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.

The Only Titles You Need For Your Lectures, Presentations, Blog Posts And Academic Papers

..and the blog post tile I’ve chosen here is just linkbait.

You can go ahead and use the ideas in this post for your next journal paper submission, but chances are it will be rejected.

But catchy titles mean something. It’s why in the era of fake news, we click on things that seem unbelievable or which we don’t think could be true, just to find out we’ve been tricked and we’ve not.

I shared a set of catchy titles relating to plagiarism and several people asked how I generated them.

My favourite title is the first one, which is aimed at getting students interested.

Make Your Parents Proud By Learning Plagiarism

And, I can so easily imagine someone running with just that title (but hopefully not delivering on the promise).

A lot of it is about turning plagiarism on its head from what students expect.

Template Titles

You could use almost all of those titles, with slight modifications, to talk about other subjects.

Many work for academic integrity just as well as plagiarism.

You could say:

Make Your Parents Proud By Learning Academic Integrity

But it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

There’s Big Money In Academic Integrity” might do better.

But, the fact is, most of these titles are generated from templates. If you look at what’s trending on a site like Buzzfeed, you’ll see the same patterns appearing in titles again and again.

And, so many of them have a number in the title somewhere. You can base your own title on that and you’re already well-positioned to get attention.

(and no, I don’t consider putting your own subject into a standarised title format to be plagiarism)

Title Generators

You can go one-step further.

Many of the titles that work most cleanly across different subjects (or niches) have been developed into title generators.

You just plug your subject in there and watch the generator spit out a whole load of titles until you see one you like (or one you like enough to modify a bit).

My experience is, you’re not likely to get anything exactly perfect from a title generator, but it’s pretty easy to take something they make, change it up and tidy the grammar.

Different generators work better for different subject, so it’s worth trying a few. Here are some that have worked for me:

http://www.title-generator.com | https://seopressor.com/blog-title-generator | https://www.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator | https://www.portent.com/tools/title-maker

If you get more advanced, you can start using headline analysis as well to work out the emotional impact of your title. But that’s a more advanced marketing technique, particularly for academic work.

And, if you don’t want to use these titles for your next academic paper, that’s fine. You can always use them for the blog post to promote the paper instead.

Plagiarism, So What? Or How To Interest Students In Academic Integrity

In May 2018 I made a return visit to Podgorica, Montenegro, to join a Council of Europe debate on plagiarism aimed at a student audience. I delivered a presentation on plagiarism, explaining what it was and what students could do to promote academic integrity and also led a discussion.

As I always do, I tried to change this around a bit to keep it interesting for students. One of the challenges of presenting in the South East Europe region is that presentations often have to be at a basic level and also suitable for live interpretation to the local language. But many of the students who choose to attend an event like this already know about plagiarism and need something more.

You can see the slides I used on my SlideShare account. They are also included below.

Without going into too much technical detail, I ended up focusing this on the people who suffered through plagiarism, often students themselves.

A lot of the discussion ended up being about punishment, as that is the expectation in the region where it is right now, but I was also able to balance this with the need for support for both students and their teachers.

After all, as I said in the final slide, it’s not just plagiarism. It all comes down to integrity.

The Modern World Of Essay Mill Spam

Essay Mill Spam

Click here if you’d prefer this post on essay mill spam in the form of a video

Essay mill and contract cheating services are as visible as they’ve ever been. This has to be creating a challenging market for those companies looking to peddle their unethical wares to students. After all, students now have a wealth of people offering assignment production services that they can choose to purchase work from.

Companies have already begun to play hardball with their marketing to try and get customers. This has got so severe that some essay writing ads have already been banned in the UK, certainly a step in the right direction.

What’s next with essay mill marketing? What we’re now seeing are companies finding ways to get their messages to students, whether they’ve expressed any interest in paying for a completed assessment or not.

I’ve rounded up several examples of how essay mills are spamming their services for this post.

 

Email Spam

Here is an extract from an email advert that one of my former students received directly to his university email account.

This is also an email address he hadn’t used outside the university and for which the account details weren’t listed anywhere online.

It may not be the best ever advert, but it would certainly get noticed in a student email account.

All of the classic sales points are there, including the mention of prominent universities, a distinctive offering of statistical services and the option to sell Turnitin reports (something which really shouldn’t be possible).

Despite being advertised as a UK company (including a UK address), further investigation suggests that this company is almost certainly based in Pakistan.

It is not clear how the student’s email address was accessed. It may be through access to email account details, through a link inside the university with access to address books, or perhaps just automatically guessed email addresses (many universities use email accounts that are formulaic in nature).

These services don’t differentiate between staff and students. I too have received spam emails from essay mills to my university staff email account.

 

Twitter Spam

I’ve discussed before how essay mills and individual academic ghost writers have used Twitter to connect with students. Some accounts are set up to “talk” to anyone who posts tweets about essays. Here’s a post with an example of how Twitter spam takes place.

This process is now much more automated than it ever was before. If your tweet contains word combinations along the lines of write essays, chances are you’ll immediately receive both public and private offers to help from would-be helpers.

Thankfully, many people are now starting to fight back, or at least make it clear that they do not support the essay company spam. Here are some recent examples from Donna Yates and Joseph Gordon Diehard.

Other Types Of Essay Mill Spam

There are many other ways in which essay mills use spamming techniques to get the message about their companies out there.

If you run an educational blog, post related videos on YouTube, or submit content to anywhere that allows comments, you’re bound to find essay mill spam posted to them before too long. There’s a chance you’ll get such comments even if your site has nothing to do with education, as so much of this spam comes from automated software.

Sometimes this is more subtle. Right now, one of my contract cheating articles on The Conversation has several comments from essay mills showing. Even though the comments may not be spam, the links going back to the essay writing services themselves are very visible.

Use Facebook and find yourself looking at Facebook Pages relating to essay companies? Don’t be surprised if the Messenger box puts up and asks if you need help.

I wouldn’t be shocked to hear of essay mill spam being circulated through SMS messages and WhatsApp.

Even the Wikipedia articles on essay mills has seen companies attempt to edit at and themselves as credible sources. There are also essay companies taking advantage of web site vulnerabilities to spam.

There’s only one place I think is safe and that’s your own letterbox. I haven’t heard of essay mills physically pushing leaflets through people’s doors – at least not yet!

For More Information

You can find out more about essay mill spam in this video.

You can also contact me if you’d like to find out more about academic integrity and working with me.

Spinning Academic Integrity News Stories In The Era Of Fake News

How far do we trust what’s published as news? In this era of fake news, it’s interesting to note how article spinning and machine-based plagiarism can make even the most trustworthy news feel suspect.

(full disclosure – in the interest of making the best of use of materials, this blog post is based on two slides of a presentation I never gave)

Back in June 2015, Channel 4 Dispatches ran a story about essay mills and contract cheating, which I contributed to. A very of it ran in The Guardian.

As with so many news stories, this ended up in various versions around the Web which vaguely looked like the original. Here’s a comparison between The Guardian version and the Best Education News version.

The second version is derived from the first, presumably through some automatic method of machine-based plagiarism. This may have been completed manually, but it looks unlikely based on the strange choice of words.

Unlike many plagiarism cases, it’s very obvious which the source document was and which was plagiarised version was. The source can be identified as it carries authority and the language makes sense in the original context.

The plagiarised version doesn’t make complete sense. Even the words “schools” and “colleges” have subtly different meanings. This also demonstrates how easily the meaning of a phrase, or whole news report can be changed by bad wording.

Certainly, a contributor to fake news and to false news.

The way in which students are using tools like these has also begun to receive attention recently. I have previously looked at this under the title of essay spinning, but there are other related areas of work such as back translation. The term machine-based plagiarism has also been suggested to cover the whole field.

There are lots of opportunities for research in this area, both to investigate automated plagiarism in student work and in the related area of news stories. I can see this offering an increasing challenge to academic integrity in the future.

(or, as an esteemed colleague of mine would say “the walls are falling in“)!

 

Page 3 of 29«123456»1020...Last »