Contract Cheating – What Do Those People Who Teach Need To Know?

The level of interest in contract cheating has changed beyond all recognition in the last year. Along with this, so has the volume of research being produced.

That makes it harder than ever to fit key insights into a one hour seminar.

My latest attempt to do this came with a session, aimed towards teaching staff, held at Deakin University.

The slides I used are available on my SlideShare account. They are also included below.


One fresh idea I did include was based around profiling students in order to help with an understanding of why they may be drawn towards contract cheating. In the entrepreneurial environment of higher education, where students are used to multi-tasking, this could be seen as more than just a means to an end.

Introverts In Higher Education Teaching

Is it a good thing to be an introvert when working as a teacher or professor in higher education?

It’s quite a common question, particularly when people think of school teachers needing to demonstrate their personality, engage their pupils and keep control in the classroom.

This question was originally asked on Quora, where I like to provide answers to interesting questions when I have time. I answered the question on introverts in teaching on Quora and this post is an edited and extended version of the answer I gave there.

If you prefer video, I’ve also provided a (different) answer on my YouTube account, which you can see embedded below.

Do Introverts Make Good University Lecturers?

(or good University Professors if you prefer the American terminology)

The short answer to this question is yes.

I’ve worked in a variety of higher education/university roles and they include teaching and lecturing. I enjoy speaking and helping students. And I, like many of my colleagues are very much an introvert.

If anything, I think that introverts have an easier time working in university lecturing roles than extroverts do. This can vary very slightly by subject, but generally introverts have the most natural set of skills for success.

Most lecturers are naturally introverts, myself included. It’s part and parcel of the type of person who enters the profession and is willing to make the sacrifices for study to reach that point. It also reflects the wider responsibilities of being a lecturer.

Lecturers typically get qualified as being able to teach by being educated up to PhD level. That’s gaining a doctorate, so the same number of years of study as a medical doctor (and often one year more, as many lecturers in the UK will have taken an additional years at Masters level).

There are short teaching courses that Lecturers often take too, but these are mostly done after having started teaching. It’s rather a “learn on the job” profession.

Gaining a PhD requires great immersion in a subject discipline. It means that you have to demonstrate that you can think and provide original knowledge in detail. As well as conducting research, as this is primarily intended as research training for a career, you have to document this in a formal thesis and pass a challenging viva examination.

You may be able to picture PhD students spending three or four years sharing a large office and not distracting the others. All deep in concentration and getting on with their unique studies. It’s an environment where extroverts really have to reign in their behaviour.

Career Management

Throughout their career, those people who both get through their PhD and get one of the limited jobs as lecturers have had to work hard. Often, there’s a gap between completing a PhD and gaining a lectureship, where the individual continues to work on short-term research projects to build up their reputation. It’s not the most secure work. Some people don’t get their first lectureship until their 40s or 50s. Those people who make it have shown dedication.

The appointed lecturers then have to balance multiple responsibilities. Typically, these include teaching, research, administrative functions and external engagement, although the balance between those will vary between individuals. Teaching is, of course, very important. The ability to inspire students and communicate knowledge is essential, but you don’t need to be an extrovert to do this.

For most professors, large group teaching will only be part of the role and not where the majority of time is spent. After all, those years building up research ability and credibility have to count for something.

The requirements to conduct research continue. By this stage of their career professors are typically busy writing research grants and books. Many administrative aspects also require deep and private concentration.

There are some externally facing responsibilities, for instance in my case I work a lot with external companies, present research, deliver training and work in student recruitment, but these are all manageable and enjoyable. Being an introvert does not mean that you dislike these activities, just that you can’t do them continually without quieter reflective time. It is also very different being in a controlling position able to shape a class of people who are looking at you for guidance than being hostage to being a member of a large and noisy class.

And, even within teaching, there are opportunities for introverts to work with small groups. These include activities like supervising students on individual projects, which is very enjoyable work.

The Changing World Of The University Lecturer

I want to end this blog post with a world of caution.

The academic world has changed. Many people joined academia for the autonomy, but the profession is now much more target and metric driven, similar to a commercial organisation.

Like many jobs, academia doesn’t automatically offer lecturers tenure and job security any more. Many lecturers are employed on short-term contracts, which are only renewed if they meet their targets. Lecturers also have to move positions if they’re looking for promotion. So, lecturers changing universities every few years is common now.

That can be quite stressful and not everyone enjoys that, regardless of whether they’re an introvert or extrovert.

The moves can also be exciting, with the opportunity to meet new people, teach new subjects and get immersed in different university cultures. But this can also be distracting when you’re trying to complete research projects.

There are also some aspects of academia where it is beneficial to be an extrovert. For instance, these may include later career managerial roles or working in services like marketing. There are disciplines where lecturers are likely to join as a second career from an industry background too and these attract a higher percentage of extroverts. Nursing lecturers and journalism lecturers are examples.

Overall though, providing you have a plan of sustainable academic research, are good at multi-tasking, cope well with a changing profession and, most importantly, want to help students, then yes, aiming to be a university lecturer offers a good career choice for an introvert.

 

Building Student Digital Capability In Computing And Digital Technologies Through A Hackathon Community

My first Staffordshire University Teaching and Learning Conference proved to be a useful day and a good chance for me to find out more about the digital initiatives in progress around the institution.

I presented on the benefits of hackathons and community for students, based on my previous work and observations of developments since, which I’m pleased to say are driven directly by students. I also discussed how hackathons could provide for elements of authentic assessment, an initiative which is often recommended as a solution for contract cheating.

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

The conference itself was interesting, sharing much good work going on around Staffordshire University and featuring a keynote presentation from Eric Stoller. Eric reminded the audience how useful it is for them to be active on social media and many of the great discussions taking place on Twitter to improve teaching and learning. I was glad to see one of my contributions featured in what was really a portfolio of tweets.

It seems that social media can bring a new zest to teaching and learning for even the most seasoned academic. Tony Bickley used the phrase “Twitter has changed my life” in his discussion, where he talked about all the new connections he’d made and the new ideas he’d had. There is certainly real value to developing a learning and support community outside of an internal university group.

I’ve also collected together a Storify with many of the tweets from the day.

Using Social Media For Academic Staff As A Component Of Continued Professional Development

A tweet of mine from Social Media for Learning in Higher Education 2016 conference, for which the tweet was well-received across the academic community, sums up a change with the potential to benefit academic staff appraisal processes for those involved with teaching and learning work.

Taken out of context, as short tweets so often can be, the tweet doesn’t fully capture the detail from a rewarding presentation on the weekly #LTHEchat Twitter chat. These weekly Wednesday evening sessions have now grown into essential activities for many in the higher education teaching and learning space.

I often follow #LTHEchat live (or catch up on the Storify summary afterwards) as the chats are interesting and wide-ranging. I also try and add to the chats when I have something useful to share, although my direct teaching and learning role is now rather diminished compared to the classroom activity I was involved with a few years ago. The timeslot also doesn’t always work for me, although participating during the scheduled live hour doesn’t seem to matter, as many of the tweets chats continue well beyond the official 21:00 at Wednesday finish time.

The tweet I quoted from #SocMedHE16 reflects that some attendees of the weekly #LTHEchat said that they had asked for this social engagement to be included in their annual appraisals as part of their Continued Professional Development (CPD) activities. There was no indication that this is yet a widespread activity, but perhaps pushing this as an extension of current and recommended CPD best practice is a way forward?

In my experience, current expectations of CPD for staff appraisal processes tend to focus on tangible activities with training elements. This can include attendance at internal or external staff development and training courses, including those taken online. They can include presenting at and attending suitable conferences. Other closely related areas, such as gaining professional certifications or fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, are also often included.

I believe that an important part of staff appraisal processes is to ensure that teaching active staff are thinking of themselves as reflective practitioners. Activities like #LTHEchat fit the bill for this for me.

The #LTHEchat allows people to share teaching and learning approaches that they have tried, as well as to discuss and question ideas and approaches in a safe and communal environment. Much localised good practice is shared, which would otherwise not be officially published. Chat topics can also push attendees to consider aspects of teaching and learning that would not otherwise form part of the their CPD. For instance, a previous #LTHEchat looked at contract cheating, an area close to my heart. I would like to think that this led a new group of academics to consider their assessment design and to think about how they could verify student involvement during the assessment completion process.

In these days where budgets for traditional forms of CPD can be limited, I do encourage those managers and peer reviewers involved with staff appraisal to consider alternatives to the traditional approaches. I wonder which universities will be brave enough to more formally list engagement with social media based teaching and learning activities such as #LTHEchat as part of the official metrics that can be considered during staff Continued Professional Development reviews?

Contract Cheating – Exploring The Online Market For Original Student Work

I was invited to present some of the latest findings on contract cheating and what can be done about it to the Pedagogic Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton as part of their lunchtime seminar series. The session went well, presented to a packed and eager audience, and ran well over the scheduled one-hour slot with all of the discussion.

As well as overviewing some of the key research in the field and the subject areas being research on, I shared some of my early findings on some of my new areas of interest, including looking at the marketing profiles behind contract cheating services and the type of people who are ghostwriting and providing undue support to students. I also shared a whole host of new and recent examples within the talk.

The slides for the University of Wolverhampton talk are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

Due to the nature of this talk, I don’t have a video version available, but I anticipate that the ideas will make it into some of my forthcoming publications and blog posts. As always, I’m also always happy to share ideas at research seminars, teaching seminars and training events around the UK (or further afield if travel funding is available).

Some of the interesting aspects on the discussion focused on the legality of essay sites (most of them are very careful to stay on the correct side of what is allowable) and the issue of translation plagiarism – not strictly contract cheating, but an area that I have explored in the past and need to do more work on.

I was also alerted about the potential for grammarly, an online grammar checker that is available for students to use to try and improve their work, being used as part of a potential marketing funnel towards students using contract cheating sources. That’s certainly a development that I need to investigate further.

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