The shift to online and blended learning over the past year has undoubtedly presented challenges to the whole of the education sector. From navigating the logistics of school and university closures to getting to grips with teaching remotely and ensuring that students remain engaged and supported - there has been a myriad of obstacles to overcome. However, one hurdle that still needs careful consideration is how best to uphold academic integrity.
The rise of contract cheating
Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, academic misconduct was on the rise.
Research from Swansea University suggests that as many as one in seven students globally could be engaging in commercial contract cheating, with the boom in online learning leading to a steep rise in essay mills targeting students online.
Robin Crockett, University Lead on Contract Cheating, University of Northampton, observed, "The increases in numbers of essay mills over recent years, and the increasingly cheap prices charged to students, means education institutions have increasing contract cheating/commissioning problems to address.”
The Contract Cheating and Assessment Design Project also suggests that students are more likely to consider contract cheating when they are feeling “dissatisfied with the teaching and learning environment.”
With the disruption to conventional teaching, social distancing measures and new testing that students are facing, it’s understandable that many of them will be feeling anxious about their learning environment. Some students will also feel less supported and unaware of the expectations around proper citation and original authorship, and consequently will be an easy target for growing numbers of essay mills.
Academic misconduct presents a threat to the reputation of education institutions, and students who cheat not only risk their academic careers but could also enter the workplace without the necessary skills, knowledge or competency that they need.
It’s clear that we need to act fast to stamp out academic misconduct. As members of the UK Academic Integrity Advisory Group, we are proud to have supported the QAA with their 2020 launch of the Academic Integrity Charter intended as a ‘gold standard’ for all schools, colleges and universities to use as the basis of their own academic integrity policies and procedures.
The principles of the Charter are simple but effective. Emphasising a unified approach, the Charter calls for all of us within the education sector to work together to implement policies and practices that engage and empower staff and students, while giving each institution the autonomy to provide the tools and support needed to promote academic integrity.
The Charter helps ensure that educators are gradually developing their students’ knowledge and skills throughout their learning journey and consistently reminding them of expectations and boundaries. Through embedding policies and procedures via a variety of formats, the Charter will help students feel engaged, supported and inspired to think with originality.
How to get involved
At the time of writing, 134 institutions and bodies have already signed up to the Charter. We are calling on you, as educators, teachers and higher education professionals, to join us and the wider UK higher education sector in signing up to the Academic Integrity Charter today.
In today’s world of online learning, it’s more important than ever that we protect academic integrity, promote honesty and unique thinking and set our students up for success. So, let’s join together, implement the Charter principles and tackle misconduct right at the source.