The pandemic impacted many aspects of university life, including seeing a rise in paid cheating, suggests a new study from Charles Darwin University (CDU).
Jon Mason and Guzyal Hill from CDU found that contract cheating, which involves a student paying somebody else to complete their assignments, rose during the pandemic to bypass online assessments.
“COVID has led to a whole lot of new services made available to people,” says Mason. “It has been a catalyst for so many changes in formal education, creating new experiences for teaching and learning online at universities and schools.
“But it has also become a trigger for new players in the space. It’s an open frontier and a new marketplace for contract cheating.
“We are interested in knowing what’s happening in terms of online behaviour and what the online environment allows to happen.”
To learn this, one of the researchers went undercover as a student and searched for web-based services from global contract cheating providers. Many of these were able to cheat online systems adopted during the pandemic, so cheating transitions from merely ‘ghost-writing’ to ‘ghost-studying’.
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However, while this may seem like an easy way to get through uni during a tough year, Hill says that there is no real winner when it comes to contract cheating.
“Once the students [graduate and] get into the profession, they cannot perform tasks because they missed out on learning the knowledge and skills, so the professional community is also suffering,” Hill explains.
“There are also many cases where students who were promised a plagiarism-free assignment by ghost writers, but that did not deliver. They could not complain due to fear of being reported to the university.
“The purpose of our study is not to catch particular students, but to identify solutions to the issue.”
The authors say that contract cheating is a global problem and requires academics and universities all over the world to tackle the cheating method together.
“It’s not a single university’s fault or sole responsibility,” says Hill. “Lecturers and academics often rely on plagiarism detection tools such as Turnitin, but research finds there are smarter devices that can outsmart these tools.
“So there needs to be a model of collaboration to address this problem. We all have a responsibility to try to identify and help solve the issue.”
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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