Assessment and Plagiarism – Research Opportunities

As one of my previous posts has indicated, it is rare for assessment and plagiarism to considered as equal topics within educational research.

The book chapter, Assessment and Plagiarism, by Thomas Lancaster (me), Anthony Robins and Sally Fincher addresses that issue for the computing discipline. It is part of The Cambridge Handbook for Computing Education Research, a book that “describes the extent and shape of computing education research today“.

As well as discussing the importance of assessment and taking steps to minimise plagiarism, the chapter focuses specifically on techniques that are most suitable for computing. The chapter also provides recommendations for future research in the field.

In this post, I’ve picked out five ideas for research opportunities from the chapter that have implications for multiple disciplines (beyond Computing). Of course, you should still read the full chapter for more ideas and a lot of background that will help any future research plans (and make the literature review sections of papers much easier to complete).

Collated and Reusable Assessments

In previous years, there have been pushes across the sector to build up collections of reusable learning components, including assessment banks intended for wider use. How well are those projects working? What measures are taken to keep the assessment banks up to date? Do students and educators see value in these activities continuing? And how can plagiarism and contract cheating be avoided with these standard assessments?

Essay Spinning

This isn’t a new topic for the blog (see these posts), but is still one that hasn’t been widely investigated. When a student automatically converts one version of an essay to another, perhaps through back translation, how can this plagiarism be detected? Are there indicators that academics should be looking out for when they are marking? Or are indicators that a machine could identify? Failing that, could multiple versions of an assignment be generated in multiple languages to use with text matching software?

Academic Integrity Processes

It is thought that these still vary greatly across the sector. Is that the case? More specifically, what about at discipline level? Are processes applied consistently and are penalties (when necessary) given out in a fair manner? What recommendations exist for best practice at a discipline level?

Gamification of Assessment

Gamification techniques are now widely used across many walks of life, everything from encouraging continued play of computer games to getting people to continue to shop in certain ways. How far will these techniques work with assessment? Are there methods that will make assessment more engaging and encourage students to develop their understanding to a more in-depth level than they otherwise would have done?

Automated Assessment

Many methods have been developed to reduce the burden of assessment on educators, including using automated techniques that have different levels of success. At one end of the scale, there are systems that will automatically mark essays, although this is usually through metric based assessment writing style and keyword analysis of content. There are also many systems for marking simple exam questions, such as multiple choice and short answer questions. Can these systems be developed further? Can better feedback be developed? There are also many ethical questions worthy of investigation such as, is it fair on students to have their work marked in this way?


Feel free to share your own ideas for good topics for future assessment and plagiarism research in the comments section.

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.


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).




An Exploration of Contract Cheating and Academic Misconduct Within Health Education

One of the more interesting inter-disciplinary topics I’ve been involved with is that of cheating in healthcare. This covers examples that we’ve found in our research, ranging across nursing, pharmacy, medicine and other health disciplines.

I got the chance to present some of the findings from that research at a talk that formed part of the Pedagogies, Practitioners and Identities in Education Conference 2015. This conference was held at Birmingham City University, with a particular focus in both the health and education disciplines.

The slides for the talk are available for access. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or viewed below.

In the talk, I shared several examples of what cheating in health and nursing looks like. This includes examples from essay mills, term paper mills and other contract cheating sites. Generally, original work produced by an external writer is hard to tell apart from original work produced by a student.

The talk closed with a lively and interesting discussion, mainly from the nurses in attendance. I got the impression that cheating in nursing education was not considered at all unusual by them, with examples given of both students committing plagiarism and contract cheating. It was an issue that they considered serious, particularly due to the implications of fitness for practice required for nursing careers.

During the research process for this talk, I found several new examples relating to the wider essay industry, the types of ghostwriters that are being employed and how they are trained to mass produce assessed academic work. I look forward to sharing this research when the right opportunity arises.