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 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“)!

 

Contract Cheating in Health Courses (Unpublished Paper)

Here is an unpublished full paper that was otherwise gathering virtual dust on my hard drive.

Examining Contract Cheating, Essay Mill Use and Academic Misconduct by Students on Health Courses – from 2015 – Thomas Lancaster and Robert Clarke
(Full Text including PDF Download on ResearchGate)

I originally wrote this in 2015 based on a talk that Robert Clarke and I delivered. The problem of contract cheating in health and nursing education was prominent then and I have addressed this in subsequent talks and on this blog.

The paper was never submitted for publication, as the conference I was originally aiming this at didn’t run and I haven’t subsequently seen the right outlet. Looking back at the paper with 2018 eyes, it would need a substantial rewrite to fit suitably into the current academic integrity climate. This would include updating the sources and examples, so that it was substantially a new paper.

Due to this, I am providing the original unpublished paper here as drafted in the hope that it may be useful to researchers instead.

Abstract

When students obtain academic awards in the health industry that they do not deserve, they may emerge unfit for professional practice. This paper explores the challenges posed by academic misconduct in public-facing health fields, such as nursing and medicine. Specifically, the paper explores contract cheating, where students employ a third party or ghostwriter to complete assessed work. The problem appears more crucial in health than some other academic disciplines, since here fitness for practice is important and human lives may be at stake.

The paper argues about the importance of academic integrity in health through multiple examples. This includes showcasing media cases where medical professionals have been put in positions which their skills did not warrant and giving three specific examples of attempts by students to cheat that have been detected online. The examples demonstrate that such contract cheating starts before students arrive at university. This misconduct continues throughout their academic career up to postgraduate level. The overall findings in this field support the view that contract cheating is habitual and repeated regularly by some students.

Several sources are used to show that contract cheating in health is amongst the most popular subjects that students cheat on. Other examples show that original essays and assessments can be purchased by students for affordable prices. These essays will not be detected as unoriginal by Turnitin. The paper concludes by arguing that increased academic pressure is needed to change the wider health culture that is affording contract cheating.

There is still a need for research in this field. In particular, this includes gathering more data and implementing subject specific solutions. I would like to look back at this area again as time and opportunities permit.

I’m always open to speak on contract cheating and essay mill use in health education (you can contact me here).

 

 

 

Contract Cheating – The Threat To Academic Integrity And Recommendations To Address Essay Mill Use – Video

Here is a short video introduction to why contract cheating is a problem (it only last 1 minute and 39 seconds).

The video uses some of the recommendations from the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) report on contract cheating, released in October 2017. I was part of the team steering the report and have been speaking about it in media interviews. It’s great to see the national push asking universities to address this form of academic misconduct.

If you find the video useful, feel free to go ahead and share it. The direct link to the YouTube page is here.

What I don’t do in the video is define contract cheating or go into a lot of detail about it. I deliberately wanted to keep this one short and shareable.

The video looks at why contract cheating is an issue, some recent numbers about the extent of contract cheating (the source in the video says that 7% of students have contract cheated at least once) and to look at solutions, particularly regarding the movement to work with students and promote academic integrity.

If you prefer to read, or want more information, a longer version of the same contract cheating story is on my Linked blog.

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.

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