Assessment and Plagiarism – Research Opportunities

As one of my previous posts has indicated, it is rare for assessment and plagiarism to considered as equal topics within educational research.

The book chapter, Assessment and Plagiarism, by Thomas Lancaster (me), Anthony Robins and Sally Fincher addresses that issue for the computing discipline. It is part of The Cambridge Handbook for Computing Education Research, a book that “describes the extent and shape of computing education research today“.

As well as discussing the importance of assessment and taking steps to minimise plagiarism, the chapter focuses specifically on techniques that are most suitable for computing. The chapter also provides recommendations for future research in the field.

In this post, I’ve picked out five ideas for research opportunities from the chapter that have implications for multiple disciplines (beyond Computing). Of course, you should still read the full chapter for more ideas and a lot of background that will help any future research plans (and make the literature review sections of papers much easier to complete).

Collated and Reusable Assessments

In previous years, there have been pushes across the sector to build up collections of reusable learning components, including assessment banks intended for wider use. How well are those projects working? What measures are taken to keep the assessment banks up to date? Do students and educators see value in these activities continuing? And how can plagiarism and contract cheating be avoided with these standard assessments?

Essay Spinning

This isn’t a new topic for the blog (see these posts), but is still one that hasn’t been widely investigated. When a student automatically converts one version of an essay to another, perhaps through back translation, how can this plagiarism be detected? Are there indicators that academics should be looking out for when they are marking? Or are indicators that a machine could identify? Failing that, could multiple versions of an assignment be generated in multiple languages to use with text matching software?

Academic Integrity Processes

It is thought that these still vary greatly across the sector. Is that the case? More specifically, what about at discipline level? Are processes applied consistently and are penalties (when necessary) given out in a fair manner? What recommendations exist for best practice at a discipline level?

Gamification of Assessment

Gamification techniques are now widely used across many walks of life, everything from encouraging continued play of computer games to getting people to continue to shop in certain ways. How far will these techniques work with assessment? Are there methods that will make assessment more engaging and encourage students to develop their understanding to a more in-depth level than they otherwise would have done?

Automated Assessment

Many methods have been developed to reduce the burden of assessment on educators, including using automated techniques that have different levels of success. At one end of the scale, there are systems that will automatically mark essays, although this is usually through metric based assessment writing style and keyword analysis of content. There are also many systems for marking simple exam questions, such as multiple choice and short answer questions. Can these systems be developed further? Can better feedback be developed? There are also many ethical questions worthy of investigation such as, is it fair on students to have their work marked in this way?

 

Feel free to share your own ideas for good topics for future assessment and plagiarism research in the comments section.

Advances in Academic Integrity – Presentation from QAA Enhancing Partnerships Pilot

I’m currently a member of the QAA expert group that is creating guidance on academic integrity for the UK higher education sector. The QAA has been doing much excellent work in this area stemming from their previous work on contract cheating.

In order to help to develop and share good practice, they have recently launched a pilot project on academic integrity as part of their enhancing partnerships work. For this project, teams from different UK universities will meet regularly over the course of a year to develop their academic integrity practice.

I presented the keynote at their first meeting, bringing together many of the latest findings and open questions in this field.

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


Academic integrity will continue to offer challenges. During the presentation, I tried to remove the idea that many seem to have that academic integrity just relates to a “battle” where we try to stop students from cheating. The metaphor does not work for me and there are so many more aspects that we have to think about.

I promoted the idea that universities should use their students as part of their academic integrity working group. They, after all, have a vested interest in the results of assessment. I will be following the remaining of the pilot project with interest to see if many of the universities taking part adopted that approach.

How Kenya Now Leads The World In Enabling Contract Cheating

My research into contract cheating, dating right back to when I first publicised the threat this poses to academic standards in 2006, has identified worldwide hot spots of individuals enabling contract cheating. These hot spots are international locations with essay mill companies and individual writers keen to make money by helping other people to cheat. They also represent locations where the income from enabling contract cheating is very good by local standards.

I mentioned the countries where contract cheating enabling is prevalent, such as Kenya, India and Pakistan, in this 2016 article for The Guardian. Indeed, I witnessed the growth of the essay writing industry in Kenya between 2006 and 2016, as evidenced, for instance in these 2016 slides, where I showed that the people bidding to complete low level academic work on Freelancer.com were coming mainly from India, Kenya, Pakistan and Morocco.

Contract Cheating Writers Based In Kenya

My recent paper looking at the ghost writers working internationally in the contract cheating industry found that the majority of writers for contract cheating companies were based in Kenya. The real percentage may be higher than I found, as some workers seemed to be disguising their location, perhaps pretending they were in a country their essay buyers would consider more desirable, such as the United States.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also explored contract cheating in Kenya, demonstrating what big business this type of work had become in a country where poverty is common.

In every apartment building in Nairobi, you could find two, three writers.

The Chronicle source too found writers told not to reveal that they were from Kenya and to instead pretend they were British or American. The fact that many essay mills really use writers from Kenya is a (not so well hidden) secret in the essay industry.

Academic Writing Work In Kenya Is Often Low Paid

Chloe Walker presenting at Plagiarism Across Europe 2017

I’ve previously mentioned Chloe Walker’s ongoing research into contract cheating in Kenya.

Chloe has still to formally publish her findings, but her work has explored the legitimate feel of the contract cheating industry in Kenya. That is, the participants think of their jobs as providing a service of value, not as helping people to cheat. They see themselves as working as academic writers.

The money is also good. Even writers earning as little as $2 to $3 USD per essay still look at this as being a better income than the level of money they could earn in another job.

That is, if they can get another job at all.

Kenya is a country with 35% youth unemployed. This has led to estimates from both Chloe and the Chronicle of 20,000 people in Kenya being employed as academic writers (with many more working from home to produce other types of writing, or having involvement in the wider Gig Economy).

For those at the upper levels, the rewards can be much greater. The Chronicle article shows one business, essentially a writer who subcontracted work to four trainees, earning up to $14,000 USD from contract cheating per month. That’s a figure not to be sniffed at anywhere in the world.

The situation in Kenya is not helped by corruption at the highest levels of society. In 2016, MPs in Kenya were told that they had to hold degrees before the next election (in 2017). This ruling was subsequently scrapped after it was found that it had led to MPs buying their degrees rather than putting in the work needed to gain academic qualifications legitimately.

Social Media Is Used Heavily In The Academic Writing Industry In Kenya

Getting to work as an academic writer really is a job that is in demand in Kenya. So much so that people will pay for the opportunity.

In this post, I discussed the Facebook groups selling accounts working for contract cheating providers to people who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible. One Facebook group has 1289 ads in it. Many of those both selling and buying accounts are based in Kenya.

There are private groups discussing the latest tricks to get ahead providing academic writing services that are much bigger. I’ve found a Facebook group which is “strictly for Kenyan writers only” with over 100,000 members and over 300 posts a day. Numbers like these make it look as though the number of people now employed as academic writers in Kenya may well have expanded well beyond the 20,000 figure previously discussed.

Example of a private Facebook group aimed at academic writers in Kenya with over 100,000 members

You can even find whole web sites aimed at people in Kenya keen to make money telling them how to get started as academic writers (and often selling their own guides and account set up services to take advantage of those people who are already desperate). These use such statements as:

It’s no longer a secret that many freelance writers in Kenya are now reaping big in academic writing.

Another uses typical marketing techniques designed to remove objections, in this case eliminating concerns about vocabulary that even native English speaking students would never use:

Must I know hard English words like despot, fractious, inveterate and such like tough words?

Some sites promote this essay writing work as a “side hustle“.

I won’t link directly to sites such as these, but they are very easy to find, as are the many classified ads aimed at recruiting academic writers from Kenya.

The Messages About The Workers For Contract Cheating Companies In Kenya

We need to be alert about where the push for contract cheating is coming from.

It is international in focus, particularly from countries such as Kenya, where contract cheating appears to be an important contributor to how many individuals there are able to survive.

It is a highly competitive industry that won’t go away on its own.

That is why we see such heavy social media promotion of cheating opportunities to students, spamming techniques, as well as attempts by individuals to blackmail students who use their services.

There is still a need for formal academic research about contract cheating in Kenya (and other countries), looking from the points of view of providers, students and other stakeholders.

I have a research paper idea relating to contract cheating in Kenya in mind. I’m looking forward to seeing more about what Chloe Walker (and others) have been working on.

Contract Cheating in Canada – Presentation From The International Day Of Action Against Contract Cheating

Wednesday 17 October 2018 marked the third International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. This international series of events, designed to raise awareness and promote academic integrity, has got bigger every year.

I was thrilled to join the activity taking place at the University of Calgary, led by Sarah Eaton, to deliver a short opening keynote address for the event they held. Alas, I only joined remotely, so I didn’t get to visit, but I’m sure that will come in the future.

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


Being a short presentation, I focused mainly of awareness raising, including examples of the scale of contract cheating in Canada and specific activity around Calgary. I also looked at the wide range of activity taking place as part of the International Day of Action, much of which is inspirational.

It is great to see so much attention being paid to the challenges raised by academic outsourcing.

Buy A PhD – Essay Mills And Contract Cheating Pricing (Infographic)

How much does it cost to buy a full PhD thesis from an academic ghost writer or an essay mill?

This infographic illustrates how much it would cost to buy a PhD of around 75,000 words.

The PhD pricing is based on the PhD providers I discussed in this post. There, you can find out more about the problem of original PhD theses available for sale on the Internet.

It is harder to fake your way to a PhD qualification than just a bachelor’s degree. You also have to plan to successfully complete a viva, or find some way of cheating the system to get away without this. Although some companies do offer training for this, it’s likely to involve an additional expense.

Some countries make the viva process even tougher by requiring the PhD to defended in public, in front of an open audience. This puts much of the burden of ensuring that the candidate is prepared back on the supervisor, as it would reflect badly on the supervisor if they sent an ill-prepared candidate out in this public setting. Perhaps the public defence approach is one that needs to be more widely considered in light of the PhD mills?

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