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How In-Class Writing Assignments Prevent Contract Cheating

Fighting contract cheating by supplementing student learning

Christine Lee
Christine Lee
Content Manager






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Earlier this week, we shared a list of tactics crowdsourced from our teacher network, aimed at fighting back against contract cheating. We discovered that in-class writing assignments, and only in-class writing assignments, are a popular method for combatting contract cheating.

Not surprising, since plagiarism would be nearly impossible under observation. And yet--let’s put it under a microscope.

What are we getting with in-class assignments?

Many teachers, facing the prevalence of cheating, only assign in-class writing. A higher ed instructor who teaches composition, says, “It’s so common that I stopped assigning take-home papers for undergrads; I assign in-class essays only.” Another, a high school teacher based in the Bay Area states, “I don’t do formal lit crit essays anymore, because of the cheating. Only in-class [writing].”

Educators still assign research-based essays, but the fear of contract cheating is such that in-class writing has taken a permanent seat in the pedagogy of writing instruction. Should in-class writing be a substitute for research essays?

Herein lies a potential problem:

  • In-class writing could mitigate contract cheating at the sacrifice of learning to write research-based work required for lifelong, critical thinking.
  • If the result of contract cheating is that students don’t learn from the assignment--the alternative shouldn’t be excluding a certain type of learning of opportunity for students.

But in-class writing doesn’t have to sacrifice or replace long form research papers. In fact, they can be used as a window into the writing process, through which teachers and students communicate and share feedback. In-class writing opens up possibilities for teachable moments.

One professor of writing at a second tier research institution in the U.S. says she incorporates in-class writing into her process:

“I have students do in-class writing related to the assignment. I also require students to submit (and I offer brief feedback on) process steps. It becomes harder for students to simply purchase and submit an essay this way.”

It’s beautiful to see in-class writing as part of the initial, brainstorming step of the process, that educators are encouraging original thought from the essay’s inception.

Many teachers also have students revise essays in-class, and use multiple drafts as opportunities for peer review as well as teacher feedback, thereby providing scaffolding for the student as they move through essay-writing.

In doing so, students develop the skills to write research papers and fine-tune critical thinking skills crucial to post-academic life. And it makes contract cheating all the more difficult, as multiple drafts would be more challenging to procure from essay mills or individual ghostwriters.

Instead, what we have is teachers supporting students.

In-class writing assignments don’t have to exist at the sacrifice of research-based, long form papers. Using in-class writing is critical not only as a diagnostic baseline for writing--but also a supplement for the writing process, which is best made transparent. In conjunction with a transparent writing process, complete with feedback, in-class writing is an effective deterrent.

But deterrence only goes so far.

Cath Ellis, Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Australia, is a notable anti-plagiarism activist and researcher. She confirms, “The longterm solution isn’t excluding types of writing--but supplementing,” as we note in this blog post. There has to be a multi-pronged approach, both from the perspective of pedagogy as well as tools.

Want to address contract cheating at your institution? Learn more about Turnitin Originality.