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How to prevent contract cheating in remote learning

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Christine Lee
Christine Lee
Content Manager






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Remote learning is a powerful platform for learning under many circumstances, affording increased flexibility for students with challenging schedules, access anywhere and anytime, and yes, access during a pandemic.

However, when undertaken under emergency circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition to remote learning can be stressful. And when students are stressed, lack connection to learning and to their teachers, and are struggling, they are more tempted to take short cut solutions like cheating (Park et al, 2013).

Contract cheating, specifically, is an increased possibility, because it may be more tempting for students to ask friends or online sites to write their essays for them without detection when they feel isolated and unseen. Additionally, contract cheating companies thrive online and market directly to students via social media; students are often targeted by companies when they tweet out about needing help on their paper. Contract cheating companies position their service as a “help” and a “smart choice” that is “plagiarism-free” to students at their most vulnerable, normalizing their offering and making students feel like they’re not engaging in misconduct.

The recent, unexpected transition from traditional face-to-face classrooms to remote learning in the context of a pandemic is one that triggers factors (a sense of isolation, lack of student support, and increased stress) that influence academic misconduct--and academic integrity offices everywhere, such as UC San Diego, are preparing nimble responses for remote learning.

At Turnitin, we’re hearing the following academic integrity concerns when it comes to remote learning in recent days:

  • When allowing students to write essays at home with open book essays, how do you know the student wrote the essay?
  • When assignments are completed in non-regulated, unsupervised circumstances, how do you know if parents, friends, and other family members are “helping?”
  • As summer approaches and exams are being moved online, will students think “I can get someone else to take my exam for me now?”

Here are some suggestions to prevent contract cheating in remote learning classrooms:


  • In your academic integrity statement, include contract cheating as an act of misconduct. Your students need to understand that contract cheating is the act of engaging a third-party to complete assignments on their behalf, which is then submitted for assessment/credit. It can take on the form of swapping papers between students, or it can be an exchange for a favor, it can be a “free” downloaded essay, and it can involve paying someone else to write the essay. Even if it might not technically be plagiarism, it is cheating and a form of academic misconduct.
  • If you’ve transitioned to online learning mid-semester or mid-quarter, you may have already reviewed academic integrity policies earlier in the course; but, as you transition online, it’s important to address academic integrity again within this new learning environment.


  • Positive feedback is more important than ever in remote learning so as to fortify student confidence and learning and to prevent academic misconduct and contract cheating. Feedback ought to go beyond “good job” and point out specific learning achievements so that students feel seen.

If something doesn’t line up in a student’s writing (e.g., if there is a marked shift in student diction), it is time to open a dialogue with your student. If you’ve had prior, positive communication with the student via feedback, you’ve already laid down the groundwork for intervention.

  • Students need to be seen for both secondary education and higher education environments. Over the next few weeks, students may crave more one on one interaction--consider hosting office hours online and even if they don’t show up, you are making yourself available, and thus reassuring students that you are there for them.

If you have to have a difficult conversation about contract cheating, your availability makes it easier for the two of you to connect.

  • Listening is always important, but in remote and online learning environments, listening is more critical, as pathways for communication narrow to online platforms. Consider assigning students to write you personal letters in response to questions such as, “How can I help you learn right now?” or “What special circumstances can we address together as a class?” to state things they might not be comfortable sharing in a group format.

This approach may also serve as a baseline for student voice and writing style that in-class assignments often serve to detect contract cheating.

Additionally, feedback loops give you more visibility into your students’ authorial voices within a remote learning context.


  • English Language Learners (ELLs) are especially vulnerable to contract cheating companies, which prey on students with specific needs and learning challenges--namely those who struggle and whose focus may not be on writing as their primary intellectual pursuit. Remote learning can be stressful for students who are not able to easily interject or quickly speak up in videoconferencing. Consider having your lectures subtitled (many video conferencing platforms have this capability) and recorded to support ELL students, as well as students with hearing impairments and the visual learners in your course.

Supported students are less apt to cheat.

  • Additionally, students with disabilities will need extra support as well. Ensure that your lectures are recorded so that students with auditory learning difficulties can re-watch your lecture. Describe the visuals you are presenting to accommodate students with visual impairments.
  • Make the originality check a little more organic with Turnitin's Microsoft Teams integration, which enables educators to seamlessly access Turnitin’s similarity checking service right within Teams. Unlimited submissions are automatically available to students, which means they can see their Similarity Score as many times as needed and make revisions, prior to the deadline. Instead of an adversarial, teacher vs. student situation where an incorrect citation causes chaos, the Similarity Check in Microsoft Teams is a formative process, a chance to reflect and redirect as a project unfurls, instead of being a score that is received after the writing process is complete. Even better, this integration will check Microsoft Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Excel files submitted through Microsoft Teams, which allows students across subject areas to turn in their best, original work.

If your students know that you have prioritized their needs they are thus less vulnerable to contract cheating companies.


Finally, Turnitin Originality provides tools, reports, and data to help instructors feel more confident in identifying many forms of potential misconduct including contract cheating. Turnitin Originality helps surface data and insights to make identification and mitigation of contract cheating easier to do at-scale and in a positive way. Some authorship features of Turnitin Originality include:

  • Document metadata and other concerning indicators are shared with instructors to provide data to review and action any instances of contract cheating
  • A comparison of a student’s work using forensic language analysis against prior submissions to clearly analyze and identify contract cheating
  • An administrator dashboard to provide transparency into and identify tiers of risk across your institution
  • Investigator reports that pull deep metadata and language analysis to help understand student writing trends and any anomalies in student writing
  • Citation detection to identify inconsistent citation styles often used in contract cheating attempts

The realm of remote and online classrooms is a new frontier for many educators--and at Turnitin, we hope our suggestions are helpful. Together, we can promote learning and the development of student authorial voices.