Strategies on Addressing Contract Cheating: A Case Study from an Australian Regional University

Strategies on Addressing Contract Cheating: A Case Study from an Australian Regional University

Eric Kong (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Steven Ching-Nam Goh (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Benjamen Franklen Gussen (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Joanna Turner (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) and Lindy-Anne Abawi (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1610-1.ch009
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Contract cheating is becoming a real challenge to many universities. Not only is it a relatively new phenomenon, but also it is difficult to prove as the work is often original and unlikely to be detected using standard anti-plagiarism text-matching services such as Turnitin or Erkund. Using a literature review approach, this chapter examines why students in general would take risks to engage in contract cheating and what strategies could be implemented to prevent or lower the chance for them to be engaged in this type of academic misconduct. An Australian regional university, which is also a leader in distance learning in the country, was used as a case for this study. The findings and recommendations provide insights for Australian university policy-makers when developing strategies, procedures and policies to face this issue. Limitations and future research directions are also discussed.
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First publicized by Clarke and Lancaster (2006), contract cheating is defined as the submission of assessment which students have paid contractors to write on their behalf. Clarke and Lancaster (2007) classified mechanisms for contract cheating into:

  • Auction sites;

  • Discussion forums;

  • Essay mills; and

  • Feed aggregators, listing several contract cheating websites that fall into each category.

Mahmood (2009a) added that students may contract known colleagues to complete assessment on their behalf. Contract cheating is a form of academic dishonesty recently identified as a serious concern for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Although most commonly in the form of essays, the work commissioned in contract cheating may include almost any form of written work pertaining to lab-based sciences, medicine, computer-related modules, or any other technical subject material (University of St. Andrews, 2016).

The University of St. Andrews defines that contract cheating occurs whenever assistance in completing an assignment is enlisted from any outside source that is offering its services and this outside source may include, but is not limited to, another student, a non-student, or a company specializing in producing essays and technical writing (University of St. Andrews, 2016). It may include the use of friends and family, using discussion forums, using tutorial forums, using essay banks, and using auction sites. In its simplest from, contract cheating, if it is a paid work, is a fixed price contract for the delivery of a piece of assessment at a certain standard, and within a certain timeframe (Rigby, Burton, Balcombe, Bateman, & Mulatu, 2015). The price of such a contract could also be the outcome of a bidding process (Rigby et al., 2015). Some researchers limit contract cheating to outsourcing via online auction websites (O’Malley & Roberts, 2011). Some extend to include services offering ‘substantive editing’ (Lines, 2015).

The subject of contract cheating remains a relatively new phenomenon in the Higher Education (HE) sector and published research into the practice is still limited. However, contract cheating is arguably less accidental than other forms of plagiarism and thus specific research is required into student perceptions of contract cheating, as well as their identified reasons for committing the practice. As little reliable data on the subject of contract cheating has been made available for the current investigation, a critical analysis of the relevant literature is adopted providing a cogent and comprehensive perspective on the theoretical and practical aspects of the subject. Bourguignon et al. (2004) argued that a literature-based analysis helps to increase the level of clarity and precision of a concept, which is a necessity if we are to understand the subject and its impact to the HE sector. This literature review has considered the body of published research on contract cheating and found significant gaps.

Existing literature has largely focused on describing issues surrounding contract cheating and proposed solutions to deter or detect the practice. Several studies have begun to gain understanding of key issues, such as the size of and economic characteristics of the market, as well as student perceptions and reasons for contract cheating. However, these studies highlight the extent of additional research that remains to be conducted and highlights that smaller, qualitative studies may offer valuable insights into the practice and could be conducted by drawing on academics’ own teaching experiences. This literature review also found that, unlike online and traditional forms of plagiarism, contract cheating poses a particular problem for academic institutions as the individual assessment product has been specifically written for the student and therefore is difficult to be detected by conventional anti-plagiarism methods (Clarke & Lancaster, 2006). It is also found that the subject was not well understood among academics.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Turnitin: An Internet-based anti-plagiarism text-matching services created by iParadigms, LLC, first launched in 1997. Typically, academic institutions buy licenses to submit essays to the Turnitin website, which checks the documents for unoriginal content. The results can be used to identify similarities, usually in a percentage, to existing sources or can be used in formative assessment to help students learn how to avoid plagiarism and improve their writing.

Academic Dishonesty/Academic Misconduct: A form of cheating that occurs in relation to a formal academic exercise and may include: plagiarism; fabrication; deception; cheating; bribery; sabotage; professorial misconduct and impersonation. Academic dishonesty or academic misconduct has been documented in every type of educational setting from elementary school to university.

Contract Cheating: Contract cheating is a form of academic dishonesty in which students get others, either paid or unpaid, to complete their academic work for them by putting it out to tender. Although most commonly appear in the form of essays, the work commissioned in contract cheating may include almost any form of written work pertaining to lab-based sciences, medicine, computer-related modules and assignments, or any other technical subject material.

Higher Education: HE is an optional final stage of formal learning that usually occurs after secondary education. Often delivered at universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, and institutes of technology, HE may also be available through certain college-level institutions, including vocational schools, trade schools, and other career colleges that award.

Academic Degrees or Professional Certifications: HE includes teaching, research, exacting applied work (e.g., in medical schools and dental schools), and social services activities of universities. Within the realm of teaching, it includes both the undergraduate level, and beyond that, graduate-level (or postgraduate level) as well as doctoral-level.

Plagiarism: Defining the term ‘plagiarism’ can be problematic as there are no clear definitions and clear rules. However, it is generally defined as the publication of another author’s thoughts, ideas, or expressions and the representation of them as one’s own original work. Plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics. Plagiarism is not a crime per se as it is not defined by law, but rather by institutions (including professional associations, educational institutions, and commercial entities, such as publishing companies). Thus, punishment for plagiarism is not set forth by the legal system. It is subject to sanctions like penalties, suspension, and even expulsion. However, plagiarism remains a serious ethical offense in academia and industry. Cases of plagiarism can constitute copyright infringement and, therefore, the two terms (plagiarism and copyright infringement) may overlap somewhat. However, they are not equivalent concepts, and many types of plagiarism do not fall under the category of copyright infringement.

Australian Regional University: An Australian regional university is a university with its headquarter in regional Australia. Through their educational and research contributions to regional economic, social, cultural and environmental development, an Australian regional university has a commitment to playing a transformative role in their regions. An Australian regional university plays an important and distinctive role in advancing Australia’s national prosperity, productivity and identity.

Literature-Based Analysis: Literature-based analysis refers to the use of papers and other academic publications (the ‘literature’) to find new relationships between existing knowledge (the ‘discovery’). The technique was pioneered by Don R. Swanson in the 1980s and has since seen widespread use. Literature-based analysis does not generate new knowledge through laboratory experiments, as is customary for empirical sciences. Instead, literature-based analysis seeks to connect existing knowledge from empirical results by bringing to light relationships that are implicated and ‘neglected’.

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