The Wider Implications Of Contract Cheating

Within the wider topic of contract cheating one area, which I hope to explore further with Robert Clarke relates to the wider implications of contract cheating to the IT industry.

We often discuss this when we’re presenting.

Where a student has cheated to obtain a qualification, this means that they’re not equipped with the core skills needed for success. This reflects badly on not only the student, but also the university which produced that particular student. Since the Computing industry now is so easily interconnected through social media, such information can soon spread, and can lead the IT industry having a lack of confidence in the qualifications that universities are awarding.

As part of our work to publicise contract cheating, we’re presenting a talk for the Wolverhampton Branch of the British Computer Society on Wednesday 24 April, 2013. The talk is exploring the topic of “Outsourcing Assignments? Exposing The Threat Posed By Contract Cheating To The Computing Industry” and one thing that we’re hoping is to engage the community of IT professionals that are present in a discussion on this issue.

More information about the talk can be found here (it is free to attend and booking is not required).

How To Create A High Value Web Site In A Day

As part of my continued research and teaching into student employability, I’ve been investigating the best ways to help students to present what they can do online.

One very underlooked technique by students is to create a web site on an area of interest to them (and which will benefit them in a professional sense).

That’s what I’ve demonstrated with the creation of my new web site related to contract cheating (shared with my research colleague, Robert Clarke).

Contract Cheating New Web Site

In this case, the web site serves multiple purposes. As well as being a demonstration to students and other academics that setting up a web site is possible, it also provides a central source for research into contract cheating, which is something that is missing at present.

Setting up a web site like this is something that has been within my plans for a couple of years now, but just didn’t ever quite make it high enough up the priority list to process. In the end, I was surprised how quick and easy this was to create in a way that is also simple to maintain.

The actual site design took around four hours, and is based around the WordPress CMS. I already had the idea for the site. Much of the set up involved adding appropriate plugins and coming up with the right pages and headings to make this quick to maintain. I want this site to be one that I can update with new media stories and research papers, but without needing to spend more than ten minute per post. I also wanted to make sure that this didn’t look like a blog (even though it is based mainly on blogging software).

The other four hours has been spent adding content. I’ve mainly used a curation system for this, finding useful sources elsewhere, acknowledging them, and using this as a base for a discussion article. I’ve also added some of my own ideas, which largely overlap with the discussions that I’ll have when presenting on contract cheating.

I’d estimate around eight hours (or one day’s work) to get all this going, but this could certainly be completed quicker if it was done in one session.

There is still lots more content to add, but crucially, coverage of recent material is there. If nothing else, I can see this being useful on a personal level, as it’s surprising how often I find useful recent news stories and discussions about contract cheating, but these quickly disappear into subscription databases, or fall so far down the Google rankings that they’re impossible to find again. That’s just the nature of the Internet.

Other things still to do include social media integration (this is easy with WordPress plugins) and to add some video to the site.

Most importantly, this is a process that can be replicated by students. I’ve been pleased to see some of my Professional Practice 2 students setting up their own blogs, particularly related to technology and gaming, which are useful to demonstrate a wider interest in the Computing field. WordPress makes it simple to maintain a site, and anything related to the professional world, extended studies or technology is a good item to add to a portfolio. One recommendation I would make is to always set this up on your own domain, rather than being reliant on (and constrained by) a third party.

Still lots to do around other activities, but hopefully contractcheating.com will prove to be useful, as well as a simple example of extended professional practice.

Who Are You Paying For Assignments?

Just spotted an interesting little remark as part of an online discussion about cheating:

We also had a student to went to one of the contract-cheating sites to do his program.  We then set him up so the offer to code came from one of our own grad students.  When he paid for the code, he was dismissed from the university.

I don’t think that anyone would debate that paying someone else to do an assignment for them is wrong.

There are lots of ways to being caught contract cheating, but paying someone is one of the worst (I wonder if the student got his money back?).

I think that the penalty, in this case, sends out the right message. What do you think?

The Best Way To Take Notes At Conferences And Workshops?

When attending an academic conference or workshop, it’s always useful to take notes. There might be some good ideas shared during the workshop which don’t exist on slides circulated afterwards (often the case during discussions). And, it’s unlikely that sessions will be recorded (and that you’ll have time to watch them).

But, too often notes end up being hastily scribbled down or not referred to again.

What many events are now doing is encouraging notes to be taken and shared using social media (and tablet devices, smart phones and laptops).

For instance, a workshop I was recently involved with ended up with both Twitter and Facebook discussions (here are some examples of what was recorded on social media during the event).

In this case, the Facebook discussions took place in a Facebook group.

The Twitter discussions all used a consistent hash tag.

Both of these were set up quite independently, and so led to quite different types of discussions.

There are a lot of benefits of an approach like this to people organising (and funding) the events, particularly in the increase in visibility. In both cases, people interested, but who could not attend, joined in the discussion.

The discussion created inside the event itself is also useful, particularly where delegates pick up on similar points, engage in virtual discussion and retweet. The permanent and immediate record of the event is useful for both delegates and organisers too.

There are also criticisms to this approach. One I’ve heard is that it creates two classes of delegates – those who are involved in social media and those who are not. But, this certainly doesn’t preclude people keeping their own paper and private notes.

One way I saw this used well at a recent conference was having a blogger who was monitoring the social media channels for post ideas. That created a permanent record of what was going on to add to the (sometimes hard to find at a later date) social media discussions.

I also know of academics who use a similar approach in class, encouraging students to take and share notes using social media – something which I may well try myself over the coming year.

 

How does this approach work for you? Is electronic note taking at events useful? Just use the Comment box to share your thoughts.

My First Experience Of Contract Cheating

Perhaps the area of academic life that I’m best known for is contract cheating. I’ve both published and spoken widely on this subject, exploring how students are getting work completed for them, which they are then handing in for academic credit as if this were their own work.

I’ve also recently been instrumental in setting up a Contract Cheating Special Interest Group on behalf of the Higher Education Academy, which is well worth participating in if this area of practioner and academic research interests you.

I can’t remember when exactly I first came across outsourcing services, such as RentACoder (now known as vWorker). As someone with a widespread interest in computing and technology, I’m normally at the forefront of interesting new developments like these services, and I certainly knew about services like essay mills from my PhD research into plagiarism detection.

But, I do remember the first time that I saw one of my assignment specifications on RentACoder.

It was late 2003, a few months into my tenure as a Lecturer at Birmingham City University, when I was teaching C programming to second year students. I always believe in setting original assignments to students, and this one was original, but it was based loosely on a Java programming assingment from my teaching at London South Bank University. The objective was to model the seat reservation system for an airline.

Out of curiousity, I happened to search for terms I’d used in the assignment specification, not expecting to find anything, but the search raised a match on RentACoder. A quick check of the link revealed a copy of the assignment specification hosted on RentACoder and that a contractor was working on this for a cost somewhere under $20. It also revealed that this was not the first assignment specification listed under this user’s account.

But, particularly interesting were the combinations of assignments that were listed. There was no way that these could all belong to a particular student, or even to one university. Unknowingly, I’d stumbled upon my first example of what I’d now term a contract cheating subcontactor.

In this case, even though the username didn’t directly match a student, it was pretty easy to track down both the students involved using forensic clues. This turned out to be a student who had put up a few of their assignments, both for our course and at a previous university they’d attended (this combination making this particularly simple to track down). My assignment was the result of putting up a bid request for a friend.

Even if I hadn’t spotted it, the finished assignment, when submitted, would have raised alarm bells, mainly because the coding style didn’t bear any resemblance to the class teaching. The assignment specification also required a number of reflective elements, which weren’t clearly addressed by the finished work. Most importantly, the other requirements for the module assessment design meant that the student wouldn’t pass with the outsourced work, even before appropriate actions were taken through the official university disciplinary processes.

It was that incident that sparked off an interest in what would come to be called contract cheating. That hasn’t been the most memorable incident of contract cheating that I’ve been involved with, but perhaps that can be addressed in another post.

 

Feel free to add your first (or subsequent) experience of contact cheating as a reply.

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