Students have been hitting the headlines in relation to increased levels of cheating just as a new Essay Mills (Prohibition) Bill was put forward to the UK Parliament last month. However, most students don't intend to be dishonest - so how do we provide formative academic integrity feedback and enhance self-efficacy?
Last month, the Essay Mills (Prohibition) Bill was introduced into the House of Commons, seeking to outlaw essay-writing services in the UK, with concerns that essay mill websites threaten to “damage academic integrity beyond repair”. Chris Skidmore MP stated that “each week that passes during the Covid pandemic, the situation is only growing worse,” with the number of contract cheating websites in the UK increasing rapidly.
Recent research published by Imperial College London (ICL) was cited during the introduction of the Bill. Authored by Dr Thomas Lancaster and Codrin Cotarlan, the paper, Contract cheating by STEM students through a file sharing website: a Covid-19 pandemic perspective called for academic institutions to “to minimise the risk to educational standards posed by sites such as Chegg, particularly since increased online teaching and assessment may continue after the pandemic” by putting interventions in place. In fact, the proliferation of these sites was also noted in June 2020, when the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) released guidance on “how to address essay mills and contract cheating,” calling for universities to better support remote-learning students with enhanced study support and academic mentoring.
QAA June 2020 guidance called for 'universities to better support remote-learning students with enhanced study support and academic mentoring'
The ICL research cites that student requests to Chegg increased by 196.25% between April-August 2019 and April- August 2020. This mirrors our own help-seeking data, which showed a 50% increase in the number of students help-seeking between March -June 2019 and the same period in 2020 and an increase of 55% in the number of sessions between the same comparison period. The message here is pretty clear, students are asking for more help wherever they can.
A pivot to online learning does not cause cheating alone, but combined with the increased challenges of support, increased pressures, a decreasing sense of belonging - or simply a lack of understanding - can create situations where students turn to essay writing services and other methods of cheating. So, how should students and academic staff be supported during this era of enforced remote learning, and beyond? How do we reinforce academic integrity to ensure the quality and reputation of UK universities remains intact? We know students want to do the right thing - we have 2018 data that shows 93.63% felt it is important for people to do all of their own written work at university, and 98.53% believe that paying others to do their uni assignments is wrong.
"The message here is pretty clear, students are asking for more help wherever they can... We know students want to do the right thing - we have 2018 data that shows 93.63% felt it is important for people to do all of their own written work at university"
Whilst the current increased media attention is focussing on deliberate cheating, what is possibly less known or understood, is that the majority of plagiarism is in fact accidental. So to address the question of how to keep academic integrity firmly intact, and as a response to QAA’s call to arms for ‘better support for remote-learning students with enhanced study support and academic mentoring’, I refer to my previous blog where following compelling independent research, my observations and recommendations for universities were to consider working with external partners as a way of enhancing inclusive student support, wellbeing and student success. Services such as Studiosity’s Citation Assist feature which sits inside the Writing Feedback service, also offers students formative citation feedback for early prevention and self-efficacy. All part of Studiosity's ‘help not answers’ policy. It’s imperative that universities who do work together in partnership with a third party feel confident that their same quality standards will be met. As a former Vice Chancellor, I understand how this trust must be paramount and the rigorousness of the Studiosity Academic Integrity policy is largely what drew me to becoming an academic advisory board member.
Professor Judyth Sachs; Professor Sally Kift; Professor John Rosenberg; Professor Chris Tisdell;
Professor Cliff Allan; Professor Rebecca Bunting; Sir Eric Thomas; Professor Petra Wend; Geoff Kinkade
Professor Cliff Allan will also host a webinar on Tuesday 16th March, 1.00pm GMT, and will be joined by an expert guest panel to discuss supporting academic integrity in the UK. Supporting academic integrity: visions for legislation, practical strategies and shared experiences: