The Progression Of The Exam Cheating Industry – Conference Keynote Presentation On Exam Integrity

That companies and individuals are helping students to cheat in exams is something that higher education should be concerned about. This is not just small time business. Exam cheating is an entire industry.

In a keynote presentation I gave at the Higher Education Quality Network conference, themed Assessment, Integrity, Review and held in Melbourne, Australia, I explored the issues surrounding exam cheating and the integrity of future examinations.

This is a real issue, particularly where assessment by examination is being considered as a response to plagiarism and contract cheating. There is, however, also good practice than can be gained from how exams are conducted in a professional environment.

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


So much exam cheating is supported by technology that is easily concealed. Supplying that technology is big business. It is more useful to think about alternative ways to use examinations as part of the assessment process than to try to simply react to the ever changing technology game.

Contract Cheating – What Do Those People Who Teach Need To Know?

The level of interest in contract cheating has changed beyond all recognition in the last year. Along with this, so has the volume of research being produced.

That makes it harder than ever to fit key insights into a one hour seminar.

My latest attempt to do this came with a session, aimed towards teaching staff, held at Deakin University.

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


One fresh idea I did include was based around profiling students in order to help with an understanding of why they may be drawn towards contract cheating. In the entrepreneurial environment of higher education, where students are used to multi-tasking, this could be seen as more than just a means to an end.

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.

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.

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“)!

 

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