New training helps spot cheaters in the classroom

New training helps spot cheaters in the classroom

Markers can often tell when university students have paid others to do their assignments, and detection rates improve with training, new research suggests.

The new study, by Deakin University researchers, involved 15 markers who were each given a bundle of assignments and asked to determine whether they were completed honestly or the subject of “contract cheating” (paying others to do assignments).

The markers’ training involved a three-hour workshop, in which groups of the markers debated four assignments – unbeknown to them, the ones they had most frequently got wrong. They then reached new decisions on them, and were then told whether they were right or wrong. They discussed, took notes, then repeated the process for the rest of the assignments.

Prior to their specialised training, the markers correctly labelled papers 75% of the time (they were correct on 58% of cheating papers, and 83% of legitimate papers).

However, after the training, the markers were presented with new assignments, and got it right 86% of the time.

A $400m industry

According to the researchers, the markers’ improvement lay mostly in correctly identifying cheating papers (up to 82%). Their correct identification of genuine work also increased, but not significantly.

Evidence suggests that around 15.7% of university students admit to contract cheating. The practice of doing others’ assignments for money is an industry worth approximately $400m.

Associate Professor Phillip Dawson – one of the authors of the Deakin University study – said contract cheating poses “major problems” for higher education and the wider community.

“Community confidence in higher education suffers when students appear to be able to buy their way through degrees,” Associate Professor Dawson said.

“Most critically, public safety is endangered when students cheat to gain accreditation into professions with significant responsibility”.

‘Contract cheating is not undetectable’

Associate Professor Dawson said that contract cheating website operators make sophisticated sales pitches to potential students, involving money-back guarantees, 24-hour online support, and even copies of Turnitin similarity reports.

“While we cannot stop most of these services, our study provides strong evidence against one of their common promises: that contract cheating is undetectable,” Associate Professor Dawson said.

Based on the results of the training, the authors of the study recommend that universities inform all teaching staff about what contract cheating is and how it works.

“We suggest that in particular areas of concern it may be useful to provide markers with specialist training on detecting contract cheating,” the authors said.