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

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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.