Contract cheating challenge: authentic tasks, bogus answers

Authentic assessment is good for student learning, but it does not necessarily stop contract cheating

What should work: Assessing students on tasks, “that better reflect the complex challenges they will face in the real world” is often assumed to be an answer to contract cheating, because the challenge is so interesting students will want to do the work and because it is way too hard for somebody else to complete for them.

But may not: Optimistic assumption, shame about the evidence. Cath Ellis (UNSW) and colleagues analysed assignment orders placed on academic-writing websites, and a set of assessment tasks where contract cheating was detected, using five authenticity factors. They conclude students “routinely outsource” assessment tasks.

What’s going on: There, is, they found, “no conclusive evidence of a relationship between the authenticity score of an assessment task and the detection of paid contract cheating.”

But cheating isn’t all the same, with some intriguing apparent, (if not necessarily real) outliers. While “a high proportion of students in engineering admit to cheating behaviours,” Ellis et al.’s analysis found contract cheating cases “infrequently identified”. They suggest, this might be because engineering students collude among themselves rather than use commercial providers.

They also identified “relatively few orders” for commercial providers to complete assignments for education students, but those they did had high authenticity factors. “This may indicate that assessment tasks in that discipline are more likely to be highly authentic and/or that students in that discipline are more likely to outsource highly authentic tasks.”

Be warned: “The findings from this research have the potential to change the landscape of academic integrity advice, where educators have been encouraged to create authentic, meaningful and engaging assessments to ensure that students do not want to cheat,” they warn.

“While we agree with other educational researchers that authentic assessment, with its emphasis on engaging students in real-world, complex tasks linked to professional practice is good for learning, our research challenges the belief that, in itself, authentic assessment will assure academic integrity.”

It might be too hard: The authors argue that because authentic assessment is based on “realistic, professionally focussed and complex tasks” the approach, “may be unfamiliar to many academically and linguistically diverse students.”

“Providing the appropriate time-intensive and scaffolded support to familiarise these students with these authentic contexts and environments may not be feasible in the current under-resourced higher-education environment, leaving some students adrift and tempted to seek unauthorised assistance


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