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Nowhere to run for cheaters

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While it’s prevalent at universities, cheaters’ days might be numbered as markers have shown themselves to be adept at indentifying which assignments are not the work of the student and the ability improves with training.

Around 15.7% of university students admit to contract cheating or paying others to do their assignments for them which makes for an industry with an estimated global worth of approximately $400 million.

In a new study from Deakin University, 15 markers were each presented with a bundle of assignments and asked to decide whether they were the products of contract cheating or genuine student work.

Prior to training, markers correctly labelled papers 75% of the time (they were correct on 58% of cheating papers, and 83% of legitimate papers). Afterwards, they were presented with new assignments, and got it right 86% of the time. Their improvement lay mostly in correctly identifying cheating papers (up to 82%). Their correct identification of genuine work also increased, but not significantly.

The authors of the study, Associate Professors Phillip Dawson and Wendy Sutherland-Smith, are experts on plagiarism, cheating and academic integrity.

Dawson said that contract cheating poses major problems for higher education and the wider community. “Community confidence in higher education suffers when students appear to be able to buy their way through degrees.

“Most critically, public safety is endangered when students cheat to gain accreditation into professions with significant responsibility.

“Contract cheating website operators make sophisticated sales pitches to potential students, involving money-back guarantees, 24-hour online support, and even copies of Turnitin similarity reports,” said Dawson.

“While we cannot stop most of these services, our study provides strong evidence against one of their common promises: that contract cheating is undetectable.”

The Deakin University study, though limited in scope, was the largest of its kind so far. The markers were drawn from four disciplines (psychology, biology, nutrition, and marketing). Each marked 20 assignments in their own discipline prior to training, and 20 new assignments afterwards, resulting in a total of 600 instances of marking.

The training involved a three-hour workshop, in which groups of the markers debated four assignments — unbeknown to them, the ones they had most frequently got wrong. They then reached new decisions on them, and were then told whether they were right or wrong. They discussed, took notes, then repeated the process for the rest of the assignments.

“Based on our results,” say the authors, “we recommend universities inform all teaching staff about what contract cheating is, and we suggest that in particular areas of concern it may be useful to provide markers with specialist training on detecting contract cheating.”    

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