Contract Cheating and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 1 – Academic Integrity and Contract Cheating Terminology

This is Part 1 of the 7 part series examining Findings From Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017

One of the main challenges to emerge from the Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond conference from an understanding point of view related to problems with the terminology used across the field. Therefore, I’ve selected a discussion of the issues as a slightly unusual place to launch this blog post series reviewing the conference findings.

The Lack of Terminology

There were several occasions during the conference when the lack of a consistent terminology caused problems. Contract cheating was noted to not be a common term in the Czech Republic and some presenters substituted ghostwriting. The panel discussion noted that the term ghostwriting was rather flawed in this context, since this automatically assumes that work produced through contract cheating is of the written form. Many disciplines do not use essays and reports, or rarely use them, but contract cheating is equally applicable to a student requesting a musical composition, a set of PowerPoint slides or the source code for a computer program.

One member of the audience thought that contract cheating had only recently become known about in Canada and was not aware of the volume of research and practical advice on the subject. The pre-conference programme had made it clear that there were multiple sessions on the topic at the conference, including two of the keynotes. This suggests that there is still much more work to do to spread the message about this form of academic misconduct.

One presentation used the term “contract cheaters” to refer to the writers providing assignments for students. To me, the “cheaters’ have always been the students receiving the work, so that terminology is difficult. I’ve tended to use “workers” to describe the writers, particularly as this term does not preclude non-written assessments. There are further complications when the person or company paid to complete an assignment is not the same person who completes it and I’ve identified many such examples during my research. The term “academic writer” was also noted to be used by people in the trade, although that rather lends the profession legitimacy.

The Use of the Term Exams

The term “exams” also proved to be difficult. I’d observed this causing problems during the SEEPPAI research I’ve been involved with and based on some discussions, it seemed that the same different interpretations were happening with some delegates at the conference. I interpret exams (or examinations) as being the tests taken by students, usually in a controlled environment. It seems that some countries say exams when they want to represent the entire set of assessment making up a module or course, even if this is solely graded through coursework. My talk also showed an example where a student said they were attempting to outsource the completion of an exam for them. They were actually asking for the production of a set of PowerPoint slides.

Further Developments

I may have inadvertently further added to the overall confusion. I presented a session that looked at contract cheating when applied to an examination setting. There are many such examples when this terminology is valid, for instance when a student hires a third party to complete an online examination for them.

I suspect that it’s getting to the point where a full taxonomy of terms relating to academic integrity and contract is needed. Older papers may even need to be reworked in light of a fresh annotated bibliography that has such an agreed taxonomy in place.

Contract Cheating and Essay Mills – Findings From Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017

Much of my blog is devoted to discussions around contract cheating, the area of concern to academic integrity advocates as this sees students use a third party to have work completed for them.

Sessions at the 2017 international conference on Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond ended up heavily focused on contract cheating. Having been part of contact cheating research since the term first formed part of the research literature and having recently published a series of articles marking the 10 year mark for research into contract cheating, I’m always pleased to see how the field is developing, but still have some disappointment that this wider interest took so long to emerge.

I’ve already shared my conference presentation on contract cheating in examinations and provided general collected thoughts about Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017.

It is the conference findings on contract cheating that are of most interest to me. In my next series of posts, I want to share some of the main ideas that have emerged from the collective brains at the conference. Rather than presenting these thoughts linearly, I’ve grouped them into seven thematic areas, although these areas do have some overlap.

Here’s a summary of some of the main contract cheating themes I observed at the conference.

Theme Number Theme Conference Highlights
01 Academic Integrity and Contract Cheating Terminology Some of the conference discussions were challenged by a lack of awareness of contract cheating and a lack of understanding of the main ideas and termninology. Even the term exam was used to mean different things in different contexts.
02 Inside The Contract Cheating Industry Understanding the operations of the essay industry is essential to knowing how the address the issues. In particular, the conference identified the role of large numbers of international ghost-writers in keeping the industry financially viable.
03 Contract Cheating by Academics The behaviours surrounding contract cheating have begun to be observed within groups of academics, particularly where these relate to misconduct in fulfilling research publication quotas.
04 Detecting Contract Cheating Computer scientists and linguistics have been making progress in detecting work that has not been written by the student submitting it. There are many approaches here, but recent developments have focused on stylometry.
05 Emerging Issues In Contract Cheating Wider challenges surrounding educational integrity also influence how contract cheating practice could develop. These include traditional areas of student plagiarism, the use of translation and essay spinning software, as well as the risks posed by students using smart drugs.
06 Which Students Are Contract Cheating And What Does This Mean For Assessment? Recent data collection from students has helped with an understanding of which types of students may need help to avoid contract cheating temptations and which assessment modalities should be considered in place of an essay-oriented curriculum.
07 Understanding Contract Cheating From The Student Viewpoint The views of students have not previously been consistently considered as part of the movement in favour of academic integrity, but there is now much good work going on in this area, including the use of events designed to engage students in discussions regarding contract cheating.

 

The observations from the conference cover a wide spectrum of contract cheating areas. One overall emerging challenge that occurs to me is that we need to know more about all of the players involved in the contract cheating industry, including how they are involved with the essay industry and what their motivation is.

My own summary of ideas and reflections from the conference, from which these posts are compiled, runs to nearly 8,000 words, so that just shows how much value there was in the presentations and discussions at Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017.

Contract Cheating – A Decade (Plus One) Of Contract Cheating

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Year 11 Review

In 2016, I quietly published a series of blog posts looking back at 10 years of contract cheating. June 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of my research referring to contract cheating. This was first being published in June 2006 (although the data referred to in that study predates this, as it was collected from 2004 onwards).

The A Decade of Contract Cheating series looked back at previous developments, considered future work in the contract cheating and debuted some new elements of research prior to formal publication.

I didn’t heavily promote A Decade of Contract Cheating when the posts were originally published, although I’ve had some good feedback relating to the series. That means that many of the posts have become buried inside the blog.

June 2017 marks 11 years of contract cheating. This brings with it the perfect time to review the A Decade of Contract Cheating series and to look at how the field is continuing to progress. I’ve summarised the posts, with links to the original discussions, in the table below.

Post Number Post Title Post Details
Part 01 Examining The Changes That Have Been Made To The Marketplace For Bespoke Essays Slides This was the first talk I delivered that really drilled down into the marketing of essay mills and contract cheating services. This marketing is one of the main reasons that the essay industry has been able to become so big. I’ve since developed these ideas much further through other presentations.
Part 02 Examining The Changes That Have Been Made To The Marketplace For Bespoke Essays Video As part of the 10 in 10 series, I recorded a separate (34 minute) version of what I billed as my anniversary presentation. Conference presentations are always tight on time, so this video version allowed me to go into more detail about the examples. Marketing is such a fast moving field that there are new developments to add to how the essay industry works even from one year ago.
Part 03 The Demand For Essay Writing Jobs A little-spoken about challenge within contract cheating has been the set of academic writers who provide essays and assignments for students. This post identifies five types of ghostwriters along with examples and details of the market that buys and sells essay writing service accounts as these are in great demand. The post doesn’t discuss the fake academic writers who are also out there, collecting money from unsuspecting students.
Part 04 Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism – Identifying The Usage Of Contract Cheating Sites 10 Years On Slides I developed this talk as an Internet exclusive, taking the set of slides from my first conference presentation on contract cheating and annotating them with how the field had developed in the past 10 years. The slides empathise the change in marketing techniques and how the success of similarity detection software has moved the essay industry away from selling the same essay multiple times. They also show the still valid finding, that students don’t just buy a single assignment, but students continue to habitually buy assignments throughout their course.
Part 05 Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism – Identifying The Usage Of Contract Cheating Sites 10 Years On Video The video version of the 10 Years On talk (another Internet exclusive) runs to 27 minutes, allowing me to drill down much more into the differences between the essay writing industry in 2006 and 2016. This is a useful introduction video to anyone looking to see how the contract cheating field has developed.
Part 06 The Growth Of Essay Outsourcing To Fiverr.com As part of my publications, I’ve broken the news of different sites being used to facilitate contract cheating on many occasions. Fiverr.com is part of the gig economy for cheating, offering very low cost outsourcing opportunities for students thinking outside the box of the major essay mills. Students are using this an agency style website and cutting out the other links in the cheating chain to connect together directly with writers. The site provides over 800 advertised gigs for essay writing services. In a separate investigation of mine where I priced up one of my own assignments, a literature review, most writers asked for $20 USD to complete this 2000 word literature review (just 1c per word).
Part 07 What Shape Is The Bespoke Essay Industry In Today? How big is the essay industry is one of those difficult questions to answer. I tend to play safe when asked that question, pointing instead to the massive growth of essay site marketing and visibility as being suggestive on many more sites. There have also been suggestions that, although the number of orders has grown, the amount paid per assignment has dropped, so the financial growth of the industry has also slowed. Equating known facts about the industry and search traffic, I estimate an essay industry worth £50 million per year. This is below the figures suggested by the essay mills themselves. However, when smaller players such as individual writers and private tutors are included, as well as the market for work in languages other than English, the real figure could be much higher.
Part 08 The Impact Of Twitter On The Essay Industry I was an early adopter of social media use within teaching in the UK. In the world of 2017, it would be difficult to imagine a world where students weren’t digitally led and engaged through social media. The contract cheating industry also knows this, with advertising sent to students that can be both context aware and geotargeted. This post focuses on Twitter, but as my essay marketing work has shown, similar functionality is available through Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat and other sites. As well as examples of adverts and classifications of users, the post also identifies the essay companies who are tweeting details of all the assignments they complete – seemingly a great way of advertising the work that can be requested, but also a possible method that academics can use to check if a request for their assignment to be outsourced has been made.
Part 09 Ten Years Of Contract Cheating Keynote Presentation Slides and Video This keynote presentation traces the movement from contract cheating being kept under wraps to becoming a highly developed and sophisticated industry. This talk firmly sets the stage for the need for open discussions about contract cheating and looks at the challenges posed by new technologies. As well as the slides, a video version of the keynote is also available with my contribution lasting around one hour (for convenience, I’ve embedded this at the end of this blog post).
Part 10 10 Contract Cheating Research Observations From The Past Decade That Have Shaped What We Know About Student Cheating Behaviour What have we discovered about contract cheating that we didn’t know before (forgive me, this is one of those list type of blog posts). I’ve picked up 10 observations from across the contract cheating literature and collected knowledge base that I think are of importance and I’ve discussed each of these. The final observation holds particularly true and I heard very similar sentiments expressed in a different study just recently. That is, all assignments are cheatable when students are inclined to cheat. To me, student engagement is key, as is their ownership of their learning journey.

Looking back at the posts, I actually cheated a little as there are only really eight subjects (in two cases, I posted slides and a video as separate entitles), but there’s still a lot of information that I hope is of use there.

As several people have expressed to me recently, I’m bad at traditional academic publishing, so there are several components that could easily form the basis for a good academic paper (if only I had an unlimited conference budget). There’s also a huge amount of material I leave buried in the slides from talks, or worse still, in the verbal and video discussions.

There is a useful book bringing the developments in the contract cheating research field together that just needs to emerge.

If you have time to look at just one thing, I think that the keynote I gave on contract cheating at Curtin University balances well the need to review the past and look ahead to the potential future developments in the field.

I’ve also since worked out how to embed the video from the keynote presentation, which you can view below.

This only seems to be a screen capture with audio, but I know that cameras were filming, so that footage might be around somewhere.

The other presentations from the symposium are worth a look as well and there’s the complete recording of an internal contract cheating workshop that I delivered. There’s also audio from the closing discussion where I was part of the contract cheating panel.

Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond 2017

The Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond conference series is now established as one of the top conferences in the world for practitioners and researchers interested in plagiarism, contract cheating and other academic integrity developments across the higher education sector.

The 2017 conference provided my first opportunity to attend and I joined a record number of delegates in Brno, Czech Republic to participate in the conference. As well as Europe, the kudos of the conference was evident with delegates attending from around the world.

From my role as a researcher into contract cheating, it was pleasing to see that this was a major theme of the conference, with two keynotes devoted to contract cheating, many presentations on contract cheating and other sessions bringing this area into their work. There is very promising work going on around the ghostwriting field right now.

I was active at the conference myself as an author for two research papers (I presented the one on contract cheating, the one on our SEEPPAI research was delivered by other members of the team), chairing a paper session and participating as a panel member for a discussion on contract cheating. There were also many useful sessions to be had outside of the scheduled activities and it was great to talk to members of the Turnitin team.

I have lots of notes and ideas from the conference. My notepad now tends to be my Twitter account, so you can see the notes from participants at the conference, including myself, collected together here:

You can view the other stories on the Storify account for Thomas Lancaster here.

Debora Weber-Wulff also provided excellent write-ups of each day of the conference on her blog. You can read her thoughts on day one, day two and day three.

As there were parallel sessions at several points during the conference, Deborah and I weren’t always in the same session, so I found her other summaries really useful. She also talks about the presentations I was involved with, as I couldn’t live tweet about this.

A lot of photography was taken during the conference and many sessions were captured on video (including, I believe, our panel discussion), so I shall look forward to seeing those. Plans for Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2018 are already taking shape and that should be another awesome event. I’d also love to see more events taking place in the UK, so feel free to contact me if this is something that you’re interested in.

Rethinking Assessment By Examination In The Age Of Contract Cheating – Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond Conference

I’ve been asked a lot recently about cheating in examinations, particularly where technology is involved. In some of the more sophisticated cases, this can be thought of as the latest development of contract cheating, where a student can hire someone to communicate with based outside an examination room. They can then receive answers from them.

I spoke about this topic at the Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond conference, which looked at activities throughout the world of academic integrity.

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

The presentation also contains a number of fresh examples of people trying to outsource their examinations through contract cheating providers, including one person wanting their English language examination taking for them (actually a relatively common request).

One of the more interesting examples shown involves someone asking to have the exam for a job with an essay mill taken for them. As I’ve said before, these type of positions can be of great demand.

Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond was an excellent conference and I’ll say more about it in future posts.

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