Academic Integrity Update: Contract cheating: no, Nana won’t be sent to jail

Contract cheating has been in the media again recently with the development of draft Commonwealth legislation to make the provision of contract cheating services illegal. The proposed penalties, including imprisonment, are substantial. In an interview with Julie Hare, Tracey Bretag from University of South Australia outlines some of the key elements of the legislation and what she sees as its place in a systemic strategy to deal with this issue. Essentially it is part of the answer but not the answer on its own.

In the media, headlines like ‘Government targets university cheats’ have created the impression that the penalties will apply to students who use contract cheating services or that mum, dad or grandma will go to prison if they help a family member with an assignment. This certainly doesn’t seem to be the intent of the draft legislation.

Discussions around the issue have also prompted the usual responses: ‘It’s impossible to prove that a student has cheated, so the legislation won’t have any effect anyway’. While it can be challenging to prove contract cheating has happened, recent research shows that it is possible to identify characteristics of student work that suggest that it may have occurred. The OLT funded ‘Contract cheating and assessment design’ project produced a resource focused on Substantiating contract cheating which proposes not focusing on ‘proof’ but on the ‘balance of probability’ based on evidence that contract cheating may have occurred and includes a very useful table of textual signs that may indicate a problem. Phillip Dawson and Wendy Sutherland-Smith (2018) present the results of a pilot study that suggest that training can substantially improve the ability of academics to identify contract cheating. While it may be difficult to prove, it is possible to produce evidence that can contribute to judgements that on the ‘balance of probability’ something untoward has occurred that requires further investigation.

Contributed by Dr Don Houston
Senior Lecturer – CILT

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