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 137 articles so far, you can find them below.


How To Give A Convincing 10 Minute RESCON Research Presentation

Birmingham City University recently held its 2013 version of RESCON and I delivered a short presentation on an aspect of our contract cheating research. This is an internal conference, bringing together the breadth of research across Birmingham City University.

Whilst there was some excellent research presented, showing the skill base of both the Birmingham City University staff and research students, I also noticed many presenters who were not able to work within the particular constraints of this event. The most notable constraint? A firm 10 minute time limit to presentations, with a very tight schedule, and potentially allowing for some handover time. The other constraint? A multidisciplinary audience, who don’t have qualifications in most of the fields being presented.

Research Mistakes

Because of this, I also observed several mistakes which should never have happened with professional presenters. People pitching their talk at completely the wrong level, or requiring advanced subject skills to understand it. Presenters just wanting to give a talk they gave at another conference with a 30 minute slot, and finding themselves cut off at the methodology section. And, generally, just bad presentation skills, people reading from scripts, mumbling, and suffering from poor slide design.

I can’t immediately solve the poor presentation skills that are inherent around research conferences (one would think that would be a core skill for anyone working in or considering a career in academia), but there are plenty of books and courses in that area.

What I can do is look at the core techniques designed to succeed in a research setting like this, and the motivation behind it.

How To Give More Suitable Short Research Presentations

First of all, the main reason to present at an internal conference like this is publicity. It’s all about keeping your name and research visible around the university and trying to grow the connections which will help to take it to a wider audience. This isn’t the place to debut massive research studies. This isn’t a research conference with a paper attached (these types of conferences do hold value within the Computing field). It’s a place to make connections.

Second, plan to base the talk about an aspect of your research which will make sense to all disciplines. The table showing detailed research findings in a tiny font can wait. Think of something that is accessible and which delegates can understand the basics of. For instance, I watched a presentation on music, where a piece of sheet music was projected and several features of that music were verbally explained. Assuming that most of the audience could not read sheet music, that could have been improved by playing the music.

Third, focus the talk around one idea. One small aspect of the work where a visible result can be presented (the results are generally more interesting than a detailed methodology). I saw an excellent example of this looking at fatherhood as a much larger portion of a PhD study. No technical consideration, but enough examples of results from the research, and quotes from participants, to make this accessible to an audience outside of the Health Faculty. If people are interested further in the research, provide them with a link to your other publications, or an offer to present a longer research seminar, and you’ll cover both audiences.

Fourth. If you’re inexperienced giving research presentations, particularly with this style, review the planned presentation with someone with more experience first. This is true especially for research students, who have the immediate benefit of having a research supervisor available to held them and to fulfill this role.

Think About Research Presentations Like This…

If you take one thing away from this post, make it to present one single accessible idea. Add the short set of interesting slides to your SlideShare account and the rest of your Professional Online Presence and use this to draw people in to the interesting areas of research that you’re working on.

Cutting The Cost Of Custom Essay Writing – Examining The Financial Market Behind Contract Cheating

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had recently is condensing some of the research highlights behind contract cheating into a talk timed to last just 10 minutes, for Birmingham City University’s RESCON conference.

The slides, also available on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are the result.

This talk looked particularly at the pricing of essays, based around our own research as well as collaborations with the external media, including Times Higher Education. The focus of the session was particularly on essays, and covered topics outside Computing, so as to appeal to the multidisciplinary nature of RESCON.

The Threat Of Contract Cheating – Examining The Paid For Assignment Solutions Unduly Populating The Computing Discipline

Contract cheating still poses a threat within the Computing discipline, although our observations are that this has expanded widely into other academic disciplines, particularly Business Studies, and including at MBA level.

These slides are from a recent research seminar delivered at University of West London, and contain new examples relating to the costs associated with contract cheating, and the many solutions available to people with technical skills to aim to prevent and detect this type of academic misconduct.

The slides, also available on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are included here.

I was pleased to find out from the PhD students in attendance that they had no wish to follow in the footsteps of the private tutor mentioned in the talk, who, after gaining their PhD, was advertising to complete work on behalf of students.

The idea of using stylometrics to potentially detect when work was not written by the student indicated created a lot of interest, and that is certainly an area that would benefit from continued exploration.

The Contract Cheating Saga Of Crazylarry23

Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today called Crazylarry23 “the stupid plagiarist”.

Mark Graban of Lean Blog seemed surprised that an example of postgraduate level cheating was up on Freelancer.com. He also acknowledged Michel Baudin for originally publicising this attempt at contract cheating, although that blog post no longer seems to be active.

As an academic, who along with Robert Clarke, has collected together a database of over 19,000 attempts at contract cheating, cases like this are not so surprising to us any longer. For the uninitiated, contract cheating occurs when a student gets a third party to produce assessed work for them.

We can trace over 50% of the cases we’ve identified back to the Freelancer.com agency website, as this analysis of observed contract cheating between March 2005 and June 2013 show. This isn’t a completely scientific sample, since Freelancer.com is one of the main sites on our contract cheating radar, but perhaps that’s why Jonathan Bailey labelled anyone using this site to cheat as “stupid”.

More details relating to this data set are academically available in our recent paper, “Commercial Aspects Of Contract Cheating” and several examples are expanded upon in Slides From Recent Talks by Dr. Thomas Lancaster.

The reaction to the case of Crazylarry23 does reflect the lack of publicity that contract cheating has had. In this case, raising awareness is always beneficial to the academic community and the wider industry who will be employing our students in the future.

Mark Graban discusseded two attempts by Crazylarry23, who self-identified himself as Australian, to cheat. One example included an ERP and Lean Manufacturing Essay, which Crazylarry23 insisted would “NOT be plagiarised”. This was outsourced to an author from Pakistan for $50.

Mark Graban also fulfilled the detective role, identified in our research, finding the school in Australia that Crazylarry23 attended. This was near Crazylarry23’s stated location on Freelancer.com, although our own attribution attempts have shown that the listed locations are not always accurate. The spelling of “plagiarised” in this case, backs up the premise that Crazylarry23 was native to Australia.

The role of the detective for contract cheating requests on agency websites often involves looking for trace evidence and small “clues” like these. Despite a number of our successes in identifying and attributing contract cheating cases, the sheer volume of these cheating attempts means that students are getting away with it. The academic community does need access to a semi-automated system to aid in the monitoring, collection of evidence and detective work.

The good news is that Plagiarism Today reports that successful notification of Crazylarry23’s school was made, and since the user has now left Freelancer.com, we can assume that they were identified and penalised. Copies of the bid requests are archived elsewhere based on their RSS feeds for anyone interested. Whether this is the same Crazylarry23 who can be observed to be a keen poker player using a Google search remains to be questioned.

There are still plenty of people like Crazylarry23 out there. We need to instil in our students the need for them to complete their own work and to demonstrate that they do have the skills required for success in the workplace.

I did come across an interesting tweet from Freelancer during my investigation about what had been said about the Crazylarry23 saga on the Internet.

Just Outsourcing identified that Freelancer.com was indeed complicit with the use of their site for the purposes of academic contract cheating, saying to @pheelpep, “We have had many ivy league students outsource their work on @freelancer.com 😉”. It has been speculated previously that the commission awarded to Freelancer.com through academic writing is substantial. This tweet provides a further indication which would mean that it contract cheating is not a problem that they would want to make a serious attempt to tackle.

Just Outsourcing suggests that Freelancer.com should consider how they treat requests for academic work. The site adds that “The ramifications of assisting the generation of unqualified ‘professionals’ are too large”. In our own research, we have observed attempts by trainee teachers to outsource their assignments and requests for nurses to receive help with passing their training. It does seem that there are real risks involved with agency websites assisting with contract cheating requests which the academic and professional communities need to address.

 

Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today called Crazylarry23 “the stupid plagiarist”.

Mark Graban of Lean Blog seemed surprised that an example of postgraduate level cheating was up on Freelancer.com. He also acknowledged Michel Baudin for originally publicising this attempt at contract cheating, although that blog post no longer seems to be active.

As an academic, who along with Robert Clarke, has collected together a database of over 19,000 attempts at contract cheating, cases like this are not so surprising to us any longer. For the uninitiated, contract cheating occurs when a student gets a third party to produce assessed work for them.

We can trace over 50% of the cases we’ve identified back to the Freelancer.com agency website, as this analysis of observed contract cheating between March 2005 and June 2013 show. This isn’t a completely scientific sample, since Freelancer.com is one of the main sites on our contract cheating radar, but perhaps that’s why Jonathan Bailey labelled anyone using this site to cheat as “stupid”.

 

More details relating to this data set are academically available in our recent paper, “Commercial Aspects Of Contract Cheating” and several examples are expanded upon in Slides From Recent Talks by Thomas Lancaster.

The reaction to the case of Crazylarry23 does reflect the lack of publicity that contract cheating has had. In this case, raising awareness is always beneficial to the academic community and the wider industry who will be employing our students in the future.

Mark Graban discusseded two attempts by Crazylarry23, who self-identified himself as Australian, to cheat. One example included an ERP and Lean Manufacturing Essay, which Crazylarry23 insisted would “NOT be plagiarised”. This was outsourced to an author from Pakistan for $50.

Mark Graban also fulfilled the detective role, identified in our research, finding the school in Australia that Crazylarry23 attended. This was near Crazylarry23’s stated location on Freelancer.com, although our own attribution attempts have shown that the listed locations are not always accurate. The spelling of “plagiarised” in this case, backs up the premise that Crazylarry23 was native to Australia.

The role of the detective for contract cheating requests on agency websites often involves looking for trace evidence and small “clues” like these. Despite a number of our successes in identifying and attributing contract cheating cases, the sheer volume of these cheating attempts means that students are getting away with it. The academic community does need access to a semi-automated system to aid in the monitoring, collection of evidence and detective work.

The good news is that Plagiarism Today reports that successful notification of Crazylarry23’s school was made, and since the user has now left Freelancer.com, we can assume that they were identified and penalised. Copies of the bid requests are archived elsewhere based on their RSS feeds for anyone interested. Whether this is the same Crazylarry23 who can be observed to be a keen poker player using a Google search remains to be questioned.

 

There are still plenty of people like Crazylarry23 out there. We need to instil in our students the need for them to complete their own work and to demonstrate that they do have the skills required for success in the workplace.

I did come across an interesting tweet from Freelancer during my investigation about what had been said about the Crazylarry23 saga on the Internet.

Just Outsourcing identified that Freelancer.com was indeed complicit with the use of their site for the purposes of academic contract cheating, saying to @pheelpep, “We have had many ivy league students outsource their work on @freelancer.com 😉”. It has been speculated previously that the commission awarded to Freelancer.com through academic writing is substantial. This tweet provides a further indication which would mean that it contract cheating is not a problem that they would want to make a serious attempt to tackle.

Just Outsourcing suggests that Freelancer.com should consider how they treat requests for academic work. The site adds that “The ramifications of assisting the generation of unqualified ‘professionals’ are too large”. We have observed attempts by trainee teachers to outsource their assignments and requests for nurses to receive help with passing their training. It does seem that there are real risks involved with agency websites assisting with contract cheating requests which the academic and professional communities need to address.

Don’t Want To Write That Lecture?

For academics, this request seems like a very reasonable price to pay to get someone else to get someone else to prepare a set of “good enough” slides for you.

I had this example planned as a slide for one of my own research presentations, but with that presentation at 60 slides at present, this just wouldn’t have fit it.

I support I could have saved myself a lot of time and had other people outbidding themselves to produce that talk for me for just $6 (£3.71 according to Google). Even comparing the options and paying double that to get a competent worker involved, this would represent a good deal.

There’s certainly no excuse for academics to not have a set of slides prepared when you can get offers like that (9 bidders so far), although I’d recommend setting this type of auction up as a fixed price rather than paying by the hour. Of course, I don’t know if paying someone to create your slides would be ethical

What next? Get someone in to deliver the lecture (there are some that would argue that PhD students are already taken advantage of in that way…)?

Personally, I’m one of those people who has my own presentation style and likes to be very much in control of my own slides, but I see an increasing numbers of posts on agency sites like this one.

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