Contract Cheating and Unauthorised Homework Assistance through Reddit Communities

The sheer number of different sources that students can use for contract cheating always amazes me. One of my Imperial College London undergraduate students, Rahul Gupta, asked if he could work with me on a study about contract cheating using Reddit. We were able to get internal funding, collected data and Rahul joined me to present the results at the European Conference on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism 2021.

Reddit is an interesting site to look into, as essentially it’s the host of a lot of online communities, primarily text-based, often highly active and often accessed anonymously. It is perhaps unsurprising that we found examples of students asking for homework assistance, both with money exchanged and for free.

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


The sheer number of requests many of the subreddits (individual forums) generate is outstanding. We focused on one such subreddit which is generating over 50,000 posts per year. Not all posts are homework, since these posts also includes replies and discussion, but the high volume of posts also has a viral effect, generating more content to be indexed by Google and therefore driving more traffic from students who are looking for help and support.

Rahul and I hope to present this more formally through other academic channels, but we do encourage other educators to explore Reddit and see the range of questions and cheating opportunities that are out there. Rahul highlighted the wide range of Maths solutions available and a growth in activity during the Covid-19 period (echoing findings from a study I completed with Codrin Cotarlan).

The use of an anonymous service like Reddit is not risk free for anyone involved. Rahul highlighted examples of students being scammed and at risk of blackmail, even if they only posted and did not pay anyone, but he also showed that assignments providers were equally at risk, with students using various tricks to get them to complete work for free.

Perhaps most importantly, Rahul talked about being able to identify some of the students and how he had reported them to their universities. He said he had mostly had receptive responses at the news from UK and European universities, but had had less success communicating with universities in the United States. The message to communicate is that contract cheating is not a good option. Other students do care about academic integrity.

My friend and colleague, the late Robert Clarke, spent many years of his life tracking down contract cheating cases and I know that he would be impressed and proud of the work that Rahul and other student academic integrity advocates are doing.

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.

Contract Cheating: Identifying, Preventing and Detecting – Webinar Slides

How do we, as university staff and instructors, identify, prevent and detect contract cheating. That was the theme I was asked to talk about for a webinar for Brunel University London, held on 23 September 2020, designed to celebrate the launch of Brunel’s new academic integrity procedures.

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



Although it is impossible to completely prevent contract cheating, I do believe there are strategies to help reduce the likelihood and impact of contract cheating and to mitigate for the risk that is poses to society. I discuss several such strategies in the slides.

We do need to continue to work to develop further strategies, along with a continued awareness of what contract cheating means for the sector.

Reducing Contract Cheating – Challenges And Solutions – Presentation Slides

How can we deter and detect contract cheating at all levels within an institution? That was the topic Irene Glendinning and I discussed on a webinar in the run up to the 4th International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating.

Here are the slides we used.


You can also access these slides and those from many of my other presentations on my SlideShare account.

We also looked at the process of detecting and reporting on contract cheating. What are the steps to take to ensure that this process is fair and consistent? Such considerations are important as we try and preserve academic integrity throughout the process.

You can also watch the video recording of the webinar here.

Contract Cheating and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 4 – Detecting Contract Cheating

This is Part 4 of the 7 part series examining Findings From Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017

Mixed views continue to exist across the sector as to whether we should be trying to detect contract cheating. I have always felt that this is a duty of academics to protect the value of assessments for other students, but I can see why views vary here. There should be a deterrent factor as part of the risk of being caught. But I was interested to hear the views from student advocates at the conference, as presented by Wendy Sutherland-Smith. Advocates felt that students wanted to see people who were contract cheating get caught.

This blog post focuses mainly on technology. Before anyone shouts of me, I should establish that we’re not yet in a position where we can assume that technology can detect contract cheating. However, we may perhaps be able to use technology to identify work that may be unoriginal, with the onus then being on a human to make a judgement. This is analogous to how software that identifies similarity between texts can be used as part of a plagiarism detection process.

Stylometric Analysis

Two conference presentations focused on software and techniques designed to identify the author of different documents. This is something of a trend right now, as I know of two further groups in the UK actively working on this (and I’m sure that there are other people working on this who I’m not aware of). Further, at the conference I found out about a current tool used for plagiarism detection that already has this built in. I also know about one of the largest software providers in the plagiarism field who is actively working to add writing style analysis to their software.

From the conference presentations, two quite different approaches were proposed.

Patrick Juola runs a company that aims to automate authorship attribution and proposed an approach that sounds simple on paper. He suggested collecting assessment submissions from students throughout their course. Their most recent document is then compared with the one submitted immediately prior using an automated process to see if both documents have been written by the same person. If not, there is cause for concern.

This is an approach that certainly sounds like it could have some merit, but this does also need to be supplemented by details of exactly what measures are being compared.

Rui Sousa-Silva looked at how authorship attribution software could be used by people who saw a document that they thought may have been written by someone other than the student submitting the work. He gave several examples using Wordsmith Tools. Here, an investigator would compare the suspect document with other work written by the student. This way of thinking about authorship did provide more detail, but I do still feel that a lot more training would be needed to help many staff feel comfortable with relying on this type of software, as well as understanding of the software by all involved with academic conduct investigations.

I made limited progress on the use of stylometry for both plagiarism and contract cheating detection in the early to mid-2000s, mostly working with students. Although a few results found their way into talks and papers, I was never able to devote sufficient time to this. So, it’s good to see other people taking up the mantle. There are still issues to overcome with ensuring the reliability of these stylometric approaches, as well as ensuring that student assignments are widely and systematically collected.

Other Approaches To Detection

Tracey Bretag presented results from a survey of academic staff from Australian universities based on how they had detected contract cheating. The most common responses given were detection by knowledge of the student’s academic ability (71%) and knowledge of their English language ability (62%). Both of these approaches are valid but can be difficult when anonymous marking is used.
Tracey also found that 49% of academics were alerted to contract cheating through text matching from similarity detection software, such as Turnitin. This is an interesting result from several perspectives. First, it supports some of my previous research looking at the use of Turnitin to detect contract cheating. Second, it casts doubt on the claim of many essay providers that they are providing a plagiarism free assignment. This does suggest that, even as new approaches are introduced, the use of software designed to detect plagiarism is still essential.

In research with student advocates presented by Wendy Sutherland-Smith, she also found suggestions for the use of software, particularly to identify students. One suggestion was keystroke analysis, a technique with some overlap to writing style analysis. I also noticed a suggestion of eye detection. Whether this involves tracking the eyeline of a student to ensure that it’s focused on assessment tasks, or whether this involves iris scanning to ensure that the correct student is sitting examinations and submitted work is not clear.

Perhaps all of these different approaches for detecting contract cheating have some merit?

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