In some ways, you have to give credit where credit is due (even if it’s unethical). 

Someone sees a hole in the market and fills it.  Got a job you don’t want to do yourself, outsource it to someone willing to do it for you, at a cost.  Basic supply/demand.  This seems to be an increasingly held view of some students.  What’s the big deal, they shrug?  As we all know, the big deal is that they are missing the point of an assessment task, it’s value and the learning opportunity it presents.

Recently I attended a webinar on contract cheating hosted by Turnitin (they often run interesting webinars and archive past ones, you can view them through this link).  Hosted by Associate Professor Wendy Sutherland-Smith from Deakin University, Sutherland-Smith gave an overview of literature and Deakin’s research into contract cheating and why students turn to these services:

  • 3-10% of students use contract cheating
  • It’s a $300m industry (which means it won’t be going anywhere!)
  • Students fear the high stakes of an assessment
  • Students fear a specific skill set
  • They become desperate
  • They are unaware of the seriousness
  • They see outsourcing as a legitimate use of time and resources
image from Facebook advertising contract cheating services

Facebook contract cheating ad

I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a mini-exposé on contract cheating and buying fake qualifications.  It’s quite interesting a. how easy it is; b. how professional the sites look now; and c. the marketing they do.  Last week I was looking at some of these sites to get a gauge on how some students can fall for the idea that these are a legitimate service.   Now I’m receiving ads on Facebook.  I guess if the industry is worth $300 million, they’ve got the cash to splash.  A student also mentioned in passing that they (and others) have received targeted emails from companies.  To their student email account. 

This makes me wonder if students are critically questioning whether this is actually ethical to do, especially if others in their social circles see it as acceptable or is it just that they aren’t engaging any serious thought into the consequences?  These sites offer plagiarism free, money back guarantee, 24/7 support and also offer Turnitin reports. Tempting for some.

How can you tell if an assignment has been written by one of these services? 

Tantalising students with a Turnitin report.

Wendy Sutherland-Smith’s research found the following characteristics:

  • the task doesn’t answer the key questions
  • reflections are done badly
  • poor structure
  • sections are missing, including diagrams, tables, and charts
  • lack of discipline-specific discussion
  • lack of conceptualisation of key, specific theory covered in the unit

So what can be done to combat contract cheating? 

Obviously, it can’t be eliminated and clever, professional-looking advertising is working.  Sutherland-Smith suggests that a viva assessment is incredibly challenging for contract cheating, but you can also consider:

  • Unpacking with students their assessment tasks and their value: how they relate to what they are learning, what they are measuring and how these relate to real-world experiences.  Talk about the bigger picture.
  • Assessment design that brings in a building or staged approach, where for example, Task 2 requires a reflection or implementation of feedback from Task 1.
  • Assess the process, not just the product
  • Change up topics of assessment each time the unit runs and have tasks embed concepts from in-class discussion
  • Authentic assessment tasks, or problem-based learning where you give students a real-world problem or scenario related to your discipline
  • Incorporate peer and self-review
  • TEQSA’s resource Good Practice Note: Addressing contract cheating to safeguard academic integrity
Here’s some homework for you. Are your assessment tasks online? 

Do a web search on your unit code e.g.: ‘BSK101’ and you might be surprised what you find.

Upcoming Event – Academic Integrity Workshops – 1-3 May 2018

Posted by Rebecca Ritchie

One Comment

  1. As a linguist I can can see cash for essays in my sleep. It is often useful to get a piece of written work from students within the first couple of weeks of classes so we can then compare style and grammar with their submitted essays etc. However, this will not go away in Sydney ever. First of all there are advertisements for paid essays on the back of every toilet door over the entire university. Secondly, Sydney is a bloody expensive city to live in so most students I know have to work almost full time to be able to house and feed themselves. And it wouldn’t be the first time I have taken food into class so the students can concentrate on their work (because they don’t have empty bellies). Finally, these courses are expensive. Very expensive. Students just cannot afford to fail courses and add to an already ridiculous debt. I do not condone cheating…but I understand exactly why this happens.


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