Prevention, Detection and Policies in Contract Cheating - Higher Education Academy Workshop at Birmingham City University

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Information about Prevention, Detection and Policies in Contract Cheating - Higher...

Published on March 13, 2014

Author: ThomasLancaster



This talk, presented at the Higher Education Academy Contract Cheating workshop at Birmingham City University on 13 March 2014, provides training on what academics and support staff can do about contract cheating. Questions are provided as a means to open up further the discussion. A particular focus in on the issues of preventing contract cheating, detecting contract cheating, and the policies involved with plagiarism, academic integrity and contract cheating.

Contract Cheating Prevention and Detection Contract Cheating Within The Computing Discipline Workshop

Contract Cheating Prevention

Students are being done a disservice when staff do not make it clear that they are against contract cheating. Good assessment design is crucial. Need to design out opportunities to cheat. How much effort is put into assignment design? Students are expected to put hours into their own work. Is the same effort put into developing the assessment materials? Are they written clearly and originally? Why Prevent Contract Cheating?

Many universities devalue exams. A well-invigilated exam is hard to cheat on, and can accurately assess learning outcomes: Exams can be designed to assess more than memory. Many STEM subjects benefit from practical tests and exams. Students arrive at university now who are less experienced at coursework: Much GCSE assessment is exam based, or is work produced under classroom conditions. An examination component, even if small, means that students cannot pass by contract cheating alone. Prevent #1 – Type Of Assessment

A module, with multiple pieces of assessment, can be assessed as a coursework and a linked test. The test further assesses an element that the students completed in the assessment. For instance, in a computer based subject, this could require making a small modification to the coursework under test conditions. In a report based subject, this could involve reflecting on one element of the report. The preparation required for this test is relatively low if students have completed the work for themselves. The module marking should be constructed so that students who do not demonstrate understanding at this point cannot pass. Prevent #2 – Linked Test

In many ways, this can be considered a variant of the Linked Test method. Students are given a short individual viva and asked questions about their work in order to assess if they have done it. This is a very good way of checking deeper understanding, but can be more difficult with larger classes. It is also possible for a viva to cover more than one module for a deeper check. Prevent #3 - Viva

“There are students being caught at Leeds purchasing essays through several of the online sources mentioned above. Where this is reported by a department to the University (Office of Academic Appeals & Regulation) and the allegation is upheld, such students invariably face exclusion from the University, even for a first offence. Where a student is suspected of submitting work that may have been commissioned or bought, and is therefore beyond electronic detection, the University supports a department in questioning the student about the content of the work as part of the formal investigation at departmental level. Such questioning usually reveals in an obvious and often painful way that the student is not the author.” University Of Leeds Support

Most of the time, contract cheating is an individual activity. By getting students to work in teams, it is much harder for one student to disappear and not contribute. Such assignments still need to be carefully designed, so that students cannot end up just splitting work into multiple tasks that are completed in isolation. Opportunities need to be given for students to report suspicion without the chance for reprisals. It is best for teams to be assigned randomly to eliminate complacency and to simulate the workplace. Prevent #4 - Teamwork

Assignment briefs should never be reused, taken from other university websites, or taken from textbooks. This is unfair to students and this is tempting them to cheat. Often, model answers end up easily available. Assignment briefs can be personalised. Include recent news stories or academic research. Get the class to decide on an appropriate topic as a cohort. Structured assignment briefs can be generated Topics can be slotted in each year, to reduce the workload for redelivery. Students can be allocated their own topic out of a large selection. Prevent #5 – Original Assessments

Assignment briefs can be set which require students to have a local understanding. For instance, it can be required to use a certain lab, or to follow a computer programming style taught in class. An attendance component can be included. The student must show their logbook at 5 out of 6 sessions. Ask for changes based on what is shown. Students can still pass on these changes as they go through, but the effort required by them is now not far off from doing the work themselves. Prevent #6 –Local Knowledge

Assess more than just a single core element. For instance, in software development, assess more than just the source code produced. Critical reflection can be difficult to fake. What problems did I encounter? What would I do differently next time? What are the next skills I am going to develop? Prevent #7 – Require Reflection

Honour Codes are much used in the United States to ensure good academic behaviour. Students are required to report people who they know are not behaving, otherwise they are considered equally guilty. It may be possible to implement these, or some form of system where students are able to report their suspicions: For instance, could a reward be offered is a student finds an assignment specification on an auction site? Many students are already keen to have the opportunity to report things that are amiss. Prevent #8 – Honour Codes

An electronic copy of work can be easily checked for indicators who completed it: Look in the Properties. Look at the file time stamp and time of submission. Open in an ASCII editor. This can also help to identify students when an assignment specification is found on a contract cheating site. Prevent #9 – Electronic Submission

Automated plagiarism detection tools should always be used. This is generally Turnitin in the UK due to its large international database of previous work. Students need to be informed that their work is being checked for plagiarism. Although detection of contract cheating using these services is difficult, indicators are possible. Students do not always understand how these tools work, and this can be a deterrent. Third parties can cut corners and plagiarise themselves. Prevent #10 – Detect Plagiarism

Make sure that students know that you are aware of contract cheating and plagiarism. Many students assume that their tutors are not technically astute, and that they can use these methods of cheating. Ensure that plagiarism and contract cheating education is included in your course. Prevent #11 – Educate Students

Contract Cheating Detection

Ultimately, this is so the honest students aren’t penalised. The “don’t let them get away with it” attitude. Detection can be difficult, but there are some steps that can be taken to make this easier. Why Detect Contract Cheating?

On 11 January 2012, this message was posted on the JISC Plagiarism Mailing List. When applying for a hardship loan, why would you include bank statements as evidence that include reference to payment to “”? Oops. Had to laugh. Derek Sometimes, Detection Is Easy…

Monitor the main auction sites. This can be an individual job, or assigned as a role within a department. Look for jobs posted locally, or where the university is mentioned. A Google search can be powerful, but will not access internal databases. Detect #1 – Monitoring

Set up a Google Alert for terms used in the assignment. This will provide a regular email when new pages appear on the Web which mention that term. An alert can also be set for a given academic. Detect #2 – Google Alerts

Google Alerts

This technique is related to Google Alerts and monitoring. Where possible, add unusual words or terms to the assignment. This makes monitoring much easier. Made up town name. Foreign words. Detect #3 – Unusual Terms

Embed your own details into every assignment specification. These include your name, subject, email address and university. This means that, when an assignment is spotted online, it can be traced and a method of notification is available. For advanced results, also add this assignment specification to plagiarism detection engines (such as Turnitin). These are often used by people trying to detect contract cheating to identify unusual fragments within the assignment. Detect #4 – Embedded Details

This is primarily a method for traceability, when a student places an assignment specification online. It can also prevent plagiarism, where students copy from one another. Every student is given a unique problem to work from. This can be a unique set of questions or topics. Unique numbers for mathematical problems. An individual set of requirements to be met. For best results, embed this within a personalised PDF. Use the Word Mail Merge functionality or similar. Upload the individualised assignments to Turnitin. Detect #5 – Individualisation

A more advanced individualisation technique places visible and invisible indicators within a file. Visible indicators could include the name of the student, or the topics that they had been allocated. Invisible indicators could include sequences of blank spaces or hidden characters (those appearing as if they were blank to a user). A student stripping away the visible indicators is less likely to notice the invisible ones, leaving that element of traceability. Detect #6 – More Individualisation

Linguistic techniques exist that can check the author of a particular work. These require that a sample of work produced by that author is already available. These can be collected by early assessed pieces of writing completed in class. Continuing to collect work electronically through the career of a student is also helpful. Where the writing style differs greatly, this can be checked by observation. There is an on-going research problem to automate this process. Detect #7 – Writing Samples

Use manual and automated checks for plagiarism. Look for indicators that the work was not produced by the student: Unusual writing conventions, examples or place names. Textual indicators shown by Turnitin (look at all results, not just the obvious ones). Detect #8 – Check Everything

Contract Cheating Policies

Policies can help and hinder the prevention and detection of contract cheating. These can be on a departmental or institutional level. A number of policy decisions are presented, intended to open up discussion, or provide opportunities for improvements. Help Or Hinder?

One of the easiest ways to reduce contract cheating opportunities is to use examinations instead of coursework. Does this method accurately assess the student ability? Is widespread use of exams even permissible? Examination Policy

Students can be required to pass all items of assessment, which may be linked in some way. Could students pass a module purely by passing a single item of assessment which they could contract cheat on? Where two assessment items are linked - if students fail one of the two items, can that be used as evidence for them to fail the whole module? Pass Policy

Students who are attending classes regularly, and engaging with taught material, are much likely to produce work for themselves. They may also learn something in the process. Is there a way to mandate attendance? Can it be a requirement that some work is produced during taught sessions? Attendance Policy

Help people actively looking for contract cheating by making assignment specifications available. Are your assignment specifications available outside of a university intranet or password protected site? Do they contain details of the university, module and tutor? Upload the assignment specifications to Turnitin to provide content to match contract cheating work against. Make Data Available Policy

Some methods to detect contract cheating, such as vivas, are a potentially onerous assessment technique – but they give much higher levels of confidence of the originality of work. Does the Workload Allocation Model allow different modules to carry varying amounts of effort? Are all modules required to adhere to a standard delivery plan (e.g. set number of hours)? Is time given to pursue cheating cases? Workload Allocation Policy

Knowing the writing style of a student is important to identify work that they have not written. Does an anonymous marking policy prevent this? Anonymous Marking Policy

The university academic misconduct regulations need to explicitly mention contract cheating. Is a clear statement about contract cheating included? Are agency sites, essay writing sites and third parties explicitly listed as unacceptable? What level of evidence is required for a contract cheating case? Are the penalties appropriate? Are the academic misconduct regulations reviewed on a regular basis to take account of developments in the cheating world? University Regulations

Students should be explicitly educated about contract cheating. Do students ever hear that the contract cheating regulations are taken seriously, and not just ignored? How often are students educated on both plagiarism and contract cheating? “Name And Shame” Policy

Staff at all levels should be trained to ensure that they assess in a contract cheating friendly manner. Do all staff receive this training and are they receptive to it? Are checks made that staff have implemented what they were trained in? Do management understand the importance of avoiding contract cheating, and how this influences the value of academic qualifications? Training Policy

Staff should be required to indicate the steps they have taken to minimise contract cheating. Does assignment specification moderation explicitly check that this is original and the methods are suitable? Is there explicit reflection on the success of those techniques after the module has been delivered? Is good practice reported back to other staff by management? Moderation Policy

Any Questions?

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