At the European Conference on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism 2021, I presented a research study I’d been working on with Benjamin Dent, a BEng Computing student at Imperial College London.
We collected and analysed data from the Freelancer.com website, relating to contract cheating requests for written student work. This is a site I’ve used for data collection before, but with Ben’s help, we were able to increase the amount of data involved and also focus specifically on contract cheating requests for essays, reports and other forms of writing, as opposed to my own earlier work with this site, where many of the examples I’ve identified have focused on computing assignments, such as programming.
You can see the slides we used below (and also on my SlideShare account).
We do intend to document more of this work in a research paper, but some of the findings that stood out to me included:
- the single largely discipline we saw represented in the data set was business, with the associated areas of management and marketing also ranking highly. This matches closely the findings from other studies I’ve been involved with on other sites
- a worrying trend was the requests for work in the medical and health fields. As well as student work, we found requests for ghostwriters to prepare medical research for submission to peer reviewed journals.
- students are requesting PhD proposals, with the intention of getting course places they don’t deserve, depriving other students of the opportunity (and also potentially getting funding or scholarships that they do not deserve). There are also requests to have thesis chapters written, for doctoral work and at other levels of study, but these are not always public, since once a student finds a good writer, they can keep working with them independently to the observable system.
The site we looked at is just one site through which assignments can be purchased. This one shows a lot of information visibly, but there are many hundreds of similar sites within which all the information is hidden. It is fairly safe to assume that the trends we observed are recreated elsewhere many times over.
Here is an unpublished full paper that was otherwise gathering virtual dust on my hard drive.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).
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.