International Center For Academic Integrity Conference 2022

The International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) Conference is one of the highlights of the year for people interested in the academic integrity field. The 2022 conference took place virtually, with a great mix of discussion going on in the background of the presentations and in the Whova app used for managing the programme.

Sometimes I write a long review about the conference. This year, I just want to share a few key takeaway messages. To me, much of the conference was about reinforcing ideas, rather than presenting the results of new research studies. In fact, I rather felt at times there were presentations holding back their research results for future publication, which is rather a shame with such a large and interested audience.

The conference was also celebrating 30 Years since the ICAI was formed (quite an achievement), as well as looking towards the future. Thoughts about the future featured heavily in the panels and in many of the presentations.

With four parallel sessions, I couldn’t attend everything, so these are some of my takeaways from the sessions I did get to attend.

Students As Academic Integrity Partners Are Key For The Future

There were several excellent examples shared during the conference about how students and staff can work together, both to promote academic integrity initiatives and to conduct research. Both staff and students reported how valuable such arrangements were. The students from Bow Valley College talked about the benefits of being part of a community and how this had helped them with motivation to reach their goals.

Prakhar Nagpal presenting with me on academic integrity research

I can relate to those benefits from my own experiences. In my presentation, I shared presenting duties with Prakhar Nagpal, one of my own students, and we talked about research we’d conducted looking at how to identify misuse of homework help sites.

Students from Maynooth SU talked about the ways in which they had been approached by companies wanting them to breach academic integrity. They found particular problems with sites designed to help students to cheat in maths and that students did not necessarily consider these as problematic in the same way that they might for services designed to create written work for them.

They also found that staff did not have a good understanding of the advertising and temptation that students are exposed to. This is something for the academic integrity community to work on in staff development sessions and which students could play a huge role to lead or support.

Academic Integrity Information Is Often Hard For Students To Find

Academic integrity policies tend to be written in a manner that is difficult for students to understand. It was very pleasing to hear about work at Maynooth SU which plans to write user friendly versions of these.

Mary Davis also stressed how academic misconduct procedures being put into place against a student could lead to them being seen as an outsider and not knowing where to go for help. This situation was made worse by having policies that were overly long, poorly structured and not written in student-friendly language. Mary encouraged institutions to review their local documentation against the Universal Design for Learning principles.

Staff working at the University of Calgary shared an interesting approach they’d used, adding answers to common academic integrity questions to a chatbot. The introduction of the chatbot was not without problems as it also identified how much information was missing, but the staff were able to get a good sense of the type of questions students were asking, which included a lot of requests for help with citing and referencing. No matter how much work takes place to help students with referencing, there are always opportunities for more support.

The Future Is Technology, But Technology Is Not Academic Integrity

The term arms race has come up a lot recently, relating to the idea that as the technology available to breach academic integrity improves, so too does the technology required to offer a defence. It’s a situation I can relate to as a computer scientist, seeing people working on technology at both sides of this problem. At one side, there is a wish to write better automated text to look more like a human. At the other side, such technology can be misused to write assignments in place of a human.

The problem is that not everyone understands technology, how to engage with it, or its limitations. This is evident when people talk about text matching software, where they often want to translate difficult time consuming investigations into a simple process. For example, they may just want a simple number which tells them if work is plagiarised or not.

But, let’s face it. Technology isn’t always the most natural thing for everyone, as seen when one delegate accidentally shared their ongoing Teams chat in place of their presentation slides.

In a panel discussion I was part of, I asked delegates to consider how they could support students to embrace changes in technology and prepare students for the future.

Yes, Contract Cheating Can Be Detected – Keynote Presentation Slides

I was invited to deliver the opening keynote for the Eighth Annual Congress of Academic Integrity held remotely for Universidad de Monterrey, Mexico on 24 September 2020. The theme I was asked to talk about was contract cheating detection, providing me with the opportunity to review the state-of-the-art in research and practice in this field.

You can see the slides I used below (and also on my SlideShare account).


Detecting contract cheating is far from a solved problem, but there are methods in development that will make it possible in several situations. The danger is that the contract cheating industry knows this too and is always ready to adapt.

As I mention in the presentation, I believe detection needs to combine human detection with technical support. But this is only one part of the wider puzzle regarding how we can best address contract cheating.

The video from the presentation is also available, which you can watch here.

Addressing Contract Cheating and Other Threats to Academic Integrity – Keynote Presentation at University of Wolverhampton

The world of contract cheating continues to progress. I was asked to speak about this for a keynote address at the University of Wolverhampton, which allowed me to bring together many of the latest findings in the contract cheating and academic integrity fields.

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


During the presentation, I showed how easy how cheap and easy outsourcing is (you can see a video promoting the fictitious essay mill Werewolf Essays here). I also considered how contract cheating companies are now able to get their advertising out through university channels themselves, including university social media accounts.

The presentation was accompanied by lots of questions, including relating to the technology surrounding the academic cheating industry, which is becoming something of a trend at events like this now.

The Progression Of The Exam Cheating Industry – Conference Keynote Presentation On Exam Integrity

That companies and individuals are helping students to cheat in exams is something that higher education should be concerned about. This is not just small time business. Exam cheating is an entire industry.

In a keynote presentation I gave at the Higher Education Quality Network conference, themed Assessment, Integrity, Review and held in Melbourne, Australia, I explored the issues surrounding exam cheating and the integrity of future examinations.

This is a real issue, particularly where assessment by examination is being considered as a response to plagiarism and contract cheating. There is, however, also good practice than can be gained from how exams are conducted in a professional environment.

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


So much exam cheating is supported by technology that is easily concealed. Supplying that technology is big business. It is more useful to think about alternative ways to use examinations as part of the assessment process than to try to simply react to the ever changing technology game.

Contract Cheating and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 6 – Which Students Are Contract Cheating And What Does This Mean For Assessment?

This is Part 6 of the 7 part series examining Findings From Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017

As Tracey Bretag said at the opening conference keynote, it is just not possible to set an assessment for which cheating is impossible. Despite that, there is still much good practice to be considered when setting assessments to benefit the students who engage with it.

Highly unusually, I think that this is the first conference I’ve been to in a while where I didn’t once hear the term “authentic assessment”. With that said, several of the recommendations from conference speakers support the ideals of authentic assessment in all but name.

Which Students Are Contract Cheating?

Several studies presented at the conference showed progress towards answering the difficult question regarding how many students are contract cheating, or if certain groups of students engaging in the practice can be identified.

In her opening keynote, Tracey Bretag settled on the figure of between 6% and 10% of students having contract cheated at least once. That figure remained mainly consistent across the conference. Tracey did note that there was no significant difference in the cheating figures between the universities that Australia defines as elite and non-elite. I suspect that the same would be true in the UK, even though the figures that UK universities choose to report to the media can differ substantially.

Veronika Kralikova surveyed over 1000 students in the Czech Republic and found that over 8% of them had contract cheated. Veronika also observed a gender difference, with 5% of female students saying that they had contract cheated, but 15% of male students stating this. She also found that 34% of the students said that they knew someone else who had contract cheated, suggesting that this isn’t an activity that students keep quiet about.

Several other groups of students likely to be susceptible to the temptation of contract cheating were also identified in Tracey Bretag’s presentation, with numbers based on a survey of 14,086 students on courses at universities in Australia. 814 of these students said that they had carried out one or more behaviours classified as cheating on a wider scale.

15.8% of the overall survey responders were international students, but 33.0% of the cheating group were international students.

13.1% of the overall group were engineering students, but when looking at just the cheating group, this figure rose to 24.6%.
It does need to be stressed that the cheating behaviours do not just cover contract cheating and also include areas like hiring an exam impersonator or cheating in an examination, but the overall figures do suggest that there could be issues to overcome regarding contract cheating that are specific to the engineering discipline.

The identification of engineering is interesting, as many of the listings of the subjects where most contract cheating is found, including some of my own studies, identify the areas taught in a Business School as most at risk. Business was not singled out in Tracey’s presentation. However, there is still analysis to be done. It may be that Business has been a red herring, with the contract cheating numbers appearing high simply because there are a lot of students taking the subject. It may also be that engineering numbers are bolstered in this study due to examination cheating. The full analysis will be interesting.

There may also be an overlap between the international student group and the engineering student group.

Tracey also verbally noted that the highest cheating levels seemed to be related to groupwork, with a possible overlap to engineering. Contract cheating and groupwork is an important area to consider regarding assessment design. I’ve previously suggested that well-designed groupwork can make contract cheating difficult, since this can be structured to require group complacency with contract cheating. However, I’ve also observed outsourcing requests on agency websites where students are just sending their section of a piece of groupwork to a third party. To me, that isn’t groupwork at all, it’s just standard assignments which can be completed individually.

Further, I recall a presentation at the Western Australia Forum for Contract Cheating where the presenter talked about whole groups of students agreeing to outsource their tasks as a collective. And, in that case, groups largely consisted of international students. This means that just assigning groupwork, on its own, is not a solution for contract cheating. More research into how to develop successful and authentic groupwork assignments in the age of contract cheating is needed.

What Assessments Are Susceptible To Contract Cheating?

Why students cheat and plagiarise is a long-standing question, but the answers do support types of assessment that may work better than others.

Tracey Bretag presented the results of a survey of more than 14,000 students in Australia that was used to identify which types of assessments they were most likely to outsource. The top three were: (1) assignments with a short turnaround, (2) weighted assignments and (3) continuous assessment. Hannah Sketchley, representing the National Union of Students in the UK, gave supporting results from her investigations, where “high stakes assessment” was of concern. From a practical viewpoint, I can see that, but from a pragmatic viewpoint, I also know of students who complain about overassessment when there are too many assessment points in a module. That may also support the high ranking given for the likely outsourcing of continuous assessment.

Indeed, in my presentation I discussed the growth of sites designed to complete every assignment on a course or module for a student and such sites appear highly targeted at students with lots of small assessments. It will be interesting to see what the recommendations are that will rationalise two concerns that seem to be polar opposites.

The issue of assignments with a short turnaround continues to be of concern as there is no evidence suggesting any benefits to students here. I’ve shared many examples I’ve shown of student assignments being completed by third parties in a matter of hours and Phil Newton has analysed turnaround times by individual writers to show that they can deliver work quickly (and may even like the faster turnaround times as they can charge a premium price). Phil shared an interesting observation from an essay mill that now defaults to a three-day turnaround on the site. This suggests that essay mills have decided that fast turnaround this is the best way to market their offer.

The results from Tracey’s survey were not all doom and gloom. She also identified the three factors that students said would make them least likely to outsource an assignment. These were: (1) reflections of practice, (2) viva and (3) personalised and unique. I’ve long since advocated on the increased use of vivas within higher education assessment. They are not perfect, but can work well if used in a controlled manner. The other ideas are worth considering. Many essay mills offer reflective writing, although it may be that students choose not to order this.

Personalised assignments are another good way to increase student engagement, but like the other assignment types, they are not foolproof. I’ve observed many examples of students outsourcing project reports and dissertations, getting this back a chapter at a time and returning the comments of their supervisor to their hired writer. There are whole sites that market themselves solely as dissertation and capstone project suppliers. I’ve seen lots of examples of dissertation outsourcing at MBA level and have also observed requests at PhD level. Other safeguards still need to be in place here.

Teddi Fishman suggested a possible variant on the viva which may be worth trying. In this assessment, students give a presentation based on the topics they’ve learned about in the module. The twist is that they don’t know what will be on the presentation slides until they arrive in the assessment room. If anyone does test that one out, please let me know how well it goes.

Contract Cheating and Examinations

One suggestion that is often made when contract cheating is discussed is to simply use examinations again. That may be a partial solution in some cases, but it’s not a complete solution. I was pleased to see that I was not the only person presenting on the challenges posed by examinations. This topic found its way into several other presentations.

In the survey of over 14,000 Australian students reported by Tracey Bretag, she found that 0.2% of students had got someone else take an exam for them. Of the students getting someone else to take an exam for them, only 10% has paid money. By contrast, 0.5% of students said that they had taken an exam for someone else, of which 16.7% received money. I do think that some caution needs to be applied to those figures, as many seem to use exam as an interchangeable term for assessment. If correct, the difference between these figures has to be of interest.

Tracey’s team also surveyed over 1000 academics working at Australian university. They found that 5% of staff had observed impersonation in examination, a number that is much higher than I would have anticipated and has to be of alarm.

Bob Ives presented his work in progress regarding cheating in Moldova and Romania. Both countries were said to have substantial problems with examination cheating, including through impersonation and through the use of unauthorised materials in the exam.

I was also introduced to a site I haven’t seen before, http://ipaidabribe.com, where individuals in India post about bribes they’ve (had to) make. India has often been in the news regarding exam cheating and unsurprisingly the site contains several hundred examples of bribery relating to exams, including examples of bribe payments being required to pass driving tests, engineering certifications and even to qualify as a medical doctor. It’s a site I need to explore further.

My own presentation showed several examples where people attempted to outsource their examinations, including university students and people taking professional exams. Tests taken on a computer looked to be particularly susceptible here. Students were seen using several novel ways to communicate with people outside an examination hall, including instant messenger services like WhatsApp. If communication like this is successfully happening, some changes regarding examination security are necessary.

I also discussed the availability of other technology, particularly the hidden earpieces that were found to be prominent during our SEEPPAI research and allow someone outside an examination hall to whisper answers to a student inside it. A question was raised regarding how such exam cheating technology works, so cheating devices is also an area that I feel needs to receive more widespread communication with the academic audience.

Assessment Recommendations

The same principles regarding good assessments repeated themselves in several different ways during the conference. One of the main ones has to be to stop essay writing being a main part of the requirements for an academic qualification. These are assessments that are susceptible to contract cheating and are “bread and butter” to writers for contract cheating services. As several presenters expressed in different ways, if a writer can turn out multiple essays on multiple subjects a day, then these can’t be essays that are worth writing or reading. But yet, such essays still seem to be being purchased and they still seem to pass.

Hannah Sketchley said that there was a need to co-design assessments with students. It’s not the easiest thing to get right, particularly to also comply with quality processes, external expectations and professional body requirements, but this is certainly a direction to strive towards. A similar recommendation to redesign assessment to remove high stakes components also came from Wendy Sutherland-Smith. Wendy has been attempting this but she also noted that this approach had heavy resource implications which may not prove sustainable in the long term.

Teddi Fishman summed up the challenges posed by contract cheating and assessment well at the keynote that closed the conference. Teddi advocated that “we must require our students to be active participants in their own learning”.

Page 1 of 212»