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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

University Education – Student Teacher Tutors or Professors?

Interesting article from The Conversation regarding university tutorial teaching or tutoring quality, students or academics?  The glib answer would be neither form of pedagogy, in fact ‘andragogy’ for adult learners shows that many should be learning together as students, not through teacher centred direction.

Can students teach as well as professors?

Student Tutorial Teachers or Professors? (Copyright image Pexels)

Research shows students are as good as professors in tutorial teaching

February 19, 2019 5.23pm AEDT

Professors and graduate students are at opposite ends of the university hierarchy in terms of experience, qualifications and pay. But at many universities, both do the same job: they teach tutorials offered in parallel with lectures.

Our research explores whether it makes sense for professors to teach tutorials – and we found it doesn’t. They are no more effective as tutorial instructors than students.

This finding implies that universities can reduce costs or free up professors’ time by asking students to teach more tutorials.

Measuring instructors’ effectiveness

We conducted a survey about tutorial instruction in OECD universities. Our results show that tutorials are used in 63% of OECD universities. At 25% of these institutions, tutorials are taught by students, 29% by professors and 46% by a mixture of the two.

Using professors to teach small groups is expensive, and reducing costs is a central concern given the increases in tuition fees and student debt.

We have studied the costs and benefits of using tutorial instructors with different academic ranks, using data from a Dutch business school that offers four key features. First, tutorials are taught by a wide range of instructors, ranging from bachelor’s students to full professors. Second, the school’s dataset is large enough (we observe more than 12,000 students) to give us enough statistical power to detect even small differences between instructors.

Third, at this business school students are randomly assigned to instructors of different academic ranks, creating a perfect experiment for seeing whether academic rank matters. Finally, we were able to supplement these already excellent data with measures of students’ satisfaction with the course, and students’ earnings and job satisfaction after graduation, for some of these students. This is important since instructors might matter in many ways and we need to cast a wide net to capture a range of student outcomes.

Students just as effective

Overall, our results show that lower-ranked instructors teach tutorials as effectively as higher-ranked ones. The most effective instructors – postdoctoral researchers – increase students grades by less than 0.02 points on a 10-point grade scale compared with student instructors. The differences between all other instructor types, from student instructor and full professor, is smaller than that.

Full professors are also no better than student instructors in improving students’ grades in the next related course or job satisfaction and earnings after graduation. We do, however, find that higher-ranked instructors achieve somewhat better course evaluations, but these differences are small.

These findings are counter-intuitive. Yet they are consistent with the general findings in primary and secondary education that formal education does a poor job at predicting who teaches well.

What could be the reason why all the extra qualification and experience of professors does not translate into better results for their students? The content of tutorials might be adjusted in a way that students can easily teach them. Further, lower-ranked instructors may compensate for their lack of experience by being better able to relate to students and being more motivated.

Key implication

The implications of our findings are obvious. Universities can free up resources by not asking their most expensive staff to do a job that students can do equally well. We show that the business school we study can reduce the overall wages they pay to tutorial instructors by 50% if they only employ student instructors.

There are, of course, reasons why universities might not want to exclusively rely on student instructors. Students might not be able to teach some more technically advanced master’s courses. There might be some research-inactive but tenured professors whose most valuable use of time is tutorial teaching. And, as with other research that rely on data from one institution, future studies need to show whether our results hold in other universities as well.

But even if these studies uncover some benefits to students of being taught by a professor, we would be surprised if these are worth the extra costs.’

 

Unclear what is quality teaching and learning? Higher education or universities put great importance upon narrow and high-level specialised knowledge exemplified by a doctorate, i.e. content or subject matter expert. Further, the vocational Certificate IV of Training & Assessment TAE40116 is included on many job descriptions as a desirable teaching qualification and meanwhile ‘real world’ experience can be ignored by institutions and/or embellished by the beholder (unlike the ID points system, all factors are not taken into account).

Related issues here, theory of teaching and learning, pedagogy (for children) is cited but for adults we should be speaking about andragogy.  Andragogy of adult education focuses upon adults’ need for knowledge, motivation, willingness, experience, self-direction and task-based learning.

Good instructional or learning design for adult centred learning:

  • broad and deep needs analysis based on learners’ knowledge, expertise and real skill gaps
  • motivated when they have input and some control over learning, activities and outcomes
  • participate in learner centred activities, interaction and social learning
  • opportunities to contribute knowledge, expertise and reflect on their business practice
  • contribution to and management of learning activities through tasks and problem solving; post course too.

A more complete qualification is the UK Cambridge RSA CELTA or TEFLA, especially behavioural theories fitting ‘andragogy’, including teaching skills, and dealing with significant numbers of adult students for whom English is not their first language.

Another issue to emerge has been that of ‘ID Instructional Design’ on behalf of university teachers, but not based upon subject matter or teach/learning skills (when ID is implicit for any competent teacher).

Finally, explaining in terms of cost (cutting or savings) may seem mercenary when high fees are now the norm for most students.

 

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.

 

Skills of Critical Thinking

Featured

Critical thinking and related literacies are viewed as essential soft, work or life skills to be taught and learnt by school students, apprentices, trainees, university students, employees and broader society, but how?

Following is parts of an article from The Conversation focusing upon argumentation, logic, psychology and the nature of science to help people understand and analyse the world round us in an age of fake news, conspiracy theories, anti-science and anti-education sentiments.

‘How to teach all students to think critically

December 18, 2014 2.27pm AEDT

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills.

The new course would be an elective next year and mandatory in 2016 with the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for education and students Shirley Alexander saying the aim is to give students some maths “critical thinking” skills.

This is a worthwhile goal, but what about critical thinking in general?

Most tertiary institutions have listed among their graduate attributes the ability to think critically. This seems a desirable outcome, but what exactly does it mean to think critically and how do you get students to do it?

So what should any mandatory first year course in critical thinking look like? There is no single answer to that, but let me suggest a structure with four key areas:

 

Argumentation

The most powerful framework for learning to think well in a manner that is transferable across contexts is argumentation.  Arguing, as opposed to simply disagreeing, is the process of intellectual engagement with an issue and an opponent with the intention of developing a position justified by rational analysis and inference.

 

Logic

Logic is fundamental to rationality. It is difficult to see how you could value critical thinking without also embracing logic.  People generally speak of formal logic – basically the logic of deduction – and informal logic – also called induction.  Deduction is most of what goes on in mathematics or Suduko puzzles and induction is usually about generalising or analogising and is integral to the processes of science.

 

Psychology

One of the great insights of psychology over the past few decades is the realisation that thinking is not so much something we do, as something that happens to us. We are not as in control of our decision-making as we think we are.  We are masses of cognitive biases as much as we are rational beings. This does not mean we are flawed, it just means we don’t think in the nice, linear way that educators often like to think we do.

 

The Nature of Science

Learning about what the differences are between hypotheses, theories and laws, for example, can help people understand why science has credibility without having to teach them what a molecule is, or about Newton’s laws of motion.  Understanding some basic statistics also goes a long way to making students feel more empowered to tackle difficult or complex issues. It’s not about mastering the content, but about understanding the process.’

 

This article is from 2014, however it is unclear what Federal and State Education Departments are doing to include the explicit teaching and learning of critical thinking skills to students via curricula and syllabi?

For more articles about university teaching and learning skills click through.