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.


The State Of Academic Integrity In Europe – Council Of Europe Ukraine Conference

I’ve been lucky enough to present in some interesting places recently which have been looking to make a difference in their academic integrity processes. One of those was in Kiev, Ukraine, where I was one of the main external presenters at an event organised by the Council of Europe and attended by senior university officials.

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

When I arrived at Kiev Airport, I was greeted by signs regarding corruption and to say no to it, so it’s clear that there are attempts to make a difference here. It is always going to be a challenge because of the wider expectations within the area about how the system will operate.

The discussion I was involved with focused on the wider issues of academic integrity, particularly thinking about this from a research perspective instead of something that just involved students. There were also a lot of discussions about the wider political challenges going on in the area. The session also included details of our SEEPPAI research work.

There’s clearly very good work going on throughout Ukraine and it’s also a pleasure to be involved with far reaching projects like this.

Contract Cheating and Commissioning Staff Development Workshop

I held a detailed staff development workshop at the University of Northampton, taking a research informed view into the problem of contract cheating and looking at what can be done about it. My colleague Robert Clarke supported the workshop although he was not able to join me in person.

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

As always, with this type of audience, the workshop generated a huge amount of discussion. I included some new examples, including my wider ongoing work on examination cheating, a focus on the increased marketing of contract cheating services and examples given directly by essay writers and essay companies that shed a wider light into how the industry operates.

Towards the end of the workshop, I asked participants to think about how they could design assessments in light of the wider issues surrounding plagiarism and contract cheating and the need to ensure academic integrity. A summary of the main points raised is included below:

  • Include a demonstration of products that students create
    – make these demonstrations compulsory for dissertations
  • Use vivas more widely and include the option of on-the-spot vivas
    – should be mentioned in assignment brief
    – make these vivas an option for all subjects
    – ensure fairness during this process
    – should be recorded
    – considered as first step of academic misconduct process
  • Teach students all about plagiarism
    – the effects of plagiarism
    – the consequences of plagiarism
    – the role of Turnitin
  • Ensure that assignments are relevant to practice
  • Change the questions in assignment briefs each year and remove from students the temptation to plagiarise
  • Get students to generate original data to include in assignments
    – provide them with more personal ownership of their work
    – consider whether anonymous marking is still appropriate as this can discourage personal ownership
  • Make sure that there is internal support for assignments
  • Incorporate sub-components into assessments with feed-forward opportunities
  • Stop using coursework and just have exams
  • Vary the assessment types across a programme
  • Link assignments together to ensure a wider understanding
    – ask students to make changes to their submitted assessments under controlled conditions

I think it’s worth stressing that these capture the main ideas from across the audience. As with any group of academics, there wasn’t always a consistent view here. I’m sure that there were people in the audience who were keen to be controversial.

These suggestions also don’t necessarily tally with my own recommendations, but there are many good starting points here for further discussions.

Combating Contract Cheating and Commissioning Student Workshop

As part of a recent visit to the University of Northampton, I delivered a workshop to students aimed at raising awareness about contract cheating.

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

There has been a lot of work in the contract cheating field recently aimed at getting students on board. Many students feel very strongly when they know other people are cheating. I’ve worked with the Student Unions at Coventry University and Staffordshire University to hold events. The activities at University of Northampton are part of the wider work to move the partnerships with students further forward.

I’d encourage more Student Unions and individual students to get involved with the movement against contract cheating. Feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance with this.

The New Technologies Of Plagiarism – Exploring the Culture Of Plagiarism In Higher Education

I recently attended the New Technologies in Education event, which is held by the British Council in Belgrade, Serbia. This is a large event, comprising a set of stalls attracting thousands of visitors, along with a conference with parallel sessions based around technology and education. The event covers educational initiatives from primary school upwards.

I delivered an introductory session on student plagiarism, an area of which there is much interest across the South East Europe region, but for which policies and processes are not yet firmly in place in the same way that they are in the UK.

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

The talk is more basic than many I would deliver to other audiences, but the slides may be of particular interest to people who are new to this field. I was also able to discuss a few findings from the ongoing work I’m involved with as part of the South East European Project on Policies for Academic Integrity (SEEPPAI) research project.

Turnitin supported my attendance at the event and I met many interested delegates at the Turnitin booth. I particularly noticed a lot of concerned schoolteachers. Although my main interest is higher education, there is more work on plagiarism that needs to be done related to students earlier in the educational cycle.

If you would like to watch my presentation, it was broadcast live on YouTube here. Alas, I am dubbed in Serbian. If anyone does speak Serbian, I’d be interested at some point in finding out what the translators think I was saying.

Using Social Media For Academic Staff As A Component Of Continued Professional Development

A tweet of mine from Social Media for Learning in Higher Education 2016 conference, for which the tweet was well-received across the academic community, sums up a change with the potential to benefit academic staff appraisal processes for those involved with teaching and learning work.

Taken out of context, as short tweets so often can be, the tweet doesn’t fully capture the detail from a rewarding presentation on the weekly #LTHEchat Twitter chat. These weekly Wednesday evening sessions have now grown into essential activities for many in the higher education teaching and learning space.

I often follow #LTHEchat live (or catch up on the Storify summary afterwards) as the chats are interesting and wide-ranging. I also try and add to the chats when I have something useful to share, although my direct teaching and learning role is now rather diminished compared to the classroom activity I was involved with a few years ago. The timeslot also doesn’t always work for me, although participating during the scheduled live hour doesn’t seem to matter, as many of the tweets chats continue well beyond the official 21:00 at Wednesday finish time.

The tweet I quoted from #SocMedHE16 reflects that some attendees of the weekly #LTHEchat said that they had asked for this social engagement to be included in their annual appraisals as part of their Continued Professional Development (CPD) activities. There was no indication that this is yet a widespread activity, but perhaps pushing this as an extension of current and recommended CPD best practice is a way forward?

In my experience, current expectations of CPD for staff appraisal processes tend to focus on tangible activities with training elements. This can include attendance at internal or external staff development and training courses, including those taken online. They can include presenting at and attending suitable conferences. Other closely related areas, such as gaining professional certifications or fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, are also often included.

I believe that an important part of staff appraisal processes is to ensure that teaching active staff are thinking of themselves as reflective practitioners. Activities like #LTHEchat fit the bill for this for me.

The #LTHEchat allows people to share teaching and learning approaches that they have tried, as well as to discuss and question ideas and approaches in a safe and communal environment. Much localised good practice is shared, which would otherwise not be officially published. Chat topics can also push attendees to consider aspects of teaching and learning that would not otherwise form part of the their CPD. For instance, a previous #LTHEchat looked at contract cheating, an area close to my heart. I would like to think that this led a new group of academics to consider their assessment design and to think about how they could verify student involvement during the assessment completion process.

In these days where budgets for traditional forms of CPD can be limited, I do encourage those managers and peer reviewers involved with staff appraisal to consider alternatives to the traditional approaches. I wonder which universities will be brave enough to more formally list engagement with social media based teaching and learning activities such as #LTHEchat as part of the official metrics that can be considered during staff Continued Professional Development reviews?

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