Essay Mills Ghost Writers and University Students

Academic integrity, copying, plagiarism, collusion, ‘ghost writing’ and essay factories have become a fact of life in university or higher education, internationally.  This article endeavours to explain how or why is it an issue but at same time, short on what are the solutions?

While western democracies, and the developing world, have politicians, business and public leaders openly flouting ethical standards through egregious corruption and related unethical behaviour, is it any wonder?

Some solutions are precluded by universities’ corporate or financial needs e.g. rather than (barely modified) assessments that are more efficient to grade (or worse more multiple choice), there maybe a need for a return to in class open book and variety of assessments?

Academic integrity plagiarism essay factories and ghost writing for university students

Academic Integrity at University (Image copyright Pexels).

From The Guardian, Chris Husbands:

Essay mills prey on vulnerable students – let’s stamp them out

Universities alone can’t stop the rise of essay mills. We need support from the government and tech firms to defeat them

In the 1990s, there was enormous optimism around how the internet would connect people and make knowledge available to all. Fast forward twenty years, and identity theft, cybercrime, online bullying and appalling sexual exploitation have become everyday news stories. Increasingly, it’s the perversions of the internet which dominate our thinking.

The business model is simple. You have an essay to write, you are time poor, you pay a fee for the essay to be written. The fee these crooks charge depends on the length, the standard you are looking for, and the deadline you are facing….

For universities, the digital world’s most concerning development is the spread of essay mills. They’re not new: it’s always been tempting for some students to pay someone to do their work for them. But the internet has vastly eased the relationship between customers and suppliers, fuelling the growth of these essay mills….

….Learning is based on integrity and scholarship: showing that students have read, understood and been influenced by the work of others, and can explain how their thinking is new or different. Education is not about getting grades, it’s about being an active participant in learning opportunities. If some of that is difficult, well, difficulty is the point….

….The Secretary of State for Education’s announcement that tech firms should block payments to essay mills and students should report on their peers is a step in the right direction. We need to work together to preserve the integrity of the UK higher education system from these unscrupulous companies, and the way they prey on vulnerable students who don’t fully understand the implications of their actions.’

Chris Husbands is the vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University

For more articles and blogs about academic integrity, copying and student plagiarism click through.

 

 

 

 

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Study Advice for Starting University

Following is an article from The Conversation Australia with five tips for starting out at university including support services, time management, reading literature, plagiarism or academic integrity and personal responsibility.

Five top tips to succeed in your first year of university

February 25, 2019 6.15am AEDT

Tips and study advice for first year university students.

How to Study at University (Image copyright copyright Pexels).

This week, thousands of new students from around the country will be starting their first year at university. For many students and their parents, transitioning to university is an exciting but daunting experience. Here are five tips to help students succeed in their first year.

  1. Find support services

All universities offer student counselling, mental health, sexual health, disability services, careers centres, accommodation and financial support.

One of the first places to look for these services is on your university’s website under the heading, Current Students. Students should also attend presentations during orientation week, ask their tutors and course coordinators or contact their student centre to get more information.

 

The best way to get information is to talk to other students….

 

  1. Manage your time well

Learning how to juggle social and academic commitments is one of the most difficult challenges for new students. One of the best ways to manage study workloads is to draw up a semester plan. This can take the form of a timeline or calendar.

Students should start by entering in all assignments and exams on their semester plan and then work backwards to allocate time for researching, draft planning, proofreading and checking references…..

 

  1. Keep up-to-date with readings

One common theme across different faculties is that a good assignment is one where arguments have been debated and claims supported by evidence. In order to do this well, students need to do the weekly readings assigned in their individual courses.

You also need to read beyond the required list. Lecturers are not interested in students’ personal opinions. They’re interested in students’ opinions that are informed by evidence. That is, supported by the readings and research the student has done….

 

  1. How to avoid plagiarism

Learning how to reference reading sources correctly, to avoid plagiarism, is an essential skill. At the start of semester, most students have to complete online modules which explain the complexities of academic integrity.

Students caught plagiarising risk failing a course or being expelled from their degree. What this means for students is everything you read which has informed your thinking must be included in your reference list.

 

  1. Enjoy university life!

If you’re not happy with your course or subjects, you should get advice from your faculty. Students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning progress, but you should still talk to your lecturers about any concerns.’

 

For more blogs and articles about academic integrity or copying and plagiarism, critical thinking and soft skills click through.

 

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.

 

 

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.