As I set about to write this blog post, it occurred to me that we haven't yet had any "news posts". The "news posts" are intended to highlight a news item (or multiple connected news items) that may have an impact on education and/or integrity but perhaps did not receive the attention and discussion it should have. So, I thought this week, it was time for a "news post".

In particular, I have four news pieces in mind that I think deserve our attention. I've resisted talking about these pieces because I didn't want to give the featured practices and companies any free advertising or airtime. However, I've come to realize that when those of us in the field of integrity/ethics are silent in response to these news pieces, we are contributing to the ethical fading that makes it difficult for society and education professionals to determine what is and isn't legitimate in higher education. And when ethical fading reaches its peak, we all become bystanders and we risk the decline of the institutional integrity of our colleges and universities, not to mention the educational sector itself.

So, here are are four things that were in the news that you might have missed and may want to know about.

Chegg, a company that promises to be a "smarter way to student", has partnered with the Owl at Purdue (a well respected online writing center for university students), "to improve the writing skills of millions of students". In the news piece, Purdue professors challenge the legitimacy of this partnership and wondered why Owl "would partner with a company that has a reputation for helping students to cheat on their homework" and, the professors say, a company that facilitates the violation of copyright laws.

To be sure, Chegg has an honor code and if a professor discovers answers to homework assignments posted on Chegg, they will remove those posts and conduct an investigation to determine who posted the question. However, most often the posters have created an account that allows them to be anonymous so their identity cannot be determined. And in that case, Chegg's honor code cannot be fully executed.

The Owl partnership isn't the first for Chegg. You may have also missed that in 2017, Chegg and Kaplan Test Prep companies partnered to offer "high quality test prep services" through Chegg. Since, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the test prep companies have long-ago gained legitimacy in the education sector, this partnership, along with the one with Purdue, affords legitimacy to Chegg. Perhaps the legitimacy is warranted, but perhaps it isn't. At this point, we do not know because we have no quality assurance process to evaluate and accredit such companies or partnerships.

In other news, CourseHero, a company that promises to help students succeed and "learn deeply", has partnered with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to "support rising stars in the academy who love teaching and demonstrate excellence as educators." According to an Inside Higher Education piece in May of 2018, educators are also questioning whether sites like CourseHero and Quizlet are "learning tools or cheating aids." So, it seems reasonable to suggest that a quality assurance process may help foundations like Woodrow Wilson pick and choose appropriate partnerships that advance, rather than undermine, their mission and reputation.

To be sure, news items like this tend to fly under the radar. There is so much going on in higher education and other stories (like Operation Varsity Blues, growing anxiety among college students, and the growing hunger problem of college students) seem to grab more attention. It's not that one story or issue is more important than the next (although I've previously posted on how issues that impact the foundation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs always receive more attention). Rather, we must have the bandwidth necessary to tackle all issues that undermine the integrity of our educational institutions. At the very least, these news stories emphasize my earlier point that it may be far past time to develop quality assurance and accreditation channels for the "side-hustle" companies that operate on the outskirts of the educational sector yet have a tremendous influence on our operations.

Recently, an instructor was anonymously sent screenshots of a GroupMe chat for the course. The GroupMe for the class was initially created by the students to help share ideas and work together to understand the course content. Students are encouraged to study together to help them understand material and prepare for graded assignments but were specifically told to complete assignments individually. During an online quiz, some students corrupted the group by photographing their online quizzes and requesting assistance from their peers. Out of the large number of students enrolled in the course, the instructor could only report eight identifiable students. She could also only report the students shown on the screenshots that were shared from the anonymous student because she did not have access to the GroupMe.


In our office, students must meet with faculty members that accuse them of violating the Academic Honesty Policy in the presence of a trained facilitator. Meetings can last 15 minutes or over an hour, but over 95% of our caseload is resolved within the meetings.


During the meeting, the instructor was very upset. She pointed out that she already allows the class to use their book on the quiz, and she showed the students where they had acknowledged that they were completing the test on their own. Why, then, were students engaging in cheating behavior?


Different students provided different answers. Several students pointed to external factors, such as stress and a lack of preparation. Others said that because someone else in the GroupMe had done it, they thought it was allowed. While some students admitted to violating the honor code right away, others tried to obfuscate the issue by drawing attention to unrelated documentation.


One student, however, provided a unique response. “It didn’t seem real.” The online quiz, to this student, did not seem like a real assignment. In the student’s mind, the assignment did not count as academic credit, so why not ask peers for help? Because this quiz was online, the student felt it was acceptable to request answers without doing the work.


This student’s thought process reinforces the impending challenges presented by trying to connect technology with the integrity of the classroom. As we move towards a more technology-friendly campus and as the online learning community continues to expand, universities need to understand the threats facing the integrity of online exams. Instructor must find a format that combats a student mind-set viewing an assignment as “not real” and assesses a  student’s grasp of the course content.


What can we do to disincentivize this thought process? The instructor in this case took the first step in challenging the framework by reporting a potential violation. By forcing the student to confront the allegation and explain to what was done and why it was wrong, the instructor helped shift the student’s mindset. That one student will now stop and think before acting in a similar manner in the future.


We often hear that students claim that they made a mistake, and they will never do it again. Tearful confessions of wrongdoing may make students that go through our form of restorative justice think again before engaging in cheating, but is it enough to help the overall student population reframe their views of what counts as “academic work”? Until universities work together across departments, colleges, and offices, students might just graduate without the ethical values we strive to instill in them.

We are all by now aware of the recent “admissions scandal” in the United States. What you may not have heard, is that Lori Loughlin (one of the indicted) is claiming that she didn’t realize what they were doing was illegal. After all, she was simply paying a “consultant” to help her kids and it seems reasonable to assume that we should be able to trust professionals to only provide legal, even ethical, help. And isn't it reasonable that you should be able to trust your doctor, accountant, teacher, consultant and so on, to obey the rules and laws of the land?

While some may call Lori’s trust naive or her claims untrue, it is actually incidental to the actual problem at hand.

The actual problem we need to solve is this - there is no existing method for determining if a company, professional or service (herein called “provider”) claiming to help students access or advance in education is legitimate or ethical.

Providers purporting to help students or augment the formal education system are popping up everywhere today. Just recently, I was chased down by someone who says he’s developed a “learning support tool”. The tool, he said, transcribes the lecturer’s talk so that students no longer have to take notes. To be sure, this seems like a useful tool for some students who, for some legitimate reason, cannot take their own notes. But I asked the inventor how he can claim that it improves learning when many studies show that the process of hand note-taking is better for learning. He didn’t have a satisfactory answer for me.

This made me realize - there is no quality control (or assurance) on these Providers that operate as a “side-hustle” to the higher education sector. The higher education sector itself is subject to accreditation and, by extension, quality assurance (the quality of that quality is a discussion for another day). But these side-hustle Providers that claim to support or supplement education (like consultants, tutors, test-prep companies, editing services) are not.

It seems imperative, then, that we start asking some tough questions of these non-accredited Providers that claim to help our students. How do they define “helping”, “supporting”, and  “learning”? How do they measure when that has occurred? How do they monitor that and how do they respond if their employees do something that is a violation of standards?

In other words, I believe that the public deserves a quality assurance process and an accreditation “stamp” for such side-hustle Providers so that they (and we) know who is legitimate versus who isn’t, who is operating ethically versus who isn't, and who will actually augment teaching and learning versus who will undermine it.

To begin this conversation, I thought it might be useful to brainstorm the categories of “side-hustle” Providers that exist. For now, I will do this without explicitly naming the company (so as not to give them free advertising or an implicit endorsement). 

Learning Platform Providers

There are some Providers who position themselves as “learning platforms”, that is, a site students can go to “enhance their learning”. These Providers generally offer two main services: file distribution and tutoring. The file distribution involves students uploading files (whether that be their own notes, a professor’s PPT, an exam answer key or even journal articles or book chapters) so that they get “credit” that they can use to download other files. The tutoring service is self-explanatory - tutors answer questions for students and “help” students with assignments. These companies usually have “honor codes” and they tell their clients not to share files that they don’t “own” and they tell their tutors not to complete assignments for the clients. However, there is evidence that these “honor code violations” happen regularly and it is unclear what actions the companies take to really prevent and respond to such violations. A quality assurance process would have to address these shortcomings.

Essay Writing Help Providers

There are other companies who position themselves as providing “essay writing help" or "model papers” or “reference papers”. We like to call these companies “contract cheating providers” because we know that this claim of “reference paper” provision is nonsense. However, are our students as clear about that? Recently I heard a story of how seductive these providers are - they use social media platforms like WeChat and Facebook to “friend” our students and offer them “help”. To be sure, our students should be more conscientious but a quality assurance or accreditation process might be able to provide students with the knowledge necessary to discern legitimate from illegitimate forms of essay writing help.

Editing Service Providers

I’ve previously written about the editors-for-hire phenomenon and believe that I’ve provided sufficient fodder for starting the discussion of quality assurance for editing services, so I won’t say any more here.

Tutoring Service Providers

There are still other Providers who only/mainly provide Tutors and Tutoring. The word Tutor carries a lot of weight and legitimacy with it. Without accreditation or quality assurance guidelines, can our students and parents tell the difference between legitimate tutoring and illegitimate? And, do we even agree on what makes tutoring “legitimate” or ethical?

Coaching Service Providers

Read “Operation Varsity Blues” - need I say more? Education consulting, particularly admissions consulting, seems to be a very lucrative and growing business yet I don’t even think we have a commonly understood definition of what this means. Students and their parents are spending thousands of dollars just to get into a school. Is this necessary? Are there legitimate reasons and purposes for these Providers to exist? If yes, what are those purposes and how do know who is delivering on those purposes honestly and in a trustworthy manner?

Test Prep Providers

This is the most well established side-hustle provider type and likely the most well-accepted in society. However, these companies are not really focused on helping students learn, but rather teaching students how to pass a particular test. Does this serve our students? Are all “test prep” companies the same? We have seen in “Operation Varsity Blues” that the integrity of these businesses is vulnerable with the way they are structured. So, do they need to be accredited as well?

Perhaps there are Provider types I haven’t even covered here, but the point is this - the side-hustle to the education sector is worth big money and it has a significant impact on the lives and learning of our students so shouldn't they have some accountability to the public?

I encourage anyone who is interested in exploring this idea further to email .

Adelphi is modern metropolitan university on Long Island with a mix of colleges and professional schools. We have approximately 5,400 undergraduate students and 2,800 graduate students.

Our Committee for Academic Honesty is composed of equal numbers of students and faculty members, along with representatives from key University functions. The Committee is charged to promote an atmosphere of academic honesty, including the development and distribution of materials to promulgate the Code of Academic Honesty. A review of violation data over the past five years indicated that an upswing in academic honesty violations occurs beginning in week 10 of a 15-week semester. The Committee therefore created coordinated programming during week eight of the semester in an effort to raise awareness of academic honesty and the resources available on campus to help students and faculty work together to minimize violations.

During the awareness week, student-focused events are held in the high-traffic area outside our University Center, and have included a 'Reach Higher’ game involving full-height and half-height basketball goals, a cheaters’ carnival with a dunk-the-cheater tank and 'most egregious cheater’ display, and an ice cream social with a choice of real or imitation toppings. Faculty-focused events have included local and invited speakers discussing small teaching and plagiarism-proof assignments, along with workshops for new and/or adjunct faculty. Events are consolidated over the middle portion of the day between 11:00 – 2:00, which includes the mandatory no-class time on W 1:00 – 2:00 that is set aside for student activities. The committee itself uses that time slot to hold an outdoor meeting during the event.

Awareness week events are supported by social media, website banner displays, and campus-wide, famous quotation lawn signage. Examples of the latter include “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity...” – Bob Marley, “Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted with large ones either.” – Albert Einstein, and “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey.

A unique academic honesty message pen was also created as an engaging giveaway and has become very popular with the students. The messages rotate between 'Plan Ahead to Prevent Cheater’s Dread,’ 'Academic Integrity Matters,’ 'Learn to Cite at the Writing Center,’ Academic Honesty Reflects My Values,’ 'The Truth Shall Make Us Free,’ (the University motto) and 'Be a Panther not a Cheat-ah’. The panther is the University mascot, and Paws the Adelphi Panther often makes an appearance at our event sometime during the awareness week.

Our first Academic Honesty Awareness Week was held during the spring semester of 2017 and we have now held five events including the most recent one held this past March. The Office of the Provost continues to provide earmarked funding for these events during the fall and spring semesters, with yearly funding equivalent to about $1 per enrolled student.

We’ve already begun planning for our fall 2019 event to be held in mid-October. The theme will be a 'Cheaters’ Graveyard’ and will engage students from our anthropology club.

What do do?

This is a refrain I heard often during my week in Kyiv, Ukraine.

I was there to participate in the final meeting of the American Councils for International Education’s Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project (SAIUP) and Strengthening Academic Integrity in Secondary Schools Project (SAISS). These projects are impressive. In just over 3 years (so far), they have made significant movement on academic integrity across the country. In fact, just 4 years ago, few in Ukraine had even heard the term “academic integrity”! Now, there are academic integrity conversations happening in schools and universities across the country, there are universities with honor pledges and academic integrity policies, there are student awareness campaigns and professional development for faculty, there is a national law supporting academic integrity, and the government has set up a National Agency for Quality Assurance in Education.

To be sure, there is still work yet to be done in Ukraine, but these are all signs of progress. And this progress is to the credit of the significant dedication of the SAIUP/SAISS team, their allies in the government, and their colleagues/consultants in the trenches. Their passion for academic integrity and their belief in its ability to stem corruption in their country is inspirational. It very much reminds me of the passion and focus on quality in education that I witnessed in Montenegro with their Strengthening Academic Integrity project. I think that western educational systems have a lot to learn from Ukraine and Montenegro; in particular, that academic integrity is an instrument of educational quality and should not be ignored in order to pursue the status quo.

Now, it is important to note that the Ukrainian passion for the promise of academic integrity is not naive; it is contextualized and grounded in the challenges they have ahead of them. This grounding is heard in their refrain “but what to do?”. This refrain is not so much uttered as a question looking for an answer, but rather a variation of “it is what it is” or the proverbial sigh that indicates an acceptance of reality. So, I heard this “what to do?” refrain uttered at the end of a passionate exposition on the challenges they are facing such as the acceptance of cheating by parents, students and teachers alike, the resistance to change, or the difficulty of talking about integrity when the Ukrainian translation of the word doesn’t really resonate with the people.

I found that this grounding of passion served as a sort of reprieve from the extraordinary work that they are doing. It didn’t represent resignation or capitulation. Rather, it represented a reality-check, an acknowledgement of the power that culture and institutions exert on human behavior and their ability to change. It represents the pause that change leaders must take to remind themselves to not push so hard or so fast that they push people away from, rather than draw them toward, the challenge of change.

This “what to do?” reminded me that we have to be kind to ourselves and others as we push for change. We must recognize that change is difficult - we cannot ask people to change their behaviors, their values, and their goals without assistance, time, and compassion. We must learn to simultaneously accept and challenge our current realities. Perhaps we accept a little and then push a little, artfully navigating back-and-forth between these two levers of change to create small wins along the way to the big win - the institutionalization of academic integrity within the fabric of our culture and our institutions.

So, what to do?

Speak honestly to address the obstacles to integrity cultures, but be respectful of existing traditions and proceed fairly in a responsible manner. When we do this, people will trust us and be more likely to join us in the movement.

All of us involved in education are rightfully alarmed at the contract cheating industry’s growth. In our educational institutions, we hopefully seek out different opportunities to promote academic integrity to our varied stakeholders - particularly our students – and communicate how vital it is to uphold integrity, regardless of the challenges. Today, challenges posed by contract cheating, particularly, make it even more critical that we are vocal about where we stand.

Such reasons are central to why Deree -The American College of Greece, has participated in the International Day of Action against Contract Cheating (IDoA) for the last 3 years. Like most participating institutions in 2016, we too relied fundamentally on students’ making whiteboard pledges to #excelwithintegrity and #defeatthecheat. But in 2017, a student creative idea made us sit up and take notice of the potential for impact. The cost involved in contract cheating was the literal but mainly metaphoric inspiration of a student’s theater installation, performed in a very public venue of our college. A couple of other students also created a simple version of Snakes & Ladders, a Contract Cheating version, with a meaningful caption (pictured above).

Student creativity and potential for engagement were in place to spur the next IDoA, but it required commitment from as many stakeholders as possible if a powerful message was to emerge.

For 2 years’ running, we have initiated the actual event day with a combined student-faculty presentation of student-team analytical reports examining aspects of contract cheating (e.g. extent; legal challenges), thereby allowing student work and voices to be heard directly by faculty.

Additionally, this past year, Student Government introduced an idea similar to the whiteboard pledges – but as video testimonials of student leaders advocating for integrity/against contract cheating. Used as countdown technique and uploaded on social media to draw attention to the IDoA, potential for further impact - stemming from combined visual and auditory stimuli as well as timing and outreach through communication channel - was evident (see one such testimonial here)

A video of what we accomplished – as well as its short trailer – showcases well what occurred at our IdoA – even if not all activities are visible.

What you can hopefully see is that by no means was it the activities alone that made the event successful or memorable; it was the spirit of collaboration among students, faculty, and administrators that particularly made a difference. Some of the success achieved may be due to the (more) intimate atmosphere that can exist in a small institution. That the theme of uniqueness, however, emerged naturally and rather spontaneously from some activities showcased a critical message about each of us, our worth, and acquired skills. Directly or subliminally, this is a critical message to pass.

Deree raised its voice strongly for IDoA 2018 and passed a collective message: committing to the advancement of AI values and persevering in outreach efforts harnesses strong possibilities. We can only hope that this coming year’s success will be as memorable – and wish it for other institutions, too.

The 27th Annual International Center for Academic Integrity Conference took place March 8 to 10 in New Orleans.  I, along with my colleague Arturo Becerra, presented on our experience of creating a magazine about academic integrity at Universidad Panamericana (UP ) in Mexico City and expanding this magazine beyond UP to the Latin American landscape.

I work for the  Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at UP. CIE has the mission of enhancing the teaching talent of faculty by innovating in learning environments. It is a place where faculty can talk about their courses, spread ideas, and confront new challenges.

You might wonder, then, why a faculty innovation-focused-driven center would be interested in creating an academic integrity magazine? The answer is that we got gradually involved in the task because some professors approached us seeking for content about writing and citing skills for their students. Consequently, we researched and found out about academic integrity and its importance in academic life.

Hence, we created a digital magazine with the central objective  to foster academic integrity within our institution. We worked independently on the first issue, titled: “El plagio académico”El plagio académico (Academic plagiarism). We published it in October 2016 through Joomag, a digital publishing platform. Although this publication did not have any sponsorship, it had good acceptance within our institution.

Afterward, we established contact with Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) in Mexico, and they invited us to their 4th National Conference of Academic Integrity. We met academic administrators and faculty who were working in different initiatives to promote academic integrity within their universities. As a result, we decided to expand the Magazine beyond the UP audience to members of academic communities across Mexico and Latin America. So, we invited representatives from UDEM, Universidad EAFIT (Colombia), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico) to join the editorial committee for the Magazine.

The challenge now was to obtain resources and formalize the magazine so we could publish further issues. We needed a sponsor, so we contacted  Turnitin. This sponsorship helped us open new possibilities; for example, allowing the magazine to move to a new publishing platform (ISSUU). We also obtained ISSN registration and were able to print the next issues.

It has been three years since the first publication, and now we have six published issues and are currently working on the 7th. The results of editing the magazine have been gratifying. Primarily, I witnessed how the relevance of academic integrity has grown through Latin America. Therefore, I believe the magazine is an excellent channel to generate dialogue and reflection. It has had 6,349 reads; 40,138 impressions; and 7,000 printed copies.

I have also learned through this initiative as it hasn’t been without its challenges: managing the editorial board, selecting the main topic for each issue and searching for different authors, just to name a few. However, the challenges have advanced me as a scholar, and it has made me more conscious about living the values of academic integrity: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage (ICAI, 2014). Furthermore, these challenges have driven us to be more perseverant about promoting academic integrity on our own campus.

If you would like to consider creating a magazine,  I recommend searching for institutional and external support, being clear about each role needed to run a magazine and the different types of talent involved. I also encourage you to create a good strategy that emphasizes not only content but also design.

I invite everyone to support the Latin American consortium by reading the magazine, reflecting about it, and sharing its content.

In my ICAI 2019 conference presentation, “Improv(ing) Course Design: A Riff on Experiential Learning and Academic Integrity,” I shared the research of James Lang, L. Dee Fink, John Biggs and Catherine Tang, Lion Gardiner, and Tricia Bertram Gallant as underpinning for my redesign experiments with EN 455, an Advanced Studies in Writing course at The University of Alabama. I call my newly imagined course “Dirt Poor: Researching and Writing the Great Depression” (first taught in spring 2018, teaching now, and slated again for spring 2020).

“Dirt Poor” is an experiential learning opportunity that includes authentic assessments in addition to active and collaborative learning strategies to foreground academic integrity and help students become so engaged in their research and writing tasks that they don’t consider cheating an option.

I initially had two concerns for the new course: finding an engaging hook and managing the organic nature of the class. I addressed the first by tapping into my own interest in genealogical research, using the free library edition of Ancestry.com available in UA’s library databases as a course tool. The second is still a challenge--but one that makes the course as exciting for me as for the students.

Dirt Poor: How does it work?

During the first two class meetings, I introduce students to Ancestry.com and remind them (with activities) of ethical source-based writing skills—summary, paraphrasing and avoiding patchwriting, quoting, and correct and ethical citation and documentation (and why these skills are professionally important). I ask them to start doing genealogical research on their own family and then eventually select any one “lost” relative alive during the Great Depression to serve as their subject in an expanded semester-long research project. I then help the students learn basic historical facts about the time period by using  children’s books as the basis of a group presentation project. Next the students explore two more research elements: 1) visual texts (exploring, analyzing—and citing—images from the online Library of Congress FSA photo collection), and 2) archival research (exploring the ephemera holdings of UA’s Special Collections Library and creating an annotated bibliographical catalog description—with citation—as a resource for future researchers).

In the final two-thirds of the semester, the students settle in to research their relative and the historical and cultural contexts of that person’s world. They conduct interviews, use research-library databases, explore historical newspapers, investigate government documents, track down whatever other sources might contribute to a more complete picture of their own family history. From this research, they produce two essays: a shorter descriptive piece focused on an artifact that might be associated with their relative, and a longer profile piece that offers a narrative portrait, fleshing out that person’s life, especially during the Great Depression.

Another feature of my course redesign is modelling: I write all of the assignments along with my students, so they see me struggling with the same writing and research issues that they are facing. We work together to solve the same problems:  to restore a lost relative and to produce better writing.

I’ve watched it happen in both semesters I’ve taught the course: students start out ambivalent and then they get hooked. Suddenly they are doing significant research on someone in their own family—someone they have chosen to learn more about—and they are doing significant critical thinking and problem-solving and writing and revising—much of which we do in class, together. Suddenly they are sharing their work-in-progress and offering each other source ideas, research angles, even ideas about hooks and organizational frameworks—both during and apart from our face-to-face and online peer review sessions. Ethical research and writing practices weave their way through everything we do all semester.

Toward the end, with help from the Alabama Digital Humanities Center (ADHC), we move our work onto a public-facing Web site; and, at the end of the semester, the students showcase their work at an ADHC faculty development brown bag lunch presentation.

In an Inside Higher Ed blog in September 2018, John Warner asks “What Happens When Writing Is Fun?” He talks about giving students five freedoms:  freedom of choice, of form, of time, freedom to discover, and freedom to roam and realize “the payoff of curiosity.” “Engender[ing] these experiences for students . . . isn’t easy,” he says, but “when it clicks . . . it really is magic.” For me, an experiential-learning course design, one that fuses academic integrity instruction with active and collaborative learning activities and authentic research and writing experiences, produces exactly that kind of learning magic.

The higher education is sector is talking about contract cheating. When a student replaces themselves with a third party for the purposes of assessment, they stand to gain qualifications that they don’t deserve. They are also devaluing the qualifications for everyone around them.

My session at the 2019 International Center for Academic Integrity annual conference - Contract Cheating in the Gig Economy - focused on how the contract cheating industry has been changing (for a copy of this presentation. The industry has become a complex beast, fueled by low-cost writing labour completing the assessments that we would expect students to complete.

When Robert Clarke and I first introduced the term contract cheating in 2006, we focused on how students were misusing outsourcing websites to connect with providers to have academic work completed for them. The outsourcing websites were set up for perfectly legitimate reasons. As an example, a business could tender a request for someone to create a new website for them, then hire someone based on the offers received. But students misused these sites. They were posting requests for various assignments, which were then offered to a range of providers through a bidding process. Students could get their assignment produced cheaply, and dishonestly, by hiring one of the least expensive of those providers.

Most of the recent academic discussion on contract cheating has focused on the use of essay mills. These are services that offer assignment production services to students, often targeted at vulnerable students, such as those with English as a second language. These services connect with students through social media, by giving out flyers on university campuses and some have even found ways to cold call students on their personal phones. There are substantial businesses operating in this space, some with revenues of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

An interesting industry development, as my ICAI talk mentioned, is that many essay mills have the same internal model of operation as the original freelance sites Robert Clarke and I talked about in 2006. The difference is that the bids and interactions on those essay mills are hidden from public view. The internal operation of such services is also not known by students. They can easily be misled as to who is writing an essay for them, for instance by expecting a US writer but their request secretly going to someone operating from somewhere else in the world.

I continue to be fascinated by all the developments going on around contract cheating. The industry is not standing still and is very resistant to any university developments designed to reduce its effectiveness. If anything, more people are trying to work as academic writers for contract cheating services and those writers already operating are becoming more resourceful. That has led to companies competing on price and individual writers trying to avoid paying commission to the intermediary companies, instead connecting directly with students.

My session at the ICAI conference focused on the gig economy type sites that individual writers are using. On one such site, Fiverr.com, for example, I found a proliferation of writers from Kenya offering services to students. Here, the job of an academic writer actually carries with it prestige and is presented as a respectable profession. Writers have the benefits of being able to work from home. To an outside audience, the ways in which Kenyan writers are employed could be looked at as exploitative. I found an average price point for essay writing of around $30 USD per 1,000 words, which is well below the cost of a traditional essay mill. But, relatively speaking, in that region essay writers could think of this as good money. Of course, $30 USD per 1,000 words is not the only price point. Many of the essay mills who take a large commission from orders pay writers much less.

With the wide availability of low cost labour, continued heavy marketing of contract cheating services and the gig economy driving down prices, contract cheating will continue to offer us challenges. I believe that more research into the industry itself and the writers supplying the industry is needed. We need to understand why qualified individuals are looking at enabling contract cheating as a good career choice. We need to continue to broadcast the message to instructors that contract cheating is cheap, is happening and that many assessment types are susceptible to it. And we have to put interventions in place to stop students falling into the contract cheating trap.

ICAI just held its 27th annual conference. This was the 14th conference I’ve attended and one of the best I’ve attended in recent years. The diversity of attendees in terms of geography (participants from 6 continents!), institution type (For-Profits, NGOs, like-minded associations, Secondary Schools to Higher Education), and positions (students and professionals) enriched our thinking. The diversity in sessions enhanced our knowledge and understanding. And the proactive, collaborative and activist tone emboldened our belief that we can make a difference - with our collected efforts, we can make cheating the exception and integrity the norm.

For those who couldn’t attend, I wanted to share my key take-away lessons from the conference. Over the next few weeks, I aim to publish posts by others who attended/presented so Blog readers can benefit from their knowledge and ideas as well.

Lesson #1 - We Need More.

We need more attention.
We need more time.
We need more resources.
We need more urgency.

ICAI was created in 1992 in response to the cheating problem identified in Don McCabe’s work (in the event you are unfamiliar, you can see a good summary of Don's work in Cheating in College). And while the problem has metastasized over this time and there is greater awareness around the world about the problem, there is still a small fraction of the global system of educational institutions and government entities who acknowledge the problem of cheating and the importance of integrity.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again - our leaders need to attend to this now before it reaches an unacceptable level of corruption. They can attend to this with their words, with their attention, and with their resources.

Lesson #2 - We Are United in Our Struggles.

No matter where we are geographically located, those of us who work and study in schools, colleges and universities around the world struggle with cheating, and we struggle to get leaders to contribute resources to academic integrity, to keep our policies up-to-date, to educate our students about integrity, and to convince our faculty that their approach to teaching impacts our students' approaches to learning and integrity.

We must not only be united in our struggles, but we must be united in our confrontation and resolution of those struggles. And, the ICAI - with its mission of cultivating integrity in academic communities around the world in order to promote ethical institutions and societies - is tooling up to be the hub of that united front.

Lesson #3 - We Must Act Against Contract Cheating.

Perhaps our biggest shared struggle right now are the threats posed by the industry of contract cheating, We already knew that contract cheating undermines student learning and the integrity of our educational institutions, but presentations by Cath Ellis, David House & Kane Murdoch (of University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia), Thomas Lancaster (of Imperial College London), and Douglas Harrison (of UMUC) reminded us that it also endangers our students. Students are being tricked and seduced into the contract cheating world, where they not only have their education and identities stolen but where they also face threats of extortion. To respond to this threat, we need the appropriate tools, policies and procedures to identify and respond to contract cheating, as well as a rethink of our approach to teaching and learning and a reconsideration for what measures should be used as the bases for admissions and graduation decisions. Our international day of action against contract cheating (the third Wednesday of October each year) is a good start for responding to the threat - as Evangeline Mourelatos of Deree, American College of Greece and I argued in our conference presentation - and we encourage more institutions to join us on the 4th day of action on October 16th 2019.*

Contract cheating presents us with a problem, to be sure, but it also presents us with an opportunity - a reason - to rethink the way in which we do education in the 21st century.

Lesson #4 - We Are Doing Good Work.

The jewel of the conference is seeing the absolutely fantastic and diverse work being done by professionals and students around the world to make cheating the exception and integrity the norm.

We learned from those who are working to proactively educate our students about academic integrity, whether through integrity tutorials like those at Ryerson University and Sheridan College (both in Canada), honesty awareness weeks like that at Aldelphi University (in the USA), or new academic integrity courses like those being implemented in Ukrainian Secondary Schools.

Many people spoke to us about their work on integrity culture creation like that being done by Azalea Hulbert (West Virginia University, USA), the Emory Integrity Project (Emory University, USA), and the University of Monterrey (Mexico). We learned about how we can improve our responses to integrity violations from the folks at MacEwan University (Canada) who talked about implementing restorative practices in academic integrity processes, the team at the College of William & Mary (USA) who shared their new mentoring program to enhance student success and retention after suspension, and the research being conducted by Adriana Barberena (University of Monterrey, Mexico) on what students learn through the process.

I was inspired by curricular changes intended to motivate students to engage in mastery and integrity, rather than performance and cheating. There is the unique “designing with light and meaning” project within an engineering course, presented by Nathalia Franco at EAFIT (Columbia), and the very creative and engaging “dirt poor” writing course created by Karen Gardiner at the University of Alabama (USA).

I could say more. But I’ll end here with a hope that many of the presenters - including those mentioned above - will choose to share their wonderful research, practice and ideas with you through their own blog posts.

Yes, we need more and we share the same struggles, but we are doing good work.

Personally, I think I will try to bask in the "good work" light for a bit and revel in the goodness we are engendering before I dive back into the struggles. After all, the struggles will still be there tomorrow.



* sentence added after original posting