About Thomas Lancaster

My name is Dr. Thomas Lancaster, and I am a Associate Dean in Recruitment at Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My background is in the Computer Science discipline. My best known academic research relates to student plagiarism and contract cheating. Please browse around the blog and the links, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
Website: http://thomaslancaster.co.uk
Thomas Lancaster has written 124 articles so far, you can find them below.


Rethinking Assessment By Examination In The Age Of Contract Cheating – Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond Conference

I’ve been asked a lot recently about cheating in examinations, particularly where technology is involved. In some of the more sophisticated cases, this can be thought of as the latest development of contract cheating, where a student can hire someone to communicate with based outside an examination room. They can then receive answers from them.

I spoke about this topic at the Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond conference, which looked at activities throughout the world of academic integrity.

You can see the slides used in the presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

The presentation also contains a number of fresh examples of people trying to outsource their examinations through contract cheating providers, including one person wanting their English language examination taking for them (actually a relatively common request).

One of the more interesting examples shown involves someone asking to have the exam for a job with an essay mill taken for them. As I’ve said before, these type of positions can be of great demand.

Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond was an excellent conference and I’ll say more about it in future posts.

Do We Need To Worry About Smartwatches Disrupting Education?

I’ve spoken a lot recently about the challenges posed by the changes in technology used by students in education and in the wider world, particularly when lecturers aren’t poised to react to these changes.

Several student cheating commentators, myself included, have mentioned the Apple Watch as being a device that exam invigilators should look out. And this is only one of a number of smartwatch competitors on the market.

The smartwatch essentially moves several features of a mobile phone to the convenient location of being on a student’s wrist. A student looking at a watch, or even lightly touching it, wouldn’t usually be of concern to an invigilator (unless the student had forgotten to disable the annoying beep sound that some watches emit). A smartwatch is a different story.

Many university exam procedures and anti-cheating regulations do not yet specifically discuss smartwatches. This needs to be discussed during regular periodic reviews of teaching processes.

Likewise, not all invigilators are yet familiar with looking for smartwatches and I suspect that many would not know how to recognise them when confronted with a examination hall full of students. With such a variety of fashion watches available for students, even the slightly bulkier frame of a smartwatch may not stand out.

Along with the Apple Watch, there are many other brands and types of smartwatches available on the market and these really don’t need to be expensive. For instance, I imported a low-end smartwatch from China running the common Android operating system to test out and this cost under £10 – and that included shipping to the UK.

News stories in this field have found examples of students taking examinations having answers transmitted to them. These answers were displayed on the small smartwatch screen.

You can now also buy smartwatches that are advertised specifically as cheating watches. Functionalities vary, but all of them are designed to provide quick access to information that students might have ready for an exam, whilst also looking like a regular smartwatch. Particularly sophisticated versions of this use a screen that looks like a real watch face. It would be difficult to notice this without doing very close and careful checks of all student watches.

I have seen some movement towards addressing this problem with revised university examination processes. There are examples of universities where students are now only allowed to take a watch into an examination when placed in a clear plastic bag and positioned on their desk, presumably not to be touched during the examination.

The media has raised a wider question asking if schools, colleges and universities on the way towards airport style security for exams? To protect the integrity of exams, there do certainly need to be changes put into place.

Having been both a student and an invigilator in many examinations, I know that the methods used to communicate time remaining can be limited. Think, poorly positioned clocks Think also, inconsistent clocks in different parts of a large room and analogue devices where it’s really not obvious which minute the clock hand is pointing to. I’ve even seen clocks with failing batteries which lose time during the examination. That’s why, it’s currently almost a necessity for students to have a watch with them. I do think that simply disallowing watches should be possible, but to do that, much better ways of communicating exam timings are needed.

Something for the educators involved with examinations to think about.

International Perspectives On Contract Cheating – Staffordshire University Research Conference – Video Version

I presented on contract cheating at the Staffordshire University staff research conference using a digital presentation. For me, that meant by video recording, which is great, as it works well within Staffordshire University’s digital strategy, although I miss the interactive nature of presentation.

The video is worth sharing, as it discusses how the international community has moved towards supporting contract cheating. You can see it embedded below.

You can also see the slides and a discussion I gave about the presentation here.

Cramming highlights of the many years of research work into 10 minutes is always difficult, but I hope that this serves both as a quick introduction to the research, as well as introduces some of our recent international findings (through the SEEPPAI research in particular) and presents some of the ongoing research challenges in the area.

We’re a long way away from having solved contract cheating. There’s still a lot of work necessary to understand why students cheat and to think about how we can put interventions in place to support those students, as well as to properly reward the students who approach their studies with academic integrity.

International Perspectives On Contract Cheating – Staffordshire University Research Conference

A first for me. A conference presentation when I couldn’t be physically present and had to record the presentation in advance.

For my first research presentation at Staffordshire University I tried to capture the good work going on in the contract cheating field in a presentation designed to last ten minutes. I think I managed to do this with the recording, but there’s a huge amount of interesting materials on the slides that I just couldn’t talk about in the time available.

You can see the slides used in the presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

This talk is really interesting to me, as it’s one of those talks that I could make into a full 60 minute research seminar with very few updates needed to the slides at all.

When you think about it, it’s incredibly how in just over 10 years, the contract cheating field has moved from an area where it very hard to interest people, even in the UK, to one where there is excellent international research going on across the globe. Not every country is yet at the same position here, but that just opens yet more opportunities for advancement.

Policies for Academic Integrity in Montenegro and South East Europe – Council of Europe Montenegro

Montenegro is a fascinating country, which I had the pleasure to visit as part of our SEEPPAI research. There is only one public university, but it’s spread over multiple sites. There are several private universities.

I presented some of the SEEPPAI results and participated in wider discussions about academic integrity and future opportunities in the region at an event organised by the Council of Europe.

You can see the slides used in the presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

The presentation discussed the wide range of views I’d experienced from staff and students in the region, often seeming to depend on the level reached within the university system. I was very pleased to see the interest in doing something about the academic integrity challenges, particularly from the students at the event.

There is a lot of good work going on in the region. It all just needs to be communicated to a wider audience.

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