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.

Are All Of Our Students Completing Their Own Work? Examining Contract Cheating Within The Computing Discipline

During a research and learning seminar presented at London Metropolitan University, I focused on the technology behind contract cheating and the related issues behind it. A number of examples showing how Computing academics could be involved in creating the software solutions needed to prevent and detect contract cheating were presented.

The slides for talk are available to access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account. You can also see the slides embedded below.

There are several examples of interest embedded with the slides, but in particular I looked at a Literature Review assignment produced for the Fake Britain TV programme. I also demonstrated a number of other ways that that a student could have that same assignment produced for them. Since this process involves the creation of original work, it is very hard to detect.

Afterwards the discussion focused on the people producing work for students. It was pointed out that many students do not need to use technology at all to get their work done. There are known groups of individuals working and in and around universities providing original academic assignment writing services, which students hear about through word of mouth.

This development is nothing new and just continues to demonstrate the wide range of personal, social, pedagogical and technical responses needed to reduce contract cheating. Continued vigilance is always necessary.

How Can We Improve Industrial Sandwich Year Placements For Computing Students?

The Higher Education Academy project, Improving Industrial Sandwich Year Placements For Computing Students, is one of the most rewarding ones that I’ve worked on.

The final report, joint authored by Kawal Banga (my Research Associate) and me has been published, adds to the volume of research on student placements and employments, and ties in well with the material we’ve already presented at workshops, conferences and through seminars.

Lancaster, T. and Banga, K. (2014), Improving Industrial Sandwich Year Placements For Computing Students Final Report, Higher Education Academy.

The report finds that the sector needs to do more to encourage students to take a placement.

There are many barriers to placements, including students not wanting to pay fees for a placement year, a lack of student mobility from their local area, students lacking confidence to apply for placements (especially when facing rejection) and a perceived limit to the number of placements available. Despite that, 33% of eligible students were found to take a placement across the sector as a whole.

Examples of good practice were identified as well, including universities developing alternatives to placements to improve student employability skills and developing their own case studies and quantitative data to show their students the benefits of completing a placement.

Recommendations

Based on the project findings, the report makes 10 recommendations for the sector:

  • Motivate and persuade students of the benefits of placements
  • Better prepare students to apply for placements and to use the time out on placement to the advantage of their future career
  • Work closely with employers, local SMEs and external agencies to create placement opportunities
  • Partner with other local HEIs to offer placements
  • Allow students to work together to establish their own companies as a placement opportunity
  • Develop peer methods of placement support amongst students
  • Follow Codes of Practice for placements
  • Widely share useful placement resources and findings
  • Use virtual visits to increase the support available to students
  • Develop robust training methods and processes for placement staff

The opportunities to innovate are there for the universities willing to take them!

I continue to teach student employability and to show students how they can best prepare themselves to get a placement. I’m already using the research to help to motivate students.

The final report is available directly through the HEA and online.

The Threat Of Contract Cheating – Examining The Paid For Assignment Solutions Unduly Populating The Computing Discipline

Contract cheating still poses a threat within the Computing discipline, although our observations are that this has expanded widely into other academic disciplines, particularly Business Studies, and including at MBA level.

These slides are from a recent research seminar delivered at University of West London, and contain new examples relating to the costs associated with contract cheating, and the many solutions available to people with technical skills to aim to prevent and detect this type of academic misconduct.

The slides, also available on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are included here.

I was pleased to find out from the PhD students in attendance that they had no wish to follow in the footsteps of the private tutor mentioned in the talk, who, after gaining their PhD, was advertising to complete work on behalf of students.

The idea of using stylometrics to potentially detect when work was not written by the student indicated created a lot of interest, and that is certainly an area that would benefit from continued exploration.

Reviewing The Way That Computing Is Taught At School

I’m currently attending ITiCSE 2013 which is one of the world’s major conferences looking at Computer Science Education.

One of the major changes being discussed related to the planned changes in the way that Computing is taught in schools within the UK. Simon Peyton Jones (of Haskell fame) delivered a keynote address about his work with the Computing At School project, and this subject has also been picked up in discussions in person, in Twitter and during panel sessions.

The main problem expressed with Computing at school has been the focus on ICT skills. That is, trying to ensure that children are able to use computer packages (particularly Microsoft Office) and consume information, but not understanding the mechanics and science behind computers.

That approach has been said to be damaging to pupils, with GCSE coursework based around taking hundreds of screenshots. There have also been expressions that this is demoralising to staff, with the low level of teaching not allowing them to engage pupils (one delegate reported having to teach fashion students how to use a mouse).

The alternative, which is being pushed, is to offer several different choices of Computing qualifications, analogous to how Science may turn out Physics specialists as well as people with a more general Combined Science qualification. The push needs to be to treat Computing on a level with other core subjects.

The recommendations from the Computing At School Working Group include students being exposed to Computer Science from an early age, gaining a practical understanding of topics such as algorithms and logic. All of the GCSE accreditation bodies are now offering qualifications in Computer Science as well as in ICT. And, funding for training school teachers has now moved away from training ICT teachers to instead training Computer Science teachers.

One of the outstanding questions is how these changes will impact upon study at university level. Will students be arriving at university with higher level skills, thus requiring university courses to start and end at a more advanced level? Will at interest in Computer Science at school increase the uptake of Computer Science at university? As Computer Science is repositioned, universities will have to adapt to the changes.

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