Taking a Stand Against Contract Cheating

A colleague (Phil Newton) recently published an article in Frontiers in Education that has received a lot of press. “Students worldwide pay to cheat” and “1 in 7 college students pay people to write essays” are just two example headlines. The issue at hand is something we call “contract cheating” (coined by Thomas Lancaster & Robert Clarke), which can be defined as students arranging for another to complete academic assessments that they then submit for academic credit. The press has ignored the nuances in Phil’s article, so Phil will be writing a blog post later this year as a follow-up to his study and the press that covered it.

Phil Newton is certainly not the only person to have written about contract cheating lately. Tracey Bretag and colleagues (of which Phil is one) recently conducted a large research project in Australia and are publishing about it widely. As a result of their work, we now know more about Australian students about their engagement in contract cheating behaviors, Australian faculty and their “experiences with and attitudes towards student cheating”, and how custom essay writing sites work. In its totality, their work is informing and improving our understanding of contract cheating. As too is the work of many, many others. See our website for an-ever-evolving-list of works on the topic of contract cheating.

The surge of research and writings on this topic is noticeable and welcome. There was a time not so long ago when only Thomas Lancaster and Robert Clarke were talking about contract cheating. The increased attention by researchers and the press has led to some attention by government officials as well.

To be sure, the United States has had 17 states with legislation on the books that prohibit contract cheating for some time now. However, only 15 cases have been initiated under these statutes, despite the fact that we know there are hundreds of contract cheating service providers. More recently, the government of Ireland has criminalized the contract cheating industry. While the UK government hasn’t been as successful as Ireland, some are taking notice. Lord Storey has attempted to amend the Higher Education and Research Bill and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has launched a petition to create a UK Center for Academic Integrity. In the other half of the equator, the Australian higher education regulator is tackling contract cheating and New Zealand already has a law on the books prohibiting the service.

However, we are far behind where we should be. The contract cheating business has flourished due to our neglect, avoidance, and apathy. The provision of this service is becoming normalized and millions of students are allegedly using these services. The proliferation of this behavior has the potential to turn our educational institutions into “diploma mills”. Typically, the use of the term “diploma mills” has been reserved for illegitimate businesses that take money in exchange for a diploma or degree on paper – not a piece of paper that represents student learning, knowledge or abilities, but a piece of paper that the customers can use to defraud potential employers and graduate schools. However, if colleges and universities continue to ignore contract cheating, twe will have effectively turned our otherwise legitimate, accredited institutions of higher learning into “diploma mills”.

Thus, we must act now. We must all stand together to speak up and out against contract cheating. We must ask our governments to make the industry illegal and we must make changes within our own institutions to defeat this festering boil. People interested in learning exactly what their institution could be doing can review ICAI’s Institutional Toolkit to Combat Contract Cheating for ideas. To protect institutional integrity and student learning, contract cheating not only has to be prevented (e.g., designing assessments that are unique, individualized, and meaningful; creating mastery oriented, rather than performance oriented, classroom environments; creating cultures of integrity) but detected (see Turnitin’s new Authorship Investigation Tool as one way to possibly detect the behavior).

But for those institutions who want to stand out as public advocates for the value of education, you must join us on October 17th, 2018 for ICAI’s Third International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. The point of the day is to speak with a unified voice that educational institutional around the world will work together to defeat the contract cheating industry (#defeatthecheat) and encourage students to #excelwithintegrity. The other point of the day is to put pressure on institutional leaders and government officials to prioritize academic integrity by committing the resources and attention needed to put an end to this corrupt practice.

Participating in this day is simple. We ask that you register your institution as a participant in the event (both here and on Facebook) so we can boast about the number of global institutions and organizations that are willing to take a stand against contract cheating. On the day of action itself, we ask that you:

  1. Sign an online petition sponsored by Turnitin (stay tuned for for more information about that coming soon!)
  2. Take part in the International Whiteboard Declaration. On the day of action, ask organizational members to write their own personal message about contract cheating on whiteboards and then post these declarations on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using #defeatthecheat #excelwithintegrity. This will allow us to track the activity on the day of.
  3. Host events that will engage and inform students, faculty, staff, and leaders about the threat of Contract Cheating.  Get creative and consider multimedia approaches to get awareness about the problem out to members in your learning community.  Post your efforts to Twitter, Instagram & Facebook using #defeatthecheat #excelwithintegrity

If we really want to make a difference and defeat the contract cheating industry and restore integrity within education, we must act now. The time has past to be contemplative or worse, apathetic. We must stand up and speak out to #defeatthecheat. Join us today!

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.
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