If a student can buy their way through school or university, then that's troubling
Aug 2019

Phillip Dawson – Contract Cheating and New Forms of Plagiarism

“If a student can buy their way through school or university, then that is troubling.”

Associate Professor Phill Dawson is Associate Director of the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning at Deakin University. Phill’s research interests include feedback; digital threats to academic integrity; academics’ assessment design thinking; and learning analytics.

This week the CLRI hosted Phill as he presented to a group of teachers on the ever-changing world of “contract cheating”; that is, the ways in which students cheat on assignments and examinations. Drawing on research from the university sector, Phill argued three main topics in his presentation;

  1. Cheating is changing!

It is no longer simply about catching students plagiarising words; cheating is a growing and complicated landscape. As a result, anti-cheating strategies are emerging, of both a high and low-tech variety, ranging from drones monitoring students in China, to Ethiopia cutting off all internet during final end-of-schooling examinations.

  1. Our approaches to deterring cheating needs to change.

There are no perfect solutions. Tighter turnaround times for assignments, banning essays as forms of assessment, and so forth are among the ways institutions are endeavouring to prevent cheating. Currently, there is even a bill before Federal Parliament which, if passed, would make it a criminal offence to advertise or provide cheating services. This could significantly impact the emerging industry which profits from charging students to complete their assignments for them online.

  1. We also need to think about the future of cheating.

Of great concern to many institutions is the fact that students who engage the services of so-called “essay help” websites are leaving themselves wide open to being the victim of blackmail. There is nothing to stop a person threatening to tell the student’s institution later (next month, next year, or 5 years from now) that they assisted the student to cheat. Additionally, when students submit their papers online to a plagiarism checker, that website is then on-selling the student’s work to someone else. That may come back to harm the student later on. So there are a myriad of ways in which our students can become unwitting victims, and we need to ensure they are educated about the risks

In the end, though, the only thing that will future-proof our young people is integrity. Phillip Dawson’s message was one of courage and insight.