shared a whole host of new and recent examples within the talk.

The slides for the University of Wolverhampton talk are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

Due to the nature of this talk, I don’t have a video version available, but I anticipate that the ideas will make it into some of my forthcoming publications and blog posts. As always, I’m also always happy to share ideas at research seminars, teaching seminars and training events around the UK (or further afield if travel funding is available).

Some of the interesting aspects on the discussion focused on the legality of essay sites (most of them are very careful to stay on the correct side of what is allowable) and the issue of translation plagiarism – not strictly contract cheating, but an area that I have explored in the past and need to do more work on.

I was also alerted about the potential for grammarly, an online grammar checker that is available for students to use to try and improve their work, being used as part of a potential marketing funnel towards students using contract cheating sources. That’s certainly a development that I need to investigate further.

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