Newton (2018) and others suggest that whilst difficult to measure, research indicates that
‘contract cheating’ and the use of essay mills is increasing throughout the HE sector. As
some institutions have found to their cost, underestimating this type of academic offence
can be reputationally disastrous.
What is ‘contract cheating’ or commissioning? There are various definitions but effectively it
is a form of academic dishonesty in which students get others to complete their coursework
either completely or partially for them whether for payment or not.
Most institutions have robust misconduct policies and there are of course serious penalties
for the student if found guilty, however ‘contract cheating’ (or commissioning) cases are
proving notoriously difficult to prove in order to satisfy an institutional Integrity Panel or
hearing. These panels are increasing looking for an ever larger, more comprehensive
bundles of evidence on which to base their decision making. In short, they want to find the
‘smoking gun’, the body and the confession! Given the severe consequences for the student
if found guilty this is completely understandable, however a lack of expertise on the panels
of what actually constitutes ‘a balance of probabilities’ is a major flaw with panels often
finding the cases against students not proven.
As a law academic and integrity lead on contract cheating within my institution I hope to
explore how professional support and technology staff can assist the academic integrity
process and explore ways in which technologists can assist those charged with the
investigation and prosecution of these types of academic offences to come to a fair decision
for all involved.
Part of the presentation will be to discuss the use of TURNITIN’s Authorship Investigate tool.
Examining in practice how this forensic linguistics program has been used to assist in the
investigation of actual academic cases and how the evidence from this program can be used
to both support or refute a case and to consider how the use of other IT and technology
systems such as VLE engagement, attendance monitoring and recording of academic ‘viva’s’
could all assist the panel build a more complete picture to aid their decision making. Even
something as simple as being able to quickly access emails sent by the student will help
identify a discrepancy in the academic writing styles and syntax.
This presentation is also about giving technologists time to think, to consider, what they
could design or suggest that an academic integrity dashboard might look like. What other
ways can technology within an institution be utilised to assist this process?
The presentation will give real case examples and ask the question, what would, or could
you have done to have assisted in these cases and how can we achieve better outcomes in
One area for consideration is the training of panels in the area of what is the ‘balance of
probabilities’ if this is to remain the burden of proof. Whilst there will always be a subjective
element, how can we move towards a more objective, forensic answer to this problem?
How best can we inform and collaborate with students whilst warning them of the dangers
of this type of issue. Are we in danger of blurring the lines with the use of proofreading and
Newton, P. (2018) ‘How Common Is Commercial Contract Cheating in Higher Education and
Is It Increasing? A Systematic Review’, Frontiers in Education. Available at:
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2018.00067/full (Accessed: 11 July,