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.

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:

(Storify removed as it has closed down, unfortunately)

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.

Empowering Student Learning Through The Development Of A Social Media Community To Support Computing Students

The annual Social Media for Learning in Higher Education conference (otherwise known as #SocHE16) has emerged as one of the premiere outlets for people using social media as part of learning and teaching to share their findings.

I took the opportunity to expand upon some of the work I’ve done to engage students in extra-curricular activities using social media, particularly focusing on hackathons and other activities aimed at Computing students.

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

The social media presentation was also broadcast live on Periscope, which might be useful for people who were not able to attend. I do hope to turn this into a more formal paper at a later date.

One of my main conclusions from the presentation was that social media communities like this can work to engage students, but they do need continued support, particularly to avoid them from becoming elitist. Several other speakers at the event spoke about more formal communities integrated as part of other courses, with success often depending on the academic discipline.

The continued contests between Facebook and Twitter also featured heavily, with Twitter seeming to be favoured for academic use, although seeing students express a preference for communication through Facebook.

Similar observations could be seen for the live video sharing platforms, with the Twitter owned Periscope having gained more prominence for academic use, but with Facebook Live reaching a larger audience for live promotion and for subsequent archiving. I haven’t yet fully explored either option, but these will certainly be reaching increasing academic audiences over the next few years and I know are tools that I should be looking to add to my repertoire.

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