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Assessing the educational practices of today with Dr. Donna Velliaris

Cheaters Beware: (Re)designing Writing Assessment Tasks

By Donna Velliaris on Oct 23, 2018
While contemporary society is demanding and complex, many educational assessment practices remain impartially straightforward. A reduction in the opportunities for academic misconduct in higher education (HE)—through innovative writing assessment tasks that cannot be plagiarized or purchased—can help prevent or reduce intentional ‘cheating’ and academic staff are central to confronting such behaviors. Dr. Donna Velliaris an esteemed editor/author of publications, Study Abroad Contexts for Enhanced Foreign Language Learning and Handbook of Research on Academic Misconduct in Higher Education, and contributor of 30 IGI Global book chapters, recommends assessment practices that can help to prevent academic misconduct in higher education today.
Assessment tasks should equip HE students with the ability to cope with uncertainty and unpredictability; based on the approximation of the future they face. Strategies to oversee writing assessments that minimize opportunities for inappropriate behavior may lessen the number and frequency of occurrences. Ill-defined assignments that are descriptive rather than analytical in nature, have a greater likelihood of cheating than highly specific, thought-provoking ones. In addition, tasks that are open-ended and/or use ambiguous language are vulnerable to:

    (1) Plagiarism
    (2) Paper purchasing via paper mills.

Central to any preventive strategy is the need to foster a culture in which students are motivated to learn (process-driven) and not merely to acquire a parchment at graduation (product-driven). And, assessment design is a powerful underpinning force. Notably, assessment is more likely to appear significant when it embodies ‘real-world’ relevance, as opposed to when students feel they have nothing new to contribute, and the effort required is seen to have little purpose, other than regurgitation of existing knowledge. That is, tasks can be either:

  • Motivating and lead to ‘deep-level’ learning: Students strive to understand material for themselves
  • Demotivating which leads to ‘surface-level’ learning: Students’ intention is to memorize. Moreover, without question, tweaking summative tasks semester-after-semester and year-after-year—small, feasible yet powerful modifications—should be routine.

Plagiarism—Measures to aid in plagiarism-proofing writing assessment tasks include features such as: a call for an initial outline; a specific presentation format e.g., dialogues, letters, patient leaflets, posters, radio shows; a pre-assessment annotated biography; a prescribed template; a prioritized reading list; a step-by-step description of the process; an oral component; an unusual audience for the paper; critiquing, defending, justifying or ranking, rather than explaining or describing; class debates; discussion/presentation of theoretical constructs; face-to-face components; double-marking; fictional case studies/scenarios; inclusion of specified resource materials i.e., detailed citations; interaction with others; prewriting exercises for text matching; reference to reasoned personal experiences; reference to sources within a restricted time period i.e., 2000-2005; reflective journaling or a portfolio; smaller, but more frequent tasks i.e., multiple drafts, learning logs, review notes, work-in-progress reports; unique data sets i.e., case management reports, interview data, observations from industrial/clinical placements; and/or viva voces.

We can make cheating more labor-intensive or costly than the effort involved. We can also try to make the assignments so interesting that students want to explore the subject as deeply as we want them to or so unusual that a response doesn’t already exist out there. Yet hard as we work to make the assignment one on which students don’t want to bother plagiarizing, someone will always try to take the shortcut. Coping with plagiarism 30 November 2017
Paper Mills—No longer a covert industry, paper mills are becoming increasingly brazen by promoting their services to HE students via personalized messages on social media. Some sites operate on a global scale offering multiple language options coupled with telephone support. Similarly, file-swapping sites (i.e., repurposed assignments), also cater to students who perhaps, imagine that this act is less susceptible to detection (i.e., papers by students for students). Whatever the means, the vast majority of students recognize what ‘cheating’ is, and thus reasonings such as: the work was overly challenging; they did not receive adequate support from their instructor; and/or did not have enough time to dedicate to the task, will not suffice. Seeking external, non-authorized, and third-party assistance is without a doubt misconduct.
I once spent seven hours finding definitive proof that a student had purchased her assessment, which eventually resulted in her expulsion from university. Sadly, some lecturers don’t go the full mile, as catching a cheater and filling out a report can be very labor-intensive. —Students cheat in ever more creative ways: How can academics stop them? 12 October 2017
While the (re)design of existing writing assessments can be onerous—pressures originating from mandated curricula, limited contact hours, and general inertia—carefully contemplating how one is going to assess HE students is a worthwhile investment of program/course planning time. Assessment ought to evolve to ensure its security and push students to justifiably attain their award/qualification at the end of their tertiary journey. Just as students seek many and varied ways to cheat, professors should seek many and varied ways to combat intentional misconduct, and therein make the temptation to cheat more burdensome and counter-productive than it is worth.
Acknowledgement: IGI Global would like to thank Dr. Velliaris for her valuable research along with the time she has given for this article, as well as in the chapters and books she has published over the years. For more information, be sure to check out Dr. Donna Velliaris' publications and recommend them to your library. Her forthcoming publication to be released early 2019 is titled: Prevention and Detection of Academic Misconduct in Higher Education.


About Dr. Donna Velliaris


Dr. Donna Velliaris  headshotDonna M. Velliaris is currently living and working in Singapore while her two young children attend an international school. A fully qualified [Australia] secondary school educator since 1995, she has a total of 12 officially registered subjects/skills across Grades 8-12. To date, she has taught students from Reception to PhD level and across several continents. Dr Velliaris holds two Graduate Certificates: (1) Australian Studies; and (2) Religious Education, two Graduate Diplomas: (1) Secondary Education; and (2) Language and Literacy Education, as well as three Master’s degrees: (1) Educational Sociology; (2) Studies of Asia; and (3) Special Education. In 2010, Dr Velliaris graduated with a PhD in Education focused on the social/educational ecological development of school-aged transnational students in Tokyo, Japan.

Her primary research interests include: human ecology; Third Culture Kids (TCKs); schools as cultural systems; and study abroad. With recent publication of almost 30 book chapters, titles comprise: Academic reflections: Disciplinary acculturation and the first-year pathway experience in Australia [Garnet]; Conceptualizing four ecological influences on contemporary ‘Third Culture Kids’ [Palgrave Macmillan]; Culturally responsive pathway pedagogues: Respecting the intricacies of student diversity in the classroom [IGI Global]; The other side of the student story: Listening to the voice of the parent [Sense]; and Metaphors for transnational students: A moving experience [Cambridge Scholars].
Publisher’s note: This article was written by Dr. Donna Velliaris on the educational assessment practices that can assist in helping the prevention of academic misconduct in higher education. The following work does not reflect the views of IGI Global.
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