Examining The State of Academic Integrity in Europe – Recommendations From SEEPPAI

This presentation focused on sharing the main results and recommendations from the South East European Project on Policies for Academic Integrity (SEEPPAI).

Everything is focused around academic integrity, with particular reference to Romania, where I spoke at an event organised by Turnitin. From my observations of the wider European challenges with regards to academic integrity and discussions in Romania itself, the findings of SEEPPAI are consistent with much of European Europe and South Eastern Europe.

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

Some of the observations relate to what I see as a key challenge regarding student plagiarism. That is, educating students about academic writing and academic integrity and working with them to ensure that teaching is fit for purpose. That’s something I believe we can all work on, regardless of where in Europe or the wider world we’re based.

Contract Cheating and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 7 – Understanding Contract Cheating From The Student Viewpoint

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

It was really positive to see the views of students strongly represented at Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017. There were some student participants (I’d like to see support for more students to attend), as well as presentations where the views of students were directly reported.

Why Do Students Resort To Contract Cheating?

The question about why students cheat, plagiarise and fail to demonstrate academic integrity is a long-standing one. The specific analysis of the motives behind students resorting to contract cheating is less developed, but many wider principles still seem to hold.

The issue of the marketisation of higher education was discussed at several points during the conference. Wendy Sutherland-Smith said how students perceived buying an essay as just a business deal, citing some of my work with Robert Clarke where we’ve observed similar behaviours. Other people said that the high cost of fees was a main cause of contract cheating.

Although I’m sure that there are elements of truth here, and I’ve referred many times to the cost of failure, where the prospect of having to repeat a year and pay high fees makes contract cheating into a risk that some will feel is worth taking, marketisation itself does not tell the whole story. I think this is a reason that some students are using to justify cheating, rather than the cause of it.

To back this idea up, I’d also refer to the SEEPPAI work I’ve been involved with in Europe, as well as developments I’m aware of in the wider world. Contract cheating still seems common in countries with no fees and even in places where students are awarded a grant. This means that discussions about the reasons why contract cheating takes place can’t be boiled down into a simple soundbite.

What Factors Contribute To Contract Cheating?

Several presentations considered why contract cheating takes place. Students in the Czech Republic, as surveyed by Veronika Kralikova, gave a single main reason which must also sum up a lot of quick turnaround advertisements made by the essay industry. Their reason for contract cheating was a lack of time.

Student advocates form Australia who worked alongside Wendy Sutherland-Smith identified multiple reasons why contract cheating took place. A main reason for contract cheating was fear of failure, an area that could be considered a possible consequence of a lack of time. Two more views from this work are also worth considering. The first was where students were said to have a goal of passing a subject, not learning about it, perhaps particularly relevant where they did not feel they would use the subject in the future. The second was where students were said to be not understand the seriousness of contract cheating. Those latter two views do not closely overlap, so it may be that there are several conceptions about contract cheating that need to be considered when working with students.

One of the main recommendations to come back from the work with student advocates in Australia is that students need specific modules on academic integrity. These modules need to be mandatory and a step change from the single lecture telling students not to plagiarise that is all that many students seem to get now.

Further, the teaching of academic integrity needs to be addressed on a global level. During our SE Europe research for SEEPPAI, we identified that many students are not even taught the basics about plagiarism, referencing or academic writing. These are core ideas that need to be taught as the basis for a strong commitment to academic integrity and reinforced for both staff and students continually throughout an academic career.

Working In Partnership With Students

I was very pleased to see the presentations and contributions about working in partnership with students to reduce contract cheating. Having a senior member of the National Union of Studies (NUS) in the UK attend the conference also showed how the issue is being considered as vital for discussion on a national level.

As well as providing something of a general theme, work with student advocates also provided the focus for Wendy Sutherland-Smith’s presentation.

Wendy also mentioned the fantastic work going on at Deakin University looking at contract cheating awareness, which has really led the way for activities going on in other countries. Deakin ran a contract cheating awareness week last year and plans to repeat it this year.

More widely, the first International Day of Action on Contract Cheating took place in 2016, with universities around the world participating to use local activities and social media to have a positive influence on academic integrity. I’m delighted to say that this activity is happening again in 2017.

The second International Day of Action on Contract Cheating will take place on 18 October 2017. I hope that many more universities can take part.

Contract Cheating and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 5 – Emerging Issues in Contract Cheating

This is Part 5 of the 7 part series examining Findings From Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017

There are always new emerging issues that relate to contract cheating and academic integrity. This post is my attempt to capture some of those ideas that don’t fit too cleanly with the other themes.

Addressing Contract Cheating Beyond The Academic Environment

Early in the opening keynote, Tracey Bretag proposed the use of the term outcomes instead of penalties when discussing academic misconduct cases. I’ll try and remember to use that terminology.

Phil Newton discussed his investigations regarding the legality of contract cheating providers. This continues to be location dependent.

Phil did discuss interesting findings from Rebecca Awdry that say a lot about public perceptions of contract cheating. Rebecca found that the majority of people think that it should be illegal for companies to sell essays to students. Perhaps more interestingly, they also thought that it should be illegal for students to buy essays and assignments. If such a development happened, this could make contract cheating into a criminal offence. Government legislation was also suggested as a solution by student advocates from Australia in research findings presented by Wendy Sutherland-Smith.

Trudy Somers suggested that contract cheating might need to be presented as a fraudulent activity. I don’t want to attempt to get into a legal discussion as this was said from a United States viewpoint, but there may be issues here with student loans having being obtained fraudulently if a student is found to have contract cheated. There may also be issues with the future credit scores of students. This seems like something worth warning students about if they are considering getting a mortgage, or even a loan for a new car, later in their life.

Student advocates also thought that students do not know enough about the possible consequences of contract cheating. Wendy Sutherland-Smith presented the results of research with advocates in Australia. One of their recommendations was that students need to be made aware about the risks posed to their wider professional registration. It certainly seems that the discussion with students regarding contract cheating posing more than just an academic outcome is worth having.

Other Academic Integrity Challenges

Some other challenges were discussed at the conference which I think are worth flagging, even if they are only tangentially related to contract cheating.

Much has been said in the past about a race between students and academics to get around any safeguards put in place to preserve academic integrity. One such example is the move away from “copy and paste” plagiarism to contract cheating, since word for word copying is detectable. There are also many more players getting involved in this race now, since helping students to cheat is seen as big business.

I’ve presented many times on the development of technology designed to enable cheating in exams, ranging from the sophisticate contract cheating like processes with third parties completing an examination for a student, all the way down to the simple micro-sized notes printed onto a fake water bottle label.

Some students have been looking at ways to defeat plagiarism detection software and have resorted to various types of article spinning and essay spinning. One of the most developed of these methods appears to be the use of translation software, an area which I’ve presented on and which was presented at the conference by Rui-Sousa Silva. There are various methods that students can use here, including using Google Translate to take an essay written in a foreign language and translate it into English, to taking English text and translating it through a chain of languages back to English, then ending up with text that is rather different than the original. I wouldn’t be surprised if many essay writers for contract cheating services weren’t using techniques like this to quickly supply work that gets around the “no plagiarism” guarantee that many essay mills advertise.

Rui believes that the patterns left behind by the machine translation can be detected and presented some initial ideas at the conference. There is a wider problem for linguistically able detectives to research here, as my foreign language skills are not at that level. Rui’s ideas do depend on knowing that something is amiss with the writing, or that the written ability does not match the spoken ability of a writer, but this is not possible in all situations. One thing I did discover that I wasn’t aware of is that Turnitin does now offer the detection of translation plagiarism in its software, but this isn’t turned on in many installations. This is a step in the right direction, even if the algorithms don’t perfectly solve this problem yet.

Translation is not always perfect, whether this goes through a machine or is completed by hand. I also noted that at the end of my talk, where a quote I gave to the media had become scrambled through translation and may even have been suggesting the opposite of what I intended. The quote was actually there to introduce a wider question about student cheating and smart drugs. These drugs are the (usually prescription) medication that students and professionals can take to stay awake, increase concentration levels and work more efficiently – that is, if the promotion behind these substances is to be believed.

I’ll discuss more about these substances, which appear under a variety of classifications including smart drugs, study drugs and nootropics, another time, but there is a wider question to be answered. This questions asks does using smart drugs gives a student an unfair advantage over another student that could be considered as cheating. Research is starting to emerge on this subject with much to suggest that the drugs do provide an advantage to some, but the cheating issue remains unanswered.

I’m pleased to say that the conference organisers quickly picked this topic up as one of the conference themes for Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2018 (using the term “mind stimulating drugs”). That means that there will be plenty of opportunities for the academic integrity community to research and address the smart drugs issue.

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.

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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