Outsourcing Assignments? Exposing The Threat Posed By Contract Cheating To The Computing Industry

I recently joined Robert Clarke in speaking about contract cheating to a room full of academics and people from within the wider Computing industry.

As well as looking at examples of contract cheating and the research involved, the talk also considered some of the implications for student employability.

The presentation took place for the Wolverhampton branch of the British Computer Society. The slides, hosted on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are included here.

Contractor sites, such as Freelancer.com, are widely used within the Computing industry, both by workers and contractors. It is only when they are used for academic work which is then submitted towards academic qualifications that this becomes unacceptable.

It was interesting to hear the reactions of the wider Computing sector to the research. That is certainly an area for further research, discussion and exploration.

HEA Contract Cheating Special Interest Group Meeting

At the 2013 HEA STEM Conference, we held an introductory meeting for the Special Interest Group in contract cheating. Although the group is primarily aimed at the Computing discipline, the group is not discipline specific and should be of interest to all areas.

A short presentation was held to kick off the session and the slides (hosted on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster) are included here.

One thing that I did for the slides was that I chose a live example of contract cheating (a request for an Information Systems student project found at Freelancer.com). Unfortunately, no-one was able to attribute this during the session, so this remains in the slides as an activity for anyone interest.

We also briefly shared some new success at using TurnItIn to find details of assignments, thanks to students starting to include their assignment specification along with the work they uploaded for marking.

The session finished with delegates discussing some of the good practice they use to prevent contract cheating. This included staff who were able to get to know their students and question them on anything amiss, as well as various staged submission types. However, methods to circumvent these checks were also shared.

As always, there was a sense of surprise around the room that this type of cheating was happening, meaning that continued discussion about contract cheating is needed.

The mailing list for the HEA Contract Cheating Special Interest Group can be joined here.

The Wider Implications Of Contract Cheating

Within the wider topic of contract cheating one area, which I hope to explore further with Robert Clarke relates to the wider implications of contract cheating to the IT industry.

We often discuss this when we’re presenting.

Where a student has cheated to obtain a qualification, this means that they’re not equipped with the core skills needed for success. This reflects badly on not only the student, but also the university which produced that particular student. Since the Computing industry now is so easily interconnected through social media, such information can soon spread, and can lead the IT industry having a lack of confidence in the qualifications that universities are awarding.

As part of our work to publicise contract cheating, we’re presenting a talk for the Wolverhampton Branch of the British Computer Society on Wednesday 24 April, 2013. The talk is exploring the topic of “Outsourcing Assignments? Exposing The Threat Posed By Contract Cheating To The Computing Industry” and one thing that we’re hoping is to engage the community of IT professionals that are present in a discussion on this issue.

More information about the talk can be found here (it is free to attend and booking is not required).

Who Are You Paying For Assignments?

Just spotted an interesting little remark as part of an online discussion about cheating:

We also had a student to went to one of the contract-cheating sites to do his program.  We then set him up so the offer to code came from one of our own grad students.  When he paid for the code, he was dismissed from the university.

I don’t think that anyone would debate that paying someone else to do an assignment for them is wrong.

There are lots of ways to being caught contract cheating, but paying someone is one of the worst (I wonder if the student got his money back?).

I think that the penalty, in this case, sends out the right message. What do you think?

My First Experience Of Contract Cheating

Perhaps the area of academic life that I’m best known for is contract cheating. I’ve both published and spoken widely on this subject, exploring how students are getting work completed for them, which they are then handing in for academic credit as if this were their own work.

I’ve also recently been instrumental in setting up a Contract Cheating Special Interest Group on behalf of the Higher Education Academy, which is well worth participating in if this area of practioner and academic research interests you.

I can’t remember when exactly I first came across outsourcing services, such as RentACoder (now known as vWorker). As someone with a widespread interest in computing and technology, I’m normally at the forefront of interesting new developments like these services, and I certainly knew about services like essay mills from my PhD research into plagiarism detection.

But, I do remember the first time that I saw one of my assignment specifications on RentACoder.

It was late 2003, a few months into my tenure as a Lecturer at Birmingham City University, when I was teaching C programming to second year students. I always believe in setting original assignments to students, and this one was original, but it was based loosely on a Java programming assingment from my teaching at London South Bank University. The objective was to model the seat reservation system for an airline.

Out of curiousity, I happened to search for terms I’d used in the assignment specification, not expecting to find anything, but the search raised a match on RentACoder. A quick check of the link revealed a copy of the assignment specification hosted on RentACoder and that a contractor was working on this for a cost somewhere under $20. It also revealed that this was not the first assignment specification listed under this user’s account.

But, particularly interesting were the combinations of assignments that were listed. There was no way that these could all belong to a particular student, or even to one university. Unknowingly, I’d stumbled upon my first example of what I’d now term a contract cheating subcontactor.

In this case, even though the username didn’t directly match a student, it was pretty easy to track down both the students involved using forensic clues. This turned out to be a student who had put up a few of their assignments, both for our course and at a previous university they’d attended (this combination making this particularly simple to track down). My assignment was the result of putting up a bid request for a friend.

Even if I hadn’t spotted it, the finished assignment, when submitted, would have raised alarm bells, mainly because the coding style didn’t bear any resemblance to the class teaching. The assignment specification also required a number of reflective elements, which weren’t clearly addressed by the finished work. Most importantly, the other requirements for the module assessment design meant that the student wouldn’t pass with the outsourced work, even before appropriate actions were taken through the official university disciplinary processes.

It was that incident that sparked off an interest in what would come to be called contract cheating. That hasn’t been the most memorable incident of contract cheating that I’ve been involved with, but perhaps that can be addressed in another post.

 

Feel free to add your first (or subsequent) experience of contact cheating as a reply.

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