Student Copying, Plagiarism, Essay Factories and Ghost Writers

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A recent article from The Conversation analyses issues with plagiarism or cheating, especially amongst international students, although a little light on insight and innovative solutions e.g. why or why not use essays in assessment?

Essay factories and ghost writers have become an issue in international education especially.

Cheating Amongst University Students (Image copyright Pexels)

Doing away with essays won’t necessarily stop students cheating

December 20, 2018 6.06am AEDT

Julie Hare Honorary Fellow, University of Melbourne

It’s never been easier for university students to cheat. We just need look to the scandal in 2015 that revealed up to 1,000 students from 16 Australian universities had hired the Sydney-based MyMaster company to ghost-write their assignments and sit online tests.

It’s known as contract cheating – when a student pays a third party to undertake their assignments which they then pass off as their own. Contract cheating isn’t new – the term was coined in 2006. But it’s becoming more commonplace because new technologies, such as the smart phone, are enablers.

Cheating is taken seriously by universities and the national regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. Much of the focus has been on changing assessment tasks to ones deemed to be harder for a third party to undertake. This is called “authentic assessment”.

This type of assessment has been widely adopted at universities. They are comprised of tasks that evaluate knowledge and skills by presenting students with real-world scenarios or problems relevant to the kinds of challenges they would face following graduation. But new research found authentic assessment may be as vulnerable to cheating as other more obvious examples, such as essays.

What the research shows…

….They found, for both students and teachers, assessments with a short turnaround time and heavily weighted in the final mark were perceived as the tasks which were the most likely to attract contract cheating.

Assessments perceived as the least likely to attract contract cheating were in-class tasks, personalised and unique tasks, vivas (oral explanations of a written task) and reflections on practical placements. But these tasks were the least likely to be set by educators, presumably because they’re resource and time intensive….

…So what do we do about it?

This research provides yet more compelling evidence that curriculum and changes to teaching strategies and early intervention must be employed to support students’ academic endeavours…

…The data demonstrates assessment tasks designed to develop relevant professional skills, which teachers are highly likely to set, were perceived by students as tasks that can easily be cheated on. These might include asking accounting students to memorandums, reports or other communication groups to stakeholders, such as shareholders. In fact, among students from a non-English speaking background, the risks of cheating might actually increase for these tasks. This means authentic assessment might run the increasing risk of being outsourced.’

Solutions?

Related strategies could also include educating (international) students about ‘learning how to learn’ as used in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) sector, discouraging rote learning and regurgitation, management supporting teaching and learning with appropriate funding and systems.  Related, less pressure on enrolment and retention rates, then more innovative ongoing assessments including shorter open book exams and in class assignments with focus upon higher level skills according to Bloom’s taxonomy i.e. analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

For more related articles and blog posts about academic integrity, assessment, copying, learning, pedagogy and student plagiarism click through.

 

 

 

 

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Student Evaluations in Higher Education and Universities

While student evaluations or ‘happy sheets’ become routine in higher education and universities, some question both effectiveness and efficiency in using such instruments to assess quality. Further, what is quality in teaching, learning, assessment, technology, administration and student well-being, then how and when should it be applied?

Student feedback and evaluations in higher education

Student Experience Feedback (Image copyright Pexels)

From the AIM Network Australia:

Mutual Decline: The Failings of Student Evaluation

November 30, 2018 Written by: Dr Binoy Kampmark

That time of the year. Student evaluations are being gathered by the data crunchers. Participation rates are being noted. Attitudes and responses are mapped. The vulnerable, insecure instructor, fearing an execution squad via email, looks apprehensively at comments in the attached folder that will, in all likelihood, devastate rather than reward. “Too much teaching matter”; “Too heavy in content”; “Too many books.” Then come the other comments from those who seem challenged rather than worn down; excited rather than dulled. These are few and far between: the modern student is estranged from instructor and teaching. Not a brave new world, this, but an ignorant, cowardly one.

The student evaluation, ostensibly designed to gather opinions of students about a taught course, is a surprisingly old device. Some specialists in the field of education, rather bravely, identify instances of this in Antioch during the time of Socrates and instances during the medieval period. But it took modern mass education to transform the exercise into a feast of administrative joy.

Student evaluations, the non-teaching bureaucrat’s response to teaching and learning, create a mutually complicit distortion. A false economy of expectations is generated even as they degrade the institution of learning, which should not be confused with the learning institution. (Institutions actually have no interest, as such, in teaching, merely happy customers.) It turns the student into commodity and paying consumer, units of measurement rather than sentient beings interested in learning. The instructor is also given the impression that these matter, adjusting method, approach and content. Decline is assured…

…Education specialists, administrators and those who staff that fairly meaningless body known as Learning and Teaching, cannot leave the instructing process alone. For them, some form of evaluation exercise must exist to placate the gods of funding and quality assurance pen pushers.

What then, to be done? Geoff Schneider, in a study considering the links between student evaluations, grade inflation and teaching, puts it this way, though he does so with a kind of blinkered optimism. “In order to improve the quality of teaching, it is important for universities to develop a system for evaluating teaching that emphasises (and rewards) the degree of challenge and learning that occurs in courses.” Snow balls suffering an unenviable fate in hell comes to mind.

Student feedback or evaluations are an essential part of assessing, maintaining and improving quality in education and training.  However, much research and expertise is required for such instruments to be used optimally for positive outcomes.

For more articles and blogs about higher education teaching, CPD continuing professional development, enrolled student feedback, evaluation, student satisfaction and university teaching skills, click through.

 

Why students copy, plagiarise, collude or cheat?

Student copying, plagiarism and collusion challenge academic integrity and ethics, but why does it exist?

The following article from The Conversation outlines issues but does not address those related to cross cultural or social issues, pedagogy of top down content and encouraging teacher or lecturer centred rote learning and regurgitation of content with only lower to mid-level skills or outcomes according to Bloom’s taxonomy.

15% of students admit to buying essays. What can universities do about it?

October 18, 2018 3.55pm AEDT

New research on plagiarism at university has revealed students are surprisingly unconcerned about a practice known as “contract cheating”.

The term “contract cheating” was coined in 2006, and describes students paying for completed assessments. At that time, concerns over the outsourcing of assessments were in their infancy, but today, contract cheating is big business.

In 2017 alone, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported more than 20,000 students had bought professionally written essays from the country’s two largest essay-writing services.

According to a 2018 study, as many as 31 million university students worldwide are paying third parties to complete their assessments. This staggering figure was drawn by reviewing 65 studies on contract cheating. Since 2014, as many as 15.7% of surveyed students admitted to outsourcing their assignments and essays.

The growth in contract cheating speaks volumes about the modern view of education as a commodity…..

…..One key problem for overhauling assessment design is the troubling proliferation of casual labour in universities. The development of assessments is rarely, if ever, accounted for in casual teaching rates.

Turnitin works to reduce students’ work into patterns and algorithms, weeding out supposed cheats and frauds. But a more considered response must take into account the complex reasons students turn to these services in the first place.

Understanding why students are willing to pay for assessments might also illuminate a problem at the heart of tertiary education – one that is related to our present repackaging of knowledge as a resource to be bought, rather than an ennobling pursuit that is worthy of all the energy, time, and attention teachers and students can devote to it.’

 

In the case of many international students it’s having them relearning how to learn, through eliciting content, building knowledge and developing higher level skills through student centred interaction and collaboration supported by personal responsibility, i.e. ‘andragogy’ for adult learners.

For more articles about andragogy for adult learning click through.

 

 

ID Instructional Design Models in Education

Cognitivism and Connectivism Learning Theory page as part of an EdX Instructional Design course.

Cognitivism is student centred learning via an existing knowledge base and building upon it according to learner preferences, how they organise memory, how information is linked, learning how to learn, problem-solving and the student learning journey is supported by clear instructions and information (Hanna, 2017).

Further, there is the Three-Stage Information Processing Model including Sensory Register to assess inputs, Short-Term Memory where input can be stored e.g. 20 seconds and then Long-Term Memory and Storage retrievable by linkages that have been developed (Mergel, 1998).

Application of andragogy for adult learning versus pedagogy for school.

Adult Learning Theories in Higher Education (Image copyright Pexels)

Connectivism is like social learning through others or networks, identify patterns, knowledge based round networks and exemplified in complex learning e.g. round information and technology (Ibid.).

Both can be used for the same education and exemplars, by using both theories to support instructional design, student centred activity and learning, building upon knowledge and experience for inexact outcomes; as opposed to behavioural focus.

In the first case, cognitivism using a course e.g. ‘Introduction to Digital or e-Marketing for Small Business’,  focus upon one learning outcome, ‘ability to analyse (digital) marketing and communication’

Rather than present information or content activities which maybe new and/or overwhelming, assess the knowledge level before training, then drive instruction and achievement of learning objectives via learners and learner centred activity (but monitored an assessed closely).

Instructional Design for Adult Learners in ‘Introduction to Digital or e-Marketing for Small Business’:

Preview by using images to elicit key words, channels etc. related to conventional marketing and communication.

Presentation repeat preview to include digital also and elicit the elements.

Practice by learners listing both types of elements in a small business example marketing and communications; report back to class.

Production in pairs for their own business, assist each other, compare notes then present to each other/class.

Wrap-up Class discussion and/or milling activity to compare with other learners’ ‘production’ and feedback on key points, rules or issues.

Connectivism can be applied to the same course area and learning outcome, not just in the direct learning environment but post learning, i.e. back in the workplace and business environment.  Accordingly, if learners are mostly small business people, already responsible for marketing and communications and sharing a desire to improve application of digital in their business practice, they should be motivated for connectivism.

Within the formal learning, connectivism would fit cognitivism approach above, with symmetry in each phase, but especially with increase in learner interactivity with production and wrap up or review.  Connectivism can then also be followed up informally by learners remaining in communication with each other (e.g. WhatsApp or LinkedIn Group), industry sector networking opportunities and/or local chamber of commerce.

Andrew Smith Melbourne LinkedIn Profile

 

Reference List (Harvard):

 

Hanna, M. (2017) Learning Theory Matrix. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8d28/2833c35fb8b9ea74bf2c930cea22fb1e0fad.pdf (Accessed on: 16 November 2017).

Mergel, B. (1998) Instructional Design & Learning Theory.  Available at: http://etad.usask.ca/802papers/mergel/brenda.htm#Cognitivism(Accessed on: 17 November 2017).

 

Copying and Plagiarism at University

Copying and plagiarism have always been apparent for various reasons and manifested in many ways.  Reasons can include rote learning via pedagogy versus andragogy, not coping or under time pressure which can lead to short cuts that can be easily identified by software such as Turnitin.

From Henrietta Cook in The Sydney Morning Herald:

How unis can beat the cheats by finding ‘fingerprints’ in their essays.

The tell tale signs of a cheat could be lurking in a comma or a seemingly innocuous double space after a full stop.

As universities grapple with a rise in contract cheating – which involves students outsourcing their assessments – technology is clamping down on the unethical practice by monitoring students’ unique writing styles.

The software, which has been created by US-based company Turnitin and will be launched later this year, is being developed and tested at Australian institutions including Deakin University, the University of New South Wales, the University of Wollongong and the University of Queensland.

Forensic linguists – the experts who scrutinise ransom notes and suspicious wills – helped identify 70 different factors that feed into a person’s unique writing style.

These include the use of commas, parentheses and dashes, how they list examples and whether they double space after a full stop…

…. Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said universities were continually coming up with new ways to detect cheating.

“There’s a clear message to all students in this: if you try to cheat, it’s very likely that you’ll get caught. So just don’t do it.”’

 

Advice for students (and institutions) would be learn how to write academically (should be compulsory in all university foundation and/or bachelor degree programs), plan well with time management to include good research of references or sources, use required referencing system (correctly) included in process of note taking, paraphrasing and synthesis, have draft for checking by lecturers, tutors or learning advisors, for feedback.

Further, institutions could provide a generic TurnitIn point for students to check essay or report drafts and be rewarded for process, as well as grade outcomes.

For more articles and blogs about teaching, learning and assessment click through.