Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2020 Conference

The annual Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond conference took place in Dubai in April 2020, although the delegates weren’t there in person. They were distributed around the world.

Conference chair Zeenath Khan and her team did an excellent job in moving the conference online due to Covid-19 in a very short timeframe. Of course, discussion of Covid-19 became something of a running theme at the conference as well, as this has the potential to become one of the biggest challenges to academic integrity we are likely to see in our lifetimes. It was an area I also picked up on in my opening keynote (post here and video here).

As always, I could only attend a small number of the parallel presentation sessions, so missed out on many interesting talks. But, also as always, there were many topics of interest discussed in the sessions I could attempt. Here is a summary of five sets of developments that caught my attention.

#1 – Emerging Technology Offers A Fresh Challenge, But Also Provides Us With New Opportunities To Develop Solutions

Clare Johnson presenting on forensic investigation techniques at Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2020

More work using forensic investigation techniques on student work had been completed by Clare Johnson, to build on the research she presented at the conference in 2019. Clare identified several suspicious tags that could be seen when extracting a Word document that showed possible evidence of plagiarism and contract cheating. Clare plans next to test the techniques against student work that has gone through academic misconduct panels to see if the same techniques hold. Assuming they do, it would be good to see if a tool could be produced to automate much of this investigation and to supply a summary of the evidence to markers.

Elsewhere at the conference, PlagScan discussed a new software development. They are adding metadata analysis to their academic integrity software, an area which would provide useful parallel data to Clare’s plans. There’s lots of potential for future work looking inside files to identify academic misconduct.

In my keynote presentation, I discussed many of the challenges to academic integrity that we will have to consider in the future. These include artificial intelligence systems that can write text that look like they have been written by a human, as well as automated marking systems that contract cheating firms can tap into. How we address these challenges is an ongoing area for discussion.

Another delegate shared their own example of an emerging trend, that of essay spinning or machine translation. Their version had a twist to it. Students studying at an institution not using English would buy an English language essay, then use automated translation software such as Google Translate to convert this to their local language. I presume they would then also edit the result to make sure that the text made sense. Detecting translated documents has always been a challenge, but it would certainly be nearly impossible to detect bespoke written work which has then gone through a translation process.

#2 – We Need To Develop Our Support Mechanisms For All Stakeholders In Academic Integrity

Often the support we provide, the written guidance we give and the training offered to students is not all aligned with modern developments in the contract cheating industry. Mary Davis talked about why students cheat. Her main finding, from talking to students, was cheating was due to a lack of time. Mary recommended helping students to structure their time and ensuring they put timelines in place for larger assignments such as dissertations.

Teddi Fishman reminded us that the language students use to think about academic integrity and cheating is often different to the language that academics use. That makes it difficult to conduct research in this are and to rely on student answers. We probably don’t know how much cheating is really going on. The question was asked, how can we address this?

We need to be more sophisticated in the type of training we offer students and allow for more complex and nuanced discussion. Mary Davis recommends getting students to go on popular contract cheating sites and evaluate what they offer (or what they say they offer). Students know about contract cheating and they probably have classmates who have used contract cheating services, so we shouldn’t be hiding our awareness from them.

One delegate shared an example related to this, which was funny but also revealing. One of their students had accidentally shared their screen and it showed that the student had been making assignment orders from an essay mill, in this case with the number running to double digits. It’s more common that most of us think.

Conferences like this one always attract people with a wide variety of experience in academic integrity. It’s always worth us including some introductory level training for the people attending a conference like this for the first time. But one theme that kept coming up is that we should be looking at having a more advanced level of training and then seeing how this can be fed back into individual institutions and discipline areas.

Robin Crockett discussing how to analyse student writing style to identify contract cheating

Robin Crockett has used R statistical analysis tools to analyse student work and to identify who wrote it. These tools are useful but it can be hard to get started with them. Perhaps we could roll out stylometric training more widely?

Mark Ricksen from Turnitin also advocated for the use of software. I’ve shared his research with Deakin University before, showing how if markers are trained and have access to authorship attribution software, they will detect more contract cheating. But that training has to be put widely into place.

How do we support researchers who are themselves victims of plagiarism or academic misconduct? They are often an overlooked group of people. Tomáš Foltýnek revealed that ENAI is setting up a new support service for such victims. A very timely and important development.

#3 – We Need Legislation To Reduce The Risks To Students

In my keynote presentation, I briefly shared an example of attempted blackmail that a student had shared with me. This was a very blackmail elaborate scheme, with the firm creating fake letters from the UK Government and stealing mailing list details from existing companies to make it look like they were acting legitimately. I can understand how students could fall for this type of scam, particularly as they know they are at risk from their information being shared.

Mark Ricksen from Turnitin also discussed his experience buying essays for research purposes, noting how contract cheating companies ask for information from students about their universities as that’s one way they can extort you.

Lesley Sefcik has been investigating the very real risk of students being blackmailed by contract cheating providers

The most comprehensive study in this area has been conducted by Lesley Sefcik and Jon Yorke from Curtin University and they presented their findings at the conference. Lesley and Jon found that students would rather pay up to people extorting them than risk their contract cheating being reported to their universities. They also shared their own example of how firms blackmail and extort students. In this case, a firm waited until a student had graduated, then threatened to report them to their university to have their degree rescinded unless they made continual micro-payments. We do need to consider how we will offer support to students who could be at risk of blackmail.

Michael Draper shared his latest findings on how legislation can be used to prevent contract cheating. He had two parallel examples. One was the UK, where there has been a lot of discussion on legislation and firms have been encouraged to voluntarily change their practice. Michael said that essay mills have not made any voluntary changes despite these requests. By contrast, Ireland had brought in legislation and that had an immediate impact in marketing and advertising. This does suggest we should continue to pursue the legislative route as one of a number of necessary parallel solutions to help us to preserve academic integrity and reduce the risk to students posed by predatory firms.

#4 – We Should Continue To Explore Data Analytics Research Opportunities

One question that emerged from my keynote presentation related to how publishing of research papers in the academic integrity field had changed. I looked at two sample terms, “contract cheating” and “academic integrity” and showed that the number of publications with those terms in the title has been increasing. But does this mean that there is more interest in the area, or have we retired the use of other terms such as “academic misconduct“? There is a potentially interesting study to be completed looking at the changing terminology of academic integrity.

Tim Daly from Zahed University had investigated how contract cheating providers use content marketing to get customers. The whole funnel of how providers develop relationships with customers is fascinating and one I’ve looked at in my own research. But Tim has really drilled down into the data and the terms students looking for help will type into Google and, rather than finding helpful pages from universities, will find information from contract cheating providers instead.

Looking for just searches from the US for the term “business essay” alone, Tim found 52 sites getting over 9,000 organic visitors each per month. That translated to over 2 million visits per month across all of those sites.

Tim Daly identified search terms contract cheating providers were using to market their services to students

Out of the top 10 contract cheating providers for the US market, Tim found terms such as “essay writing”, “argumentative essay”, “essay outline” and “how to write an essay” were dominated by contract cheating providers. Tim also found legitimate universities linking to help pages owned by the contract cheating industry. Tim says that we need to make sure that we create good content on all of those topics on university websites so that those results appear in search engine resultss and students get directed to good information, rather than them ending up in contract cheating provider marketing funnels.

There are many opportunities to expand internationally using Tim Daly’s research methodology as a base, which only focused on the US market.

#5 Academic Integrity Is For Everyone

Are we leading by example, asked Tracey Bretag in her keynote presentation? Tracey noted that many academics take shortcuts in their own research, often bypassing ethical approval processes or submitting papers with poor analysis or referencing. If academics can’t get integrity right, can we expect this from students, asked Tracey? Tracey encouraged us to be generous with our time to grow the next generation of research and to take professional development courses where necessary.

We need the whole community to buy into the idea of academic integrity too. Teddi Fishman reminded us how important buy-in is when she presented. She advocated that we should be looking at Covid-19 as providing us with an opportunity, not just a challenge. I discussed how staff and students need to work in partnership, but really this has to extend become even the academic area. Student ethical views are heavily shaped by their home environment, where they grow up and normative behaviour within their culture.

Zeenath Khan has conducted initial research into how far parents are willing to help their primary school age children with their homework. Zeenath found evidence of parents and siblings doing homework for their children, particularly for “show and tell” presentations, along with evidence that teachers are being condescending to children whose family haven’t helped them in that way. That lack of academic integrity can then follow children throughout their time at school and influence how they choose to act when subsequently reach university level study.

Conference Chair Zeenath Khan leading the way with academic integrity in the UAE

Veena Mulani shared an example of how a child of 10 year old was cheating on a class being taught remotely due to Covid-19. The child had replaced their camera feed with a picture of themselves working, knowing that the teacher was looking after a large number of pupils and wouldn’t be able to tell.

Teddi Fishman also reminded us that we need to be transparent with students. She said that many of the challenges with Covid-19 could have been avoided had the world subscribed to this view of transparency.

After Teddi’s presentation, I shared the analogy of herd immunity for Covid-19 and asked delegates to consider how this could be applied to academic integrity. Can we get everyone in agreement that acting with integrity is important? If so, we can go a long way towards ensuring it simply becomes unacceptable to cheat. That’s what we need to show that conferences like Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond are having an impact and to truly make academic integrity an important issue for everyone.

An Examination Of How Successful Essay Mills And Contract Cheating Services Have Been In Integrating Within Different Academic Disciplines – Presentation From Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond 2019

During Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond 2019, I presented a new study examining the extent of contract cheating across different discipline areas.

There will be a full paper based on this data, but you can see some of the highlights as they were shared during the talk. The slides I used are available on my SlideShare account. The slides are also included below.

The paper considered the demand for contract cheating services, based on requests posted online by students across multiple previous studies. These noted that the extended area of Business attracted substantial contract cheating requests.

New data presented looked at the online visibility of contract cheating service marketing across 19 main discipline groups, as identified by the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). This showed that, although essay mills are already visible in search engine results, most disciplines show several opportunities for further essay mill exploitation.

The visibility of discipline specific contract cheating advertising is surely something that search engines, such as Google, need to address with their algorithms. They should aim to ensure that students looking for help online receive useful information rather than links to essay mills.

Contract Cheating and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 7 – Understanding Contract Cheating From The Student Viewpoint

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

It was really positive to see the views of students strongly represented at Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017. There were some student participants (I’d like to see support for more students to attend), as well as presentations where the views of students were directly reported.

Why Do Students Resort To Contract Cheating?

The question about why students cheat, plagiarise and fail to demonstrate academic integrity is a long-standing one. The specific analysis of the motives behind students resorting to contract cheating is less developed, but many wider principles still seem to hold.

The issue of the marketisation of higher education was discussed at several points during the conference. Wendy Sutherland-Smith said how students perceived buying an essay as just a business deal, citing some of my work with Robert Clarke where we’ve observed similar behaviours. Other people said that the high cost of fees was a main cause of contract cheating.

Although I’m sure that there are elements of truth here, and I’ve referred many times to the cost of failure, where the prospect of having to repeat a year and pay high fees makes contract cheating into a risk that some will feel is worth taking, marketisation itself does not tell the whole story. I think this is a reason that some students are using to justify cheating, rather than the cause of it.

To back this idea up, I’d also refer to the SEEPPAI work I’ve been involved with in Europe, as well as developments I’m aware of in the wider world. Contract cheating still seems common in countries with no fees and even in places where students are awarded a grant. This means that discussions about the reasons why contract cheating takes place can’t be boiled down into a simple soundbite.

What Factors Contribute To Contract Cheating?

Several presentations considered why contract cheating takes place. Students in the Czech Republic, as surveyed by Veronika Kralikova, gave a single main reason which must also sum up a lot of quick turnaround advertisements made by the essay industry. Their reason for contract cheating was a lack of time.

Student advocates form Australia who worked alongside Wendy Sutherland-Smith identified multiple reasons why contract cheating took place. A main reason for contract cheating was fear of failure, an area that could be considered a possible consequence of a lack of time. Two more views from this work are also worth considering. The first was where students were said to have a goal of passing a subject, not learning about it, perhaps particularly relevant where they did not feel they would use the subject in the future. The second was where students were said to be not understand the seriousness of contract cheating. Those latter two views do not closely overlap, so it may be that there are several conceptions about contract cheating that need to be considered when working with students.

One of the main recommendations to come back from the work with student advocates in Australia is that students need specific modules on academic integrity. These modules need to be mandatory and a step change from the single lecture telling students not to plagiarise that is all that many students seem to get now.

Further, the teaching of academic integrity needs to be addressed on a global level. During our SE Europe research for SEEPPAI, we identified that many students are not even taught the basics about plagiarism, referencing or academic writing. These are core ideas that need to be taught as the basis for a strong commitment to academic integrity and reinforced for both staff and students continually throughout an academic career.

Working In Partnership With Students

I was very pleased to see the presentations and contributions about working in partnership with students to reduce contract cheating. Having a senior member of the National Union of Studies (NUS) in the UK attend the conference also showed how the issue is being considered as vital for discussion on a national level.

As well as providing something of a general theme, work with student advocates also provided the focus for Wendy Sutherland-Smith’s presentation.

Wendy also mentioned the fantastic work going on at Deakin University looking at contract cheating awareness, which has really led the way for activities going on in other countries. Deakin ran a contract cheating awareness week last year and plans to repeat it this year.

More widely, the first International Day of Action on Contract Cheating took place in 2016, with universities around the world participating to use local activities and social media to have a positive influence on academic integrity. I’m delighted to say that this activity is happening again in 2017.

The second International Day of Action on Contract Cheating will take place on 18 October 2017. I hope that many more universities can take part.

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,, 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”.

Contract Cheating and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 5 – Emerging Issues in Contract Cheating

This is Part 5 of the 7 part series examining Findings From Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017

There are always new emerging issues that relate to contract cheating and academic integrity. This post is my attempt to capture some of those ideas that don’t fit too cleanly with the other themes.

Addressing Contract Cheating Beyond The Academic Environment

Early in the opening keynote, Tracey Bretag proposed the use of the term outcomes instead of penalties when discussing academic misconduct cases. I’ll try and remember to use that terminology.

Phil Newton discussed his investigations regarding the legality of contract cheating providers. This continues to be location dependent.

Phil did discuss interesting findings from Rebecca Awdry that say a lot about public perceptions of contract cheating. Rebecca found that the majority of people think that it should be illegal for companies to sell essays to students. Perhaps more interestingly, they also thought that it should be illegal for students to buy essays and assignments. If such a development happened, this could make contract cheating into a criminal offence. Government legislation was also suggested as a solution by student advocates from Australia in research findings presented by Wendy Sutherland-Smith.

Trudy Somers suggested that contract cheating might need to be presented as a fraudulent activity. I don’t want to attempt to get into a legal discussion as this was said from a United States viewpoint, but there may be issues here with student loans having being obtained fraudulently if a student is found to have contract cheated. There may also be issues with the future credit scores of students. This seems like something worth warning students about if they are considering getting a mortgage, or even a loan for a new car, later in their life.

Student advocates also thought that students do not know enough about the possible consequences of contract cheating. Wendy Sutherland-Smith presented the results of research with advocates in Australia. One of their recommendations was that students need to be made aware about the risks posed to their wider professional registration. It certainly seems that the discussion with students regarding contract cheating posing more than just an academic outcome is worth having.

Other Academic Integrity Challenges

Some other challenges were discussed at the conference which I think are worth flagging, even if they are only tangentially related to contract cheating.

Much has been said in the past about a race between students and academics to get around any safeguards put in place to preserve academic integrity. One such example is the move away from “copy and paste” plagiarism to contract cheating, since word for word copying is detectable. There are also many more players getting involved in this race now, since helping students to cheat is seen as big business.

I’ve presented many times on the development of technology designed to enable cheating in exams, ranging from the sophisticate contract cheating like processes with third parties completing an examination for a student, all the way down to the simple micro-sized notes printed onto a fake water bottle label.

Some students have been looking at ways to defeat plagiarism detection software and have resorted to various types of article spinning and essay spinning. One of the most developed of these methods appears to be the use of translation software, an area which I’ve presented on and which was presented at the conference by Rui-Sousa Silva. There are various methods that students can use here, including using Google Translate to take an essay written in a foreign language and translate it into English, to taking English text and translating it through a chain of languages back to English, then ending up with text that is rather different than the original. I wouldn’t be surprised if many essay writers for contract cheating services weren’t using techniques like this to quickly supply work that gets around the “no plagiarism” guarantee that many essay mills advertise.

Rui believes that the patterns left behind by the machine translation can be detected and presented some initial ideas at the conference. There is a wider problem for linguistically able detectives to research here, as my foreign language skills are not at that level. Rui’s ideas do depend on knowing that something is amiss with the writing, or that the written ability does not match the spoken ability of a writer, but this is not possible in all situations. One thing I did discover that I wasn’t aware of is that Turnitin does now offer the detection of translation plagiarism in its software, but this isn’t turned on in many installations. This is a step in the right direction, even if the algorithms don’t perfectly solve this problem yet.

Translation is not always perfect, whether this goes through a machine or is completed by hand. I also noted that at the end of my talk, where a quote I gave to the media had become scrambled through translation and may even have been suggesting the opposite of what I intended. The quote was actually there to introduce a wider question about student cheating and smart drugs. These drugs are the (usually prescription) medication that students and professionals can take to stay awake, increase concentration levels and work more efficiently – that is, if the promotion behind these substances is to be believed.

I’ll discuss more about these substances, which appear under a variety of classifications including smart drugs, study drugs and nootropics, another time, but there is a wider question to be answered. This questions asks does using smart drugs gives a student an unfair advantage over another student that could be considered as cheating. Research is starting to emerge on this subject with much to suggest that the drugs do provide an advantage to some, but the cheating issue remains unanswered.

I’m pleased to say that the conference organisers quickly picked this topic up as one of the conference themes for Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2018 (using the term “mind stimulating drugs”). That means that there will be plenty of opportunities for the academic integrity community to research and address the smart drugs issue.

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