This blog was co-written by Gemma O’Donoghue and Joshua Dymock

What do you do if you suspect one of our students has submitted academic work which is not their own? How confident do you feel in your ability to detect or respond to incidences of academic misconduct? TEQSA has recently released a self-paced, online short course to raise awareness of how to prevent and investigate instances of contract cheating.

Contract cheating is when “a student outsources their academic work to another person” (TEQSA, 2023). While this course is aimed at academic and professional staff directly involved with the academic misconduct policies and procedures, it would also be useful for those who’d like to upskill in this area. For those of you who fall in the latter category, we’ve outlined some of the main sections of the course we found most useful and insightful. 

What is the TEQSA Masterclass?

The course is focused on situations where contract cheating has occurred, and what should then happen at a procedural and policy level. It was created in collaboration with academic integrity experts from a range of different Australian universities. The units are modularised so you can choose modules relevant to your role or situation.

Why do students cheat?

Given our strong interest in learning and teaching, we found Module 2 (‘Supply and Demand’) to be particularly useful as it looks at why students cheat and what some of the main risk factors are. Students’ intentions, motivations and behaviours are diverse and influenced by an individual’s history and current circumstances.

The three main risk factors that increase the likelihood of cheating are stress, perceived prevalence/opportunity to cheat, and being able to rationalise cheating behaviours. Some of the rationalisations used by students to justify cheating include a perceived lack of care from their teachers, a lack of institutional support to help them develop their understanding of academic integrity, and dissatisfaction with the learning and teaching environment.

Our takeaway from this module was that although students are always responsible for their own behaviours, we can reduce the temptation to act unethically by showing students that we care about them and their learning. We can also ensure that students know what academic integrity is by demonstrating it in our learning and teaching practices.

How do students cheat?

One very useful resource used in this course is Phil Dawson’s ‘Taxonomy of Cheating’.

The taxonomy categorises cheating into four categories based not on the types of cheating but the affordances they provide:

  • providing access to unauthorised information (such as using smuggled notes in an exam)
  • cognitive offloading to a tool (such as using a calculator or paraphrasing tool when it’s not permitted)
  • outsourcing work to a person (such as contract cheating and exam proxies)
  • disrupting the exam process (such as finding ways to mask copy/paste plagiarism)

This prompted us to ask: how may we rethink our assessment types or design to encourage good academic integrity practice? 

What can we do about it?

The course outlines a range of different approaches to detecting and responding to suspected cases of contract cheating. The module on data sources looks at the range of tools available to detect cheating, while the module on procedural fairness examines best practice for ensuring that all students are treated fairly. We found the module on student interviews particularly practical, as it gave concrete examples of the kinds of statements that students are likely to make when being interviewed, along with appropriate responses to give in each case.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that we recognise that all of us have a part to play in upholding academic integrity, whether through assessment design, learning and teaching practices, or in the development and review of University policies and procedures.

You can register for the free TEQSA short course here. In addition, you can find out more about the UTS Student Misconduct rules and the information available to students on academic integrity.

For those who’d like to learn more about reducing the risk of academic misconduct through better assessment design and scaffolding, keep an eye on upcoming workshops through the LX.lab, or enrol into the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Teaching and Learning.

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