The COVID-19 Pandemic has created unprecedented circumstances where students have been forced into remote learning. This has been stressful in various ways. With this sudden transition, students experience stress, lack of connection with their lecturers, lack of motivation and overall struggles. These circumstances make shortcuts, like cheating, even more tempting.

Contract cheating is seen as an easy choice, mainly due to the convenience of asking a friend or the many websites and ads that pop up for essay writing services. There is a promise that the work will go undetected. A quick and easy way to get work done, especially when students feel isolated.

The temptation is even higher due to all the targeted online ads offering essays that are “plagiarism-free”, “original writing”, “professional”, “experts”, “professional writing services”, “highly qualified”, “here to help you”. These ads have a way of making their offers seem normal, and so it seems that students are not really participating in misconduct.

So how do you motivate students in the current context of COVID-19 to maintain their Academic Integrity?

And how do lecturers identify work that is not original – whether written with inputs from friends or family; or by a paid service?

How do you prevent contract cheating within the remote learning context?

1) Be clear

It is important to define contract cheating as an act of misconduct. Be sure to include this in your academic integrity statement. Students must take note and understand that contract cheating is “the act of engaging third-party to complete an assignment on their behalf, which is then submitted for assessment/credit” (Lee, 2020). Be sure to show examples too – this should include swapping papers with your peer; it can be in exchange for a favour, and it can also mean paying someone for writing an essay. While it is not technically plagiarism, it is cheating and therefore seen as a form of academic misconduct.

Do note if you have moved to an online platform during this time, it is important to reiterate academic integrity policies again within the new learning environment.

2) Provide Ongoing Feedback

When students receive positive feedback, it affirms their confidence and motivates learning. In this manner, lecturers and instructors or motivating academic integrity. This will, of course, contribute to the prevention of academic misconduct and contract cheating. Be sure to point out achievements of specific learning objectives, to ensure the student feels noticed.

Furthermore, be sure to be available for your students – more than usual at first – to ensure they have support. Perhaps setting aside specific slots for a one-on-one time could help.

3) Accelerate feedback processes

Make use of tools such as Feedback Studio or Gradescope to share feedback quickly and efficiently. These tools offer feedback in assessment options for all subjects. Furthermore, you should use item analysis and data insights to see where your students might have learning gaps. This will help you offer better support. In addition to the support, you will also gain a better understanding of your student’s authorial voice.

4) Support learning needs

Be sure to think of special learning needs, especially when it comes to remote learning. Cater for those with hearing impairment, by adding subtitles for example. Or describe your visuals in your presentations, for those who may have a visual impairment. Ensure class recordings are accessible afterwards too. When students feel supported in these ways, they may feel less vulnerable and therefore less likely to opt for contract cheating companies.

5) Turn to Turnitin

Besides the abovementioned tools, Turnitin Originality includes tools, reports and data to help you, the instructor, feel more confident in identifying different forms of misconduct, such as contract cheating.  Turnitin Originality helps surface data and insights – making it easier to spot and mitigate contract cheating on a large-scale level. Some of these authorship features include:

  • Document metadata and other concerning indicators are shared with instructors to provide data to review and action any instances of contract cheating
  • A comparison of a student’s work using forensic language analysis against prior submissions to clearly analyse and identify contract cheating
  • An administrator dashboard to provide transparency into and identify tiers of risk across your institution
  • Investigator reports that pull deep metadata and language analysis to help understand student writing trends and any anomalies in student writing
  • Citation detection to identify inconsistent citation styles often used in contract cheating attempts

As we live in uncertain times, where online teaching and learning has become part of a new normal, these suggestions could be helpful in promoting academic integrity and developing students’ original writing skills.

This original blog appeared on Turnitin’s website, here. Written by Christine Lee, Senior Marketing Writer / Adjunct Professor of Writing. It has been adjusted for Eiffel Corp by Jolene du Plessis.

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