New Paper: One in Ten Students Engages in Contract Cheating
Plus, another example of tricky advertising by essay mills. Plus, research about honesty may have been faked.
New Data on Self-Reported Cheating and Contract Cheating - They’re Not Good
According to an article submitted at The Conversation and reported elsewhere, researchers at The University of Western Australia (UWA) have new estimates on the degree to which students underestimate their own cheating behavior in surveys. With their research on more than 4,000 students, the researchers also have new estimates on how many students submit paid-for or pre-written work for grades.
Starting with the estimates about contract cheating, the buying of custom work or pre-written assignments, Guy Curtis, Senior Lecturer in Applied Psychology at UWA writes:
we conservatively estimated 8% of students have paid someone else to write an assignment they submitted, and 11% have submitted pre-written assignments downloaded from the internet.
That’s three or four times what previous research - data based on self-reporting - had shown.
On the level to which students underreport their own contract cheating behavior, Curtis writes:
When given the incentive to be truthful, two-and-a-half times more students admitted to buying and submitting ghost-written assignments than admitted to this without the incentive.
Researchers across many disciplines have long conceded that self-reports of illicit or inappropriate behavior tend to be undercounted.
The underreporting identified by UWA mirrors other cheating research from McCabe, Trevino and others who found that students will say they have not cheated while simultaneously acknowledging behaviors such as using pre-written papers or using answers on a test - behaviors that are defined as cheating. When students are asked about the discrepancies, the researchers write:
[the students] explain that, yes, they actually did engage in that type of behavior, but they checked “no” on the survey because, when they did it, it was not cheating
McCabe, Trevino and Butterfield say that the “typical explanations or justifications” include:
“the assignment was hard, I did not have enough time, the assignment had no learning value, the assignment counted for only a very small portion of my overall grade, and the like”
The point is, we’ve known for some time that students’ self-reporting of academic misconduct is undercounted, sanitized. We just never knew how much. With the UWA contribution, it’s good to have a working number for contract cheating - 2.5x.
Also, as ongoing evidence of a completely separate problem, Curtis of UWA also wrote:
over 95% of students who cheat in this way are not caught.
Another Example of Murky Marketing by Paid Essay Writers
In Issue 38, we looked at an example of paid marketing by contract essay writers - paid cheaters - designed to confuse students about appropriate conduct.
Like that example, this new one is in a random-sounding news outlet, Morningside Maryland, and it helpfully tells readers that it’s not illegal to buy academic writing especially, you know, “due to the increase of learning-related pressure” and all that:
In the current conditions, there are absolutely no barriers that can prevent you from asking an expert writer to present you with an original sample text written from scratch.
The second common misconception regarding essay writing services operating online is that they go against college regulations. In reality, the essays provided by many businesses in the analyzed sphere don’t imply cheating.
It’s not cheating because they’re only selling you samples. They tell you not to turn them in for credit.
The point is, once again, that these cheating providers are not hiding - they are openly marketing to students, smudging ethical barriers and reassuring students that these honest essay companies are not doing anything wrong and it’s all perfectly fine to pay someone to write for you.
Leading Proctoring Provider Says We Can’t Spend Our Way Out of Cheating
Times Higher Ed (THE) in the U.K. continues its leading coverage of academic integrity with an article by an executive at ProctorU, one of the largest remote proctoring companies (subscription or account may be required).
In it, the company’s Chief Academic Officer likens the battle against cheating to an arms race and correctly says it’s getting more complicated and expensive. Interestingly however, she writes:
But it is unlikely that we will be able to spend our way out of this problem, especially when our adversaries – the essay mills and live cheating sites – continue to make massive profits and have no ethical governor reining in their conduct. Instead, real and lasting solutions are only possible if universities adopt some more creative – and less expensive – efforts as well.
She advocates for changes in assessment design and pedagogy as well as significant education efforts around the values of integrity and the dangers of misconduct.
Data in Research on Honesty May Have Been Bogus
Though not directly related to academic misconduct, coverage in the academic research field has pinpointed some highly questionable data in research about honesty, which touches academic integrity.
The short version is that a 2012 paper by researchers at the Harvard Business School looked at how it may be possible to increase honest responses in self-report environments or when people submit information that needs to be honest and accurate. One of the paper’s key findings was that asking people to sign an honesty statement (or honor code) after their answers are given instead of before, increases honesty. The research has been cited in discussions of classroom honor policies during assessments.
Now, that underlying research may be in question due to suspicions about its data sets.
Setting aside the blinding irony of a paper about increasing self-regulated honesty being fake - potentially - it’s a good update for academic integrity offices and classroom leaders who set or enforce policies related to honor codes. Turns out, it may not make any difference whether students affirm their honest work before or after an assessment.
Notes: I am in the process of reviewing the underlying research from UWA mentioned above, as opposed to just the coverage of it. As other noteworthy nuggets surface, I will share them.
That UWA research shares this note:
Our dear friend and colleague Professor Tracey Bretag provided invaluable support in planning this study. Sadly, Professor Bretag passed away before the study was complete. With heavy hearts, we acknowledge her contributions to this study and the field of academic integrity more broadly.
I agree. This field is worse off without her in it. And I thank the research authors for saying so.
Also, “The Cheat Sheet” comes out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s out on Wednesday this week because of the American holiday on Monday, which put me behind. As a result, the next issue this week will, more than likely, be out this Friday but return to Tuesday/Thursday thereafter.
In the next “The Cheat Sheet” - Probably more on that UWA research. And I may be able to share my interview on a great podcast on academic conduct, if it’s out by then.
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