Author: Val Lawrenson SFHEA Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching valawreson@uclan.ac.uk  

I have been an academic at the university since 2000. I am the academic liaison representative on the Technology Enabled Learning Team. Part of my role is to bring an academics perspective to the discussions around the integration of technology and pedagogy. As part of this role, I have recently attended an event about academic integrity and changes that Turnitin are planning to address the increasing challenge of contract cheating.

As an academic, I was not surprised to hear the number of plagiarism cases detected has been on the increase since 2012. Increases that could be attributed to academics use of originality reports produced by products like turnitin. I was however surprised to hear that between 3 – 10% of students admitted to having accessed one of the thousands of websites that currently provide assignment writing services (Newton, 2015). As internet provision and demands for “good” degree classifications expand the number of students accessing these services is expected to increase. Consequently, institutions now face the challenge of detecting and responding to increased numbers of contract cheating. This is particularly troublesome as contract cheating is not illegal and often there are no institutional policies in place.

I have little experience of students “cheating” and believe the problem is mainly associated with weaknesses in academic writing. Before the event, I had not considered the wider implications of “unfair means”. I was however aware of the impact in relation to the time involved gathering “evidence” and taking students through university processes. The examples presented at the event reinforced the implications of failing to address the challenge. These included a loss of the credibility of university awards and subsequently damage to the university’s reputation. One of the key points for me was how life threatening practice might result from students graduating without the prerequisite knowledge e.g. aircraft designers and health care workers.

The Turnitin Company are preparing to release a product that applies forensic handwriting analysis principles to submissions. In addition to the authenticity report, this product will provide further evidence to support unfair means investigations. As accuracy of the combined products is 80%, decisions to investigate unfair means will continue to be based on academic judgement.

This being the case it is important that as academics revisit our understanding and use of the Turnitin originality report. We will then be better able to advise students about ways in which work is analysed. We will also be ready to integrate the new product when it is released. Being familiar with the latest QAA report and local university policies is always a good thing. However, I believe one of the most important things we can do as academics is to look at ways that we design our assessment strategies to minimize the opportunity for “unfair means and contract cheating” to occur.

Keynote video by Phil Newton 


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