This post is the second part in a series on assessment security and academic integrity (AI). You can read part one here. This series is a recount of the key ideas and issues Phil Dawson presented at the webinar Detecting and addressing contract cheating in online assessment. Almost all of the research cited is his and the ideas are taken directly from his work.

We need both lenses to see

In this post I’ll explore a two pronged approach to combating contract cheating. We need to vigorously promote academic integrity and diligently ensure assessment security. You simply can’t have one without the other.

Academic Integrity

According to the International Center for Academic Integrity there are six fundamental values of AI:

  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Fairness
  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Courage

I think anyone concerned about academic integrity in higher education could agree with these principles. They are a strong foundation to cultivate in students and staff alike.

If a teacher does not involve themselves, their values, their commitments, in the course of discussion, why should the students?

Paul Wellstone, American academic and politician

In response to the growing concern about contract cheating, there is even an International Day of Action now in its fifth year, which student unions are encouraged to take up.

International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, October 21, 2020
International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, October 21, 2020

All these do reduce the occurrence of contract cheating. These approaches allow students to take ownership of the issue and fold academic integrity into their identity.

However, there is the risk that these approaches take on a paternalistic tone that lacks the nuance required for the problem, a little like the 1980s anti-drug ‘Just say no’ campaign.

Assessment security

…measures taken to harden assessment against attempts to cheat; this includes approaches to detect and evidence attempts to cheat, as well as approaches to make cheating more difficult.

Dawson, 2020

There is no shortage of paternalism when it comes to assessment security either. Sometimes that means figuratively or literally stripping test-takers of their protection in order to surveil them in what can be a humiliating experience. Sometimes hi-tech options such as surveillance drones are deployed, and at other times, countries have simply shutdown their internet access in its entirety.

These are examples of unhelpful incarnations of assessment security. But that’s not the end of the story. We can do better.

In actuality, we need the lenses of both academic integrity and assessment security to see clearly rather than the dichotomy of one or the other.

Academic Integrity

  • Trusting (honour codes).
  • Educative (what it means, and how it supports learning).
  • Proactive (solve the problem before it emerges).

Think ‘prevention’.

Assessment Security

  • Detecting (find the cheats).
  • Penalties (real consequences).
  • Proactive or reactive (Assessment design, and finding problems as they emerge.

Think ‘policing’.

How do we promote academic integrity? Talk to students.

Don’t be afraid to talk to students about the issue of contract cheating. They likely know about it already but they may think you don’t or may not understand the nefarious nature of the industry. Warn them that contract cheating sites blatantly lie (Rowland et al, 2018) and even engage in blackmail (Yorke et al, 2020).

They will lie about the cost, the qualifications of writers, and the quality of the work. They will extort further fees by threatening to expose student clients to their educational institutions. You don’t always get what you pay for – students need to know this.

Researchers from Deakin found that most of the contract cheating assignments they purchased failed the assessments they were purchased for. Even the “premium” services failed more often than the standard services in this study (Sutherland-Smith & Dullaghan, 2019).

We need a good learning environment, good student and teacher relationships, and good communication so that students are less likely to want to cheat but they know we know about cheating.

As mentioned in my first post in this series, contract cheating is everywhere. So we need to be having some frank conversations with students about it.

What types of tasks are most secure?

Graph showing students’ perceptions of the likelihood of contract cheating. Description in following text.
Data from Bretag, T., Harper, R., Burton, M., Ellis, C., Newton, P., van Haeringen, K., et al. (2019). Contract cheating and assessment design: exploring the relationship.

According to a survey of students, the top three tasks that were least likely to be contract cheated were reflection upon practicum, Viva, and something that was personalised and unique.

In contrast, those seen to be most likely to be contract cheated were assessments that were heavily weighted (50%+) and those with a short-turnaround time.

Want to know more about how you can discourage contract cheating in your assessments? Stay tuned for the third and final part in this series, coming soon.

Feature image by asim alnamat from Pexels

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