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Curtin University
Office of the Academic Registrar


Dr. Joe Clare - Rational, motivated students and suitable units: detecting suspected contract cheating of unsupervised written assignments

The expectation that problems cluster in a non-random way and the potential to design and implement targeted problem-prevention strategies provide a suitable platform for evaluating contract cheating: the act of a student commissioning a third-party to produce an unsupervised assessment which they then submit as if it were their own. Contract cheating has been identified in the Australian education sector as a contemporary, growing concern, facilitated by the internet with the potential to undermine current approaches to academic assessment. Based on the covert nature of this activity, comprehensive detection and prevention strategies have yet to be developed. With this in mind, in late 2015, Murdoch University undertook a preliminary analysis of existing institutional assessment data to try and uncover ‘unusual’ patterns relating to discrepancies between supervised and unsupervised assessment items. This process examined almost 4,000 student results from approximately 1,500 students in one School. Consistent with the opportunity theory expectations, this analysis exposed examples of unusually large differences between unsupervised assessments (essays) and supervised assessments (exams). Furthermore, these patterns clustered at the individual level (repeat ‘offenders’) and the unit level (repeat ‘locations’/’targets’). Although in-and-of itself, these are not definitively cases of contract cheating, the non-random nature of these patterns merits further analysis. This is particularly the case given that this approach could provide an avenue for targeted prevention, which need not result in academic discipline, as it would be possible to reduce both the suitability of high-risk assessment items and the motivation for potential offenders.

Dr. Michael Baird - Contract Cheating in Business Simulations: Detecting, Investigating, and Improving

Business Simulations are an excellent learning tool, and one that is going to become more common in courses in the future. Not only do they provide superior learning opportunities with little to no financial risk, they also qualify for work integrated learning. However Business Simulations are essentially a game, and this leads them to be gamed by students and/or third parties.

This presentation will outline the 18 month journey experienced in a course that relies heavily on a Business Simulation that is available and used worldwide, from the detecting and investigating of students involved in contract cheating, the process of establishing guilt and the penalties imposed, to the significant improvements implemented into the course to prevent and detect students in the future.

Dr. Glenda Jackson - Individual assessment mark analysis and the difficulties of acting retrospectively

Plotting and analysing marks on individual assessment items to support academic staff who have suspicions of contract cheating. Issues and difficulties of acting retrospectively.

Dr. Ainslie Robinson  - Preventative strategies through curriculum design to promote academic integrity at the University of Notre Dame, Australia 

In a university built on Catholic faith and values it might be surprising to find that Notre Dame is not immune to issues surrounding student academic integrity. Like other universities, Notre Dame also grapples with incidents where the authenticity of student work is questioned, whether it is as a result of an innocent mistake or via intentional contract cheating.  While the reasons students offer for seeking out inappropriate avenues of assistance with assessments might be common enough (stress, fear, lack of academic skills) the solutions going forward need to be increasingly creative, authentic and surpass a preoccupation with monitoring student behaviour.  Curriculum design is key and at Notre Dame, the focus is moving towards “front end” (re)design of assessment tasks to engage students in authentic activities that cannot easily be manufactured or duplicated, that avoid the possibility of on-selling to future cohorts, and that ultimately seek to promote the desired  values by designing unique and context-bound assessment opportunities.

A preventative approach, whereby students are ‘educated through design’ about academic integrity is deemed a win-win approach in that students learn skills about ethical scholarship that can be transferred into their professional practice, and academics gain back some degree of control over the ever-growing issue of contract cheating. 

Mrs Pnina Levine  - What to do if you suspect academic misconduct: a procedural fairness perspective

With the advance of technology and the internet, the market has risen to meet a demand with a proliferation of contract cheating web sites. This is a serious issue for universities because it has the potential to seriously damage the credibility of their degrees, as evidenced by the recent My Master cheating scandal. New forms of cheating, such as contract cheating, mean that universities need to re-think their practices and procedures to ensure that they are adequate, but also fair to students for whom the consequences of a mere allegation of academic misconduct may be significantly detrimental.  This presentation considers the application of procedural fairness to situations involving suspected academic misconduct, and recommends that it should apply at the earliest possible stage. 

Louise Kaktiņš  - An advertisement for contract cheating: What this tells us about international students’ attitudes to academic integrity

This paper analyses an advertisement for contract cheating targeting international students in a pathway program, and the implications regarding these students’ views on the nature of academic integrity. It appears that despite conspicuous claims offering an original, plagiarism-free assignment within the deadline, the very fact that such a service is advertised indicates the fractured perceptions of international students who obviously are aware of the dire consequences of plagiarism, yet are still prepared to “buy” an assignment.

The literature suggests that the issue of ethics is a particularly concerning one in the area of business-related studies – the preferred area of study for international students (especially those from Asia). Researchers indicate a fracturing in business education between the trappings and the ethos of being a professional – the former approach encouraged by the highly competitive money-oriented current business culture. 

Such concerns have been expressed as early as the 1980s such that “the academic literature suggests that changing attitudes towards what constitutes acceptable behavior in the business world has been a contributory factor toward a decline in student honesty…” (Lane & Schaupp, 1989, cited in Brimble & Stevenson-Clarke, 2005, p. 1) fostering an environment of “destructive entrepreneurship” (Baumol, 1990, p.7). 

It appears, therefore, that the loop is a continuous one and the complexity will be to determine whether reforming business education with a greater focus on ethical management will, in turn, overflow into nurturing a business environment that operates within a framework of greater integrity.

More specifically, the reluctance of students themselves (whether domestic or international) to engage in the writing process (for any number of reasons) leads to the stunting (or even nullification) of the academic discourse socialization process which in turn impacts on the potential for those students to develop viable academic identities and a sense of belonging. The flow-on effect is a loop of fraudulent activity which further disconnects these students from the core ethos of the academic community.

Keywords: contract cheating, destructive entrepreneurship, business ethics, academic discourse socialization