Investigating Contract Cheating and Breaches of Academic Integrity

How to investigate contract cheating and what type of evidence is appropriate for an academic integrity hearing?

I explored this issue as part of a workshop held at Deakin University. It’s a university that is proactive in promoting academic integrity values to students and detecting contract cheating, but also knows that there are challenges in doing this fairly and consistently.

The slides I used are available on my SlideShare account. They are also included below.


As part of the presentation, I suggested twelve types of evidence that could be collected and taken to an academic integrity hearing. These are explored more in the slides (and were discussed), but these are:

1 – Writing style – is the consistent with other work by the student?
2 – Document properties – does the metadata suggest this was not produced by the student?
3 – Essay mill layout – is this presented perfectly, but with style over substance?
4 – Contextual concept – does this use ideas that the student would be unfamiliar with?
5 – Public websites – is the assignment specification on a freelancing website or viewable essay mill?
6 – Student mark profile – is there consistency between student performance in supervised and unsupervised environments, in similar tasks?
7 – Access logs – has the student accessed module resources in an expected way and from known locations? Have they accessed inappropriate resources from the university network?
8 – Turnitin report – is the similarity score too low? Does this indicate any surprises in the sources used?
9 – Authenticity viva – can the student discuss their work?
10 – Assessment production process – can the student show their interim work on demonstrate that they were working on the assignment over a period of time?
11 – Verification tasks – can the student complete a task based on their work in a controlled environment?
12 – Opportunity to own up – there can be advantages to everyone in allowing students to discuss their situation with an independent advisor and bypassing a formal hearing where students agree they have contract cheated.

A single one of these indicators may not be enough to be sure that a student has contract cheated, but several of them, used together, could provide appropriate evidence. All of this assumes that university policies and regulations allow these types of evidence to be used.

I concluded the workshop by suggesting that the design of assessment tasks which automatically allow for the collection of some evidence could be the way forward. Now, in an ideal world, this would never be used, but collecting evidence in this way can help to streamline the process, as well as to protect the majority of students who are acting with academic integrity.

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Article by 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.
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