My best known academic research relates to contract cheating, essay mills and academic integrity. I have also published widely across the Computer Science and Education fields, particularly in Computer Science Education (or Computing Education), although much of the research I’ve been involved with is intended for a wider audience and does not known an academic background or detailed discipline knowledge.
While I was at Birmingham City University, I also was the lead for the university research group Innovations in Computing Education. I now collaborate on research with several external and international partners.
My research interests in academic integrity stem from when I completed my PhD at London South Bank University, looking at the detection of plagiarism.
My PhD was entitled Effective and Efficient Plagiarism Detection, supervised by Professor Fintan Culwin. The PhD thesis combined technical programming aspects, along with concepts from Human Computer Interaction to look at how the human-led process of plagiarism detection in free text such as essays (also known as natural language) could be improved. The thesis argued that this could be done in two ways. First of all, by using appropriate algorithms to make sure that the right pieces of student work were flagged for human inspection. Secondly, by providing a visual representation of each pair of copied assignments (or an assignment with other sources, such as web pages), so that a human could easily confirm whether or not this work was original. The PhD also worked backwards to use the visualisation techniques to improve the algorithms used to identify similar text.
At the time of composing my PhD, not much work had been completed on textual analysis for plagiarism. Much more work had been done on inspecting source code for potential plagiarism. This was possible due to the lower amount of computing power needed to carry out these checks. Due to the increase in computing power over the past 10 years or so, the problem of constraining textual analysis for plagiarism detection now seems almost trivial, and there have been many other investigations into appropriate algorithms, as well as market leaders in the field of plagiarism detection, such as Turnitin. However, I still feel that there are limitations in the human process of plagiarism detection and there is a great opportunity for further research, particularly in the field of plagiarism data visualisation.
My plagiarism research has also led into other fields. As well as computer-led plagiarism detection, I’ve focused into the areas of assessment design for the prevention of plagiarism. On a simple level, this involved removing opportunities for students to cheat, and implementing assessment methods that discourage cheating, or make it very difficult. This also ties in well with my research into contract cheating, something which is very difficult to detect by hand, but which can be prevented through appropriate modifications to assessment design processes.
My research into contract cheating, primarily conducted with Robert Clarke, is the areaI’m best known for.
My early research in the field looked at how students have work completed for them, particularly when this nvolved the payment of a fee, as could be tracked using services such as RentACoder. More recent work has extended this to include work completed for students for which no fee is charged (most commonly provided by family or friends). The contract cheating area continues to fascinate me, and I’ve had the pleasure of presenting this regularly at conferences and workshops, as well as on TV, radio and in the wider media. I also regularly get to hear interesting stories from other academics who have been touched by the world of contract cheating, many unfortunately not repeatable as they would identify individuals, but I’m also interested to hear about the wide range of people who have been touched by this contract cheating research.
I completed a large research project with the Higher Education Academy looking at employability and Computing sandwich year placements. The need to get students into appropriate work has been heavily covered by the media, and is one that I also feel strongly about, so much so that I’ve significantly adapted my teaching as a result. This research looked at sandwich year placements, the crucial period between the second and final year where students can gain substantial experience and contacts to help them with their future career. I’ve also been involved with a number of small employability projects, such as a Student Academic Partners project looking at developing resources for students preparing for placement. I’ve widely worked with industrial contacts to provide experience for students, and providing research and practitioner workshops based around these areas.
My teaching led research has led me to complete research into the area of Professional Online Presences, which looks at how students can present themselves online for professional employment and to obtain placements. This modern aspect of employability feeds into Professional Practice teaching.
Another large research project which I was part of the research team for was the South East Europe Project on Policies for Plagiarism and Academic Integrity, which explored issues in six countries in SE Europe. To me, it was interesting to see many of the same challenges as in the UK, particularly for areas like contract cheating, extend into other countries.
I am available for speaking engagements in all of these research areas. Particular presentations which I give regularly, both for other academic institutions, as keynote presentations and for groups like the Council of Europe, British Computer Society and the Higher Education Academy include: contract cheating, academic integrity, sandwich year placements for employability and Professional Online Presences.
Research Publications List
Lancaster, T., (2018) “Profiling the international academic ghost writers who are providing low-cost essays and assignments for the contract cheating industry”, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-04-2018-0040
Lancaster T. (2018) Academic Integrity for Computer Science Instructors. In: Carter J., O’Grady M., Rosen C. (eds) Higher Education Computer Science. Springer, Cham, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-98590-9_5
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2017), Rethinking Assessment By Examination In The Age Of Contract Cheating, Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017.
Glendinning, I., Foltýnek, T., Dlabolová, D., Linkeschová, D. and Lancaster, T. (2017), Exploring Issues Challenging Academic Integrity in South East Europe, Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017.
Glendinning, I., Foltýnek, T., Dlabolová, D., Linkeschová, D. and Lancaster, T. (2017), Plagiarism in South East Europe Final Report, Council of Europe.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2016), Contract Cheating – The Outsourcing of Assessed Student Work, in Handbook of Academic Integrity, Bretag, T. (editor): SpringerReference.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2015). The Implications of Plagiarism and Contract Cheating for the Assessment of Database Modules. 13th International Workshop on Teaching, Learning and Assessment of Databases (TLAD 2015), Birmingham, UK, July 2015.
Hersey, C. and Lancaster, T. (2015), The Online Industry of Paper Mills, Contract Cheating Services, and Auction Sites, Clute Institute International Education Conference, London, June 2015.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2014), An Observational Analysis Of The Range And Extent Of Contract Cheating From Online Courses Found On Agency Websites; 8th International Conference on Complex, Intelligent and Software Intensive Systems (CISIS 2014), Birmingham City University, UK, July 2014.
Lancaster, T. (2014), Teaching Students About Online Professionalism – Enhancing Student Employability Through Social Media, in Cutting-Edge Technologies and Social Media Use in Higher Education, Benson, V. and Morgan, S. (editors): IGI Global.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2014), An Initial Analysis Of The Contextual Information Available Within Auction Posts On Contract Cheating Agency Websites, Proceedings of International Workshop on Informatics for Intelligent Context-Aware Enterprise Systems (ICAES 2014), University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada, May 2014.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2014), Using Turnitin As A Tool For Attribution In Cases Of Contract Cheating; 3rd Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK, April 2014.
Wilkinson, R. and Lancaster, T. (2014), Improving Student Motivation Using Technology Within The STEM Disciplines; 3rd Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK, April 2014.
Banga, K. and Lancaster, T. (2013). Addressing The Challenges Computing Students Face In Completing A Placement Year; 2nd Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, April 2013.
Clarke, R. and Lancaster, T. (2013). Commercial Aspects Of Contract Cheating, 8th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE 2013), University of Kent, Canterbury, UK, July 2013.
Deenah, N. and Lancaster, T. (2013). Measuring The Extent Of Online Placement Resources To Support Computing Students; 2nd Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, April 2013.
Lancaster, T. (2013). The Application Of Intelligent Context-Aware Systems To The Detection Of Student Cheating; 3rd International Workshop on Intelligent Context-Aware Systems (ICAS 2013), Asia University, Taichung, Taiwan, July 2013.
Lancaster, T. (2013), The Use Of Text Matching Tools For The Prevention And Detection Of Student Plagiarism; in Plagiarism Phenomenon In Europe: Research Contributes To Prevention, Dias, P. and Bastos, A. (editors): Braga : Aletheia – Associação Científica e Cultural da Faculdade de Filosofia da Universidade Católica Portuguesa.
Lancaster, T.. (2013). Using Professional Online Presences To Enhance Computing Student Employability; 2nd Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, April 2013.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2012). Dealing With Contract Cheating: A Question Of Attribution; 1st Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Imperial College, London, April 2012.
Lancaster, T., Jenkins, T., Barroca, L.., Calvert, M.., Devlin, S.., Foley, R.., Horton, J.., Moore, J.. and Sturdy, P.. (2011). Some Good Ideas For Student Projects From The Disciplinary Commons; 12th Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Information and Computer Sciences, University of Ulster, August 2011.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2010). Staff-Led Individualised Assessment – A Case Study; 11th Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Information and Computer Sciences, Durham University, August 2010.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2009). Automated Essay Spinning – An Initial Investigation; 10th Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Information and Computer Sciences, University of Kent, August 2009.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2008). How to Succeed at Cheating Without Really Trying: Five Top Tips for Successful Cheating; 9th Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Information and Computer Sciences, Liverpool Hope University, August 2008
Clarke, R., and Lancaster, T. (2007). Establishing a Systematic Six-Stage Process for Detecting Contract Cheating; The Second International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Applications (ICPCA07), Birmingham City University, July 2007.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2007). Assessing Contract Cheating Through Auction Sites – A Computing Perspective; 8th Annual Higher Education Academy Conference in Information and Computer Sciences, University of Southampton, August 2007.
Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R. (2007) The Phenomena of Contract Cheating; in Student Plagiarism in an Online World: Problems and Solutions, Roberts, T. S. (editor), Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA: Idea Group Inc.
Lancaster, T. and Culwin F. (2007), Preserving Academic Integrity – Fighting Against Non-Originality Agencies. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(1), pp153-157.
Clarke, R. and Lancaster, T. (2006). “Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism? Identifying The Usage Of Contract Cheating Sites”; 2nd Plagiarism: Prevention, Practice and Policy Conference 2006 – organised by JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service, Newcastle, UK, June 2006.
Cutts, Q., Barnes, D., Bibby, P., Bown, J., Bush, V., Campbell, P., Fincher, S., Jamieson, S., Jenkins, T., Jones, M., Kazatov, D., Lancaster, T., Ratcliffe, M., Seisenberg, M, Shinner-Kennedy,. D., Wagstaff, C., White, L. and Whyley, C. (2006). Laboratory exams in first programming courses; 7th Annual Conference for Information and Computer Sciences, Dublin, August 2006.
Fincher, S., Barnes, D., Bibby, P., Bown, J., Bush, V., Campbell, P., Cutts, Q., Jamieson, S., Jenkins, T., Jones, M., Kazatov, D., Lancaster, T., Ratcliffe, M., Seisenberg, M, Shinner-Kennedy,. D., Wagstaff, C., White, L. and Whyley, C. (2006). Some Good Ideas From The Disciplinary Commons; 7th Annual Conference for Information and Computer Sciences, Dublin, August 2006.
Lancaster, T. and Culwin, F. (2005), Classifications Of Plagiarism Detection Engines. In ITALICS 4(2). http://www.ics.heacademy.ac.uk/italics/Vol4-2/Plagiarism%20-%20revised%20paper.htm.
Lancaster, T. and Evans, C. (2005). Internet Led Project Preparation: Using Problem Based E-Learning in the Classroom. 9th Annual Java and the Internet in the Computing Curriculum, London, January 2005.
Lancaster, T. and Tetlow, M. (2005), Does Automated Anti-Plagiarism Have to be Complex? Evaluating More Appropriate Software Metrics for Finding Collusion, 22nd ASCILITE Conference (pp. 520-529). Brisbane, Australia, December 2005.
Lancaster. T. (2005), Innovating Electronic Assessment, LDTU Digital Future, July 2005, UCE Birmingham, pp. 9-10.
Lancaster, T. and Culwin, F. (2004). Using Freely Available Tools to Produce a Partially Automated Plagiarism Detection Process. 21st ASCILITE Conference, Perth, Australia, December 2004.
Culwin F. and Lancaster T. (2004), An Integrating Suite of Tools to Assist Investigation of Non-Originality; 1st Plagiarism: Prevention, Practice and Policy Conference 2004, Newcastle, UK, June 2004.
Lancaster T. and Culwin F. (2004), A Comparison of Source Code Plagiarism Detection Engines. Journal of Computer Science Education 14.2.
Lancaster T. and Culwin F. (2004), A Visual Argument for Plagiarism Detection using Word Pairs; 1st Plagiarism: Prevention, Practice and Policy Conference – organised by JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service, Newcastle, UK, June 2004.