Detection of Student Plagiarism Ghost Writing Contract Cheating

Recent media news stories and documentaries have highlighted perceived issues of international student plagiarism, collusion, ghost writing and contract cheating.

Most institutions have systems and processes in place to deal with, or at least ameliorate the impact of sub-optimal academic integrity, including higher language requirements (and level testing at enrolment), Turnitin and other duplication detection software, in class assessments, assignment workshops, feedback and monitoring.

Issues of plagiarism, collusion, ghost writing and contract cheating at university by students.

How to stop or limit ghost writing and contract cheating (image copyright Pexels)

However, like other sectors, education is prone to only lip service being paid by some commissioners, owners, shareholders, management, academia and related; rather than enforcement of minimum regulatory compliance it’s viewed as a voluntary code by some.

The following is summary of an article about the issue and how to deal with it, in an American context which has recently seen SAT and related corruption for entry to top universities.

Detecting and Deterring Ghostwritten Papers: A Guide to Best Practices (from The Best Schools website)

By David A. Tomar

1 Introduction For ten years, I made my living helping students cheat. I worked as a professional ghost writer, completing homework assignments, producing essays, and composing senior theses for alternately desperate, lazy, or disengaged college and graduate students.

I worked as an independent contractor affiliated with various online paper mills and, between 2000 and 2010, spent nearly every day of my life immersed in academic research and compositional writing. Writing as many as 5,000 typewritten pages a year, I earned as much as many professors.

In November of 2010, I announced my retirement in a tell-all article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Using the pseudonym Ed Dante, I covered what was, for many, a first glimpse into the shadowy underworld of academic ghostwriting.

 

2 The Ghostwriting Business. Before it is possible to prevent and police ghostwriting, one must understand the industry. Though many educators are well aware of ghostwriting, how it happens and that it most likely has occurred in their own classrooms, just as many others have a limited or non-existent sense of its impact.

Quite to the point, of the many reactions that greeted my original article in The Chronicle, doubt and skepticism were among the most common. Some truly dedicated, earnest, and otherwise astute educators refused to accept not only that wholesale cheating of this sort could be perpetrated but that it could be done so consistently and effectively without detection right under their noses.

 

2.1 Prevalence….. Still, we may be able to deduce a great deal just from the accessibility and ease-of-use of ghostwriting services. According to an article in the New York Times regarding rising rates of student cheating, “research has shown that a major factor in unethical behavior is simply how easy or hard it is.”

We can say with great certainty that it is easier than ever to employ an academic ghostwriting service. If a student has the money, he or she has the means.

The vast majority of students locate these services simply by doing a Google search for “Custom Paper Writing,” “essay help,” “term papers,” “homework services,” “essay writing services,’” or any number of other pertinent word combinations. Each of these terms will ultimately return dozens of pages of relevant search results.

From what is immediately apparent though, we can conclude two things about the prevalence of ghostwriting:

  1. The inquiring student will find it easy to locate a desired service and begin using it; and
  2. The enterprising freelancer will find it easy to locate an employment opportunity and begin earning income from it.

 

2.2 Pricing and Structure Most companies operate using a similar pricing spectrum, charging between $10 and $50 per page depending on proximity of the deadline. For instance, Mypaperwriter.com prices its custom writing services between $17.55 and $45.85 per page. This is in line with the pricing spectrum and structure of the industry’s more lucrative companies.

The variance is usually determined by deadline. This is the measure used most frequently to dene an assignment’s price. Papers due in a week or more are typically bound to the low end of the pricing spectrum. For anything due in less than a week, the cost per page will go up as the number of days goes down. A paper due in less than 24 hours will fall on the highest end of the cost-per-page spectrum.

 

2.3 Clientele The ghostwriting industry enjoys a customer base comprised of three primary demographics. These are the likeliest perpetrators of ghostwritten plagiarism:

2.3.1 English Language Learners: International students often arrive at American universities without a background or meaningful support in English composition.

2.3.2 Composition/Research deficient students: A startling number American students—for whom English is a native language—will actually suffer from many of these exact same deceits

2.3.3 Lazy students: Some ghostwriting clients simply lack the motivation and interest to complete their own work, a condition that Farnese et al. (2011) call “academic moral disengagement.”[7] In many cases, a perfectly capable student will utilize an academic ghostwriting service as a way to cut down effort or improve his or her chances of receiving a better grade.

 

3 The Ghostwriting Conundrum…… However, the web has proliferated and simplified cheating, dramatically expanding the accessibility, visibility, and ease with which students can lift, recycle or otherwise claim authorship of work that is not their own. Consequently, the growth of this industry helped to provoke the growth of the plagiarism-detection industry of which Turnitin is a leading example.

Other notable sites include Viper, Plagscan, Plagtracker, Grammarly, Small SEO Tools, and Plagiarism Checker.

Turnitin represents the gold standard in plagiarism detection. Even so, given the limitations inherent in plagiarism detection, even Turnitin has no way to bring its extensive empirical data to bear on ghostwriting.

With these conditions in mind, we point to a handful of detection and deterrence challenges that are unique to ghostwriting:

3.1 Original, non-plagiarized content: Most ghostwriting companies are faithful to this service guarantee and will terminate independent contractors for failure to comply.

3.2 Low likelihood of raising suspicion: Ghostwriting places the onus on the educator to have initial cause for suspicion. This requires the individual grading a written assignment to sense a disconnect between the student and the assignment, which of course requires some initial familiarity with the student in question.

3.3 Difficulty of translating suspicion into proof: Cheating is, of course, a serious allegation and students have a lot riding on the completion of their education. So obviously, the average student will go to great lengths to deny any such allegations. Students are not afraid to get litigious if need be. The point is, as an educator, one must be very careful about levying the accusation without hard evidence.

 

4 The Four D’s of Ghostbusting

4.1 Design Design refers to the way a professor constructs assignments, course materials, tests, classroom time and the semester-long curriculum. This is an area in education where quality control runs the gamut from excellence to criminal incompetence. There are plenty of professors who work tirelessly to tailor assignments, materials and examinations to remain in-step with constantly evolving subject matter, student culture and best practices. But there are also plenty of professors who recycle old materials without scrutiny and who depend wholly on text-based content which most students could acquire without professor mediation.

4.2 Deterrence Deterrence refers to ways of diminishing the inclination, motive, or desire to purchase a ghostwritten paper…..That is, students at least believe that they are cheating out of ease, normalcy, or necessity. The study finds that the onus falls on instructors to live up to certain student expectations regarding clarity and engagement of course content. The study identities this as the best route to deterring the rationalized impulse to use a ghostwriting service.

Practical Strategies

4.2.1 Individualization: Individualization of the educational experience can instill in the student a greater sense of commitment to course materials and to the knowledge and career opportunities thereby implied. Large lecture halls and online courses can create a sense of anonymity for the would-be cheater.

4.2.2 Conferencing: One thing that large universities and online courses have in common is that, if one desires, one can go an entire semester without ever once personally meeting a professor. There is comfort in this anonymity. Removing this comfort creates a deterrent that does not otherwise exist.

4.2.3 Emphasis on in-class participation: Mandatory class participation heightens the imperative for students to become familiar with course content. Mandating contributions to class discussions gives students a strong incentive to establish a consistent voice and perspective on course subjects.

4.2.4 Student engagement: This one is really and truly up to each individual educator. It is within every educator’s power to be as creative, energetic, inspiring, original, unpredictable, and engaging as he or she wants to be….Many students feel no remorse about cheating in a course from which there is a feeling of disengagement. Uninspired lectures, standard texts, and generic assignments serve as great ammunition for a student who wishes to rationalize his or her detachment.

4.2.5 Miscellaneous strategies of deterrence: Course discussions where students are invited to share research experience and knowledge Professor lectures based on and attributed to content drawn from student assignments A requirement for students to occasionally present research findings or other written work to the class or professor.

 

4.3 Detection Detection is both a manual process driven by professorial experience and a technology driven process with continued room for growth and improvement.

Practical Strategies

4.3.1 Assignment exit interviews: Standardizing one-on-one conferencing with each student following assignment submission requires each student to defend his or her writing.

4.3.2 Manual literary fingerprinting: Of the many strategies outlined in this account, this may well be the most readily adaptable to any context where writing forms a portion of the coursework. Here, the orientation process for any writing intensive course will begin with an in-class writing assignment.

4.3.3 File properties: One way to improve the chances of detecting ghostwritten work is to simply be a savvier user of technology than the average cheating student. It’s easier than one might think.

4.3.4 Computational literary fingerprinting: Based on the effectiveness and value of Turnitin.com as a strategy for plagiarism detection of the non-ghostwritten variety, this strategy may best predict the future of ghostwriting detection.

 

4.4 Dedication Detection is all well and good, but let’s face it, people good at detection are more likely to join a police force than a teachers union. Teachers are in the classroom to teach. This is where the fourth “D” comes into play. The instructor must be dedicated to the education of his or her students, not just to punching an academic time card.

Practical Strategy

4.4.1 Identify struggling students and see that they get help: These are the students who are by far the most likely to employ a ghostwriter. In order to reduce the presence of the ghostwriter in the classroom, educators must take pre-emptive steps to identify those who are most likely to need his services.

 

For more blogs and articles about international students, academic integrity and international education click through.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Immigration Population Growth Decline NOM Net Overseas Migration

For the past 10+ years Australia, the Anglo and western worlds have been obsessing in the mainstream about ‘immigration’ and ‘population growth’ as negative factors for the environment, economy, quality of life, infrastructure, traffic congestion, ‘carrying capacity’ etc. based upon misrepresentation and/or misunderstanding of data, analysis and facts.

However, in Australia as opposed to most nations, pension reform, introduction of superannuation, skilled permanent immigration and net financial contributions from temporary resident ‘churn over’ should maintain a balance between social responsibilities of the government and financial management.

In much of this public discourse, political lobbying and news based PR many facts and much data are distorted and/or ignored.  This includes conflation of permanent and temporary immigration, the ‘NOM net overseas migration’ (border movements) equated with directly with ‘(permanent) immigration’, definition change of the NOM (used only by UK, Australia and NZ) by the UN in 2006 inflating/spiking headline numbers, individuals whether international students, backpackers and other temporaries, along with Australians, caught up in the NOM are described as ‘immigrants’ (even when the majority have neither access to permanent residency nor an interest).

Further, false correlations are made with international data suggesting infinite population growth when peak fertility has long passed (ex sub Saharan Africa), comparisons made between different data sets, population is expected to peak (sooner rather then later according to some e.g. Deutsche Bank) and dismissing the impact of ageing work forces now retiring, increasing pension and related service responsibilities, with less tax payers in the permanent population; back grounded by a significant baby boomer ‘die off’ approaching.

This has been back grounded or reinforced by Nativist policies, creating fear, antipathy towards non-Europeans and encouraging isolationism e.g. strong borders, closed economies with tariff walls, low or no growth, and aspirations for ‘sustainable population’ (whatever that means).

The University of Melbourne’s Peter McDonald analyses further in an article for The Conversation:

Why cutting Australia’s migrant intake would do more harm than good, at least for the next decade

December 13, 2018 4.20pm AEDT

Australia’s population is among the fastest growing in the OECD with an increase of 1.7 per cent in 2016-17.

In Sydney and Melbourne traffic congestion has become so intolerable many believe a cut to migration would provide time for infrastructure such as roads and trains to catch up.

Net Overseas Migration was 262,000 in 2016-17, one of the highest levels on record.

They are all compelling reasons to cut the size of the migration program, right?

No, not right. Not at all.

Our migration program is no bigger than it was

Including the humanitarian movement, the government migration program has been set at a near-constant level of a little over 200,000 since 2011-12.

In 2017-18, although the level set in the budget remained above 200,000, the actual intake was 179,000, including an unusually large intake of refugees mainly from Syria and Iraq.

The combined Skilled and Family Streams fell short of the levels set in the budget by 28,000. The reasons for this shortfall are unclear.

‘Net overseas migration’ is different to migration

Net Overseas Migration includes the government program but also other movements in to and out of Australia which both add to and subtract from it.

The net effect of all of these movements can change the recorded “net overseas migration” in ways that are inconsistent with what’s been happening to the migration program.

If, for instance, the Australian economy picked up and fewer Australians decided to leave for better prospects overseas, recorded “net overseas migration” would increase even if the migration program hadn’t.

The two have been moving increasingly independently since mid 2006 when the Australian Bureau of Statistics changed its definition of “resident”, making temporary residents more likely to be counted in the population and their movements counted in net overseas migration.

Over the past five years, the number of international students arriving has increased every year but there have been few international student departures.

Inevitably, the departures of students will increase in future years and recorded net overseas migration will fall sharply again.

So, forget the near-record official net overseas migration figure of 262,000 – the underlying level of net overseas migration is more likely to be around 200,000. The underlying level of population growth is about 1.4%, and falling.

We’ll need strong migration for at least a decade

A new study by Shah and Dixon finds there will be 4.1 million new job openings in Australia over the eight years between 2017 and 2024.

Over two million of these new openings will be due to “replacement demand”, effectively replacing the retirements from the labour force of baby boomers.

There will not be enough younger workers arriving to fill the gap….

It means that without migration Australia would face a labour supply crunch unlike anything it has ever faced before.

Slowing or redirecting it won’t slow congestion…

…Net overseas migration of 200,000 per annum would give us 6.8 million more people of traditional working age by 2051 than would no net migration, but only 400,000 more people aged 65 years and over.

It would place Australia in a better position to support its aged population than any other country in the OECD.’

For more articles about Australian immigration news, demography, Nativism, NOM net overseas migration, population growth and international students.

 

 

 

Student Copying, Plagiarism, Essay Factories and Ghost Writers

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.