As we move towards increased volumes of online instruction in the COVID-19 age, both students and staff are feeling the pressure. One strategy students may adopt to relieve some of that pressure is academic misconduct via contract cheating. Bretag et. al (2019) report three major factors contributing to increased risk of contract cheating: dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning experience; opportunities to cheat; and speaking a Language Other than English (LOTE) at home. Given this, COVID19 is a perfect contract cheating storm!

We can do three things. First, building relationships (and trust) with students on-line is different to getting to know students face-to-face. We need to attend to this explicitly, for example, with strong teacher presence, timely provision of learning support and meaningful regular communication.

Second, academics will need to (re)consider assessment design to reduce opportunities to cheat in, for example, non-invigilated online quizzes or recycled assessments. Good advice on assessment alternatives is being generously shared by organisations such as Australasian Council of Open, Distance and e-Learning (ACODE) and other international experts.

Third, it would be naïve to think that contract cheating providers will not directly target students, especially LOTE students affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions. Simply placing information on the learning management system about academic integrity, without integrating it into assessment discussions, is unlikely to be effective. We should tell students that we know about contract cheating and it can be detected.

It is critical that we actively monitor academic integrity or our supportive educative processes will amount to nothing. How do we do this? CRADLE at Deakin has prepared this handy Guide based on Dawson and Sutherland-Smith’s research with recommendations for training markers to better detect contract cheating. Additional institutional resourcing is required to support markers to identify, investigate and report breaches of academic integrity.

While we work through these challenging times in higher education, if we don’t do so in a way that supports academic integrity, should we do it at all?

Dr Amanda White, Deputy Head of Accounting (Students and Subjects), UTS Business School


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