Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Tailor Work to Cut out Essays to Order: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Tailor Work to Cut out Essays to Order: News

Article excerpt

University hears bespoke course assessments can deter 'contract' cheats. Elizabeth Gibney reports.

As efforts to detect student plagiarism get more sophisticated, a university is considering bolstering the weapons in its armoury against a growing form of misconduct, "contract" cheating.

The term refers to students handing in bespoke essays purchased through essay-writing sites. But according to Mark Ridolfo, associate dean for student experience at Bournemouth University's Business School, the phenomenon is difficult to detect and prove.

Because assignments are written from scratch, contract cheating gets around plagiarism detection software, and although other tools that detect changes in writing style exist, they can be slow, inaccurate and expensive, he said.

Detecting this kind of cheating "is almost impossible, incredibly time- consuming and, even when you have suspicions, going through to the next stage of the process (an academic offence panel) is difficult," he said.

So, at the request of Bournemouth's Academic Standards Committee, Mr Ridolfo has been working with the school's deputy dean for education, Geoff Willcocks, on ways to tackle the issue.

In a paper that will go to the university's senate, the pair suggest that the institution would benefit from making greater use of exams and designing assessments that are more "personalised" to the course, to make contract cheating more difficult.

For assignments worth more than 20 credits (out of 120 for a year's undergraduate study), staged assessments should be considered, they add, and academic procedures should be revised to provide staff with more powers to investigate and more guidance on how to "prosecute" such cases.

Another idea trialled recently - using viva-style oral assessments in suspect cases to explore students' understanding of concepts, phrases and sources - met with mixed success. …

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