Lunchtime sessions included:

'Contract Cheating': an overview of perspectives (academic, student) exploring ways to detect and alleviate contract cheating, considering the roles of registry and technology
'If you were me and I were you' 

'Contract Cheating': an overview of perspectives (academic, student) exploring ways to detect and alleviate contract cheating, considering the roles of registry and technology

Adam Edwards, Library Liaison Manager
Sue Bailey, Deputy Academic Registrar; 
Venetia Brown, Director of Programmes - Post Qualifying Nursing, Child Health
Michael Jones Middlesex University Students' Union

Contract cheating, where students employ other people to complete a piece of work for them, is an increasing issue in UK higher education. This session will feature short presentations from University staff and MDXSU about the current situation. It aims to provide an overview for academic and professional staff of the main challenges for universities of essay mills and contract cheating and to start a discussion on ways in which it might be tackled at Middlesex.


Session summary:

The four presenters offered a valuable overview of this multi-faceted and complex form of plagiarism, i.e. students purchasing essays from third parties for a fee, variably known as ‘contract cheating’, ‘custom essays’, or ‘essay fraud’.

Adam Edwards, Library Liaison Manager at Middlesex, kicked off the session with an engaging and well-informed account of the key issues relating to ‘contract cheating’, both from the point of view of the university and of the student. For sure, this is not a new phenomenon, but a notable increase has been reported in the sector during the last 5 years. This kind of practice not only has a negative impact on the reputation of institutions, but most importantly can harm students, who often fall victims of blackmail. This happens when the third parties, who have taken up the commission to write up the essay, keep on asking for payments from the students by threatening them that their fraud will be reported to the university. What can be done? The way forward is strong collaboration between all university services, academic staff, and students, so that awareness is raised, new modes of assessment are implemented and training on academic integrity becomes more widespread. Of course, this is not just a local or even national issue but international. Adam informed us about the forthcoming “International Day of Action against Contract Cheating” on 18th October 2017 to which Middlesex University will be contributing by launching a campaign called MDX BeWise.

Sue Bailey offered an update about the University’s regulatory context. The relevant section of the University’s regulations for 2017-18 (section F, p. 68) has now been fully updated to take into account the varied cases of ‘contract cheating’. Sue regularly contributes her expertise to CAPE’s workshop on Academic Integrity, highly recommended to all staff. Similarly to Adam’s talk, Sue’s presentation highlighted the need for cross-university collaborative approaches to this issue.

Venitia Brown’s presentation aptly filled in the picture with the academic’s perspective on this matter. As Director of Programmes for Post Qualifying Nursing and Child Health, Venitia explained that her team works hard to prevent such forms of plagiarism because of the serious implications for professional programmes. Although assessment varies widely and oral examinations/presentations are quite common, still there might be cases of students attempting to cheat with their essay work. To prevent this, students are constantly reminded that in case they do so, their standing will be compromised because they will break the rules of their professional body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which has strict requirements regarding professionalism, trust and declarations of good character.

The session concluded with Michael Jones’s insightful presentation about the support that the Middlesex Student Union (MDXSU) offers to students on all matters regarding assessment: from help with explaining assessment briefs up to concerns about plagiarism and appeals. Last year MDXSU offered support on such matters to approximately 300 students. This is a considerable number indicating that assessment is a key concern for students. Michael highlighted the growing need for more concentrated efforts to support students not only with assessment literacy but also with making the Regulations more accessible.       

This well-attended session and the forthcoming ‘MDX Be Wise’ campaign are good signs that such efforts are taking a new shape to engage students and staff and to bring an end to unnecessary cases of academic misconduct.

For more details, please refer to the presenters’ slides above.
Report by Katerina Loukopoulou, Senior Academic Developer, CAPE

`If you were me and I were you`

Dr Doirean Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management, Middlesex University London

Click here to download the original session abstract and summary.

Click here to access the session slides. 

The report below is by Asanka Dayananda, Senior Academic Developer, Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement

Participants using identity swap cards

What would it feel like if you had a different skin colour or ethnicity, was a different gender, or you had a learning disability? Dr Doirean Wilson, the diversity lead for Middlesex University, introduced an exercise she designed to help individuals swap their identity by sharing what it feels like to be the unique individual they are, the obstacles they face, and assumptions others make about them.

The identity swap encourages participants to explore what it is like to be someone with an identity that is different to their own. The exercise involves working in pairs and picking 3 to 6 prompt cards to share insights into how their identity influences an everyday situation. Examples could include, turning up for a meeting and realising you are the only man in the room (gender card) or a teacher in a classroom where the teaching podium (which is taller than you) hides you from your students (height card).

A set of 48 identity swap prompt cards help with asking questions and gaining background information.

This exercise may be ideal, for module or seminar leaders who are keen to encourage students to get to know each other during the first few weeks of study (see the links to materials below that support this exercise).

Feedback from participants:

‘Initially when we came in and heard what we had to do, I thought: what have I got myself into? It was a really pleasant experience. Absolutely, from both sides…being the person who is asking the probing questions got me to think about and analyse and justify my position, which was quite helpful. The other way as well, just listening to the other person, helped to almost conjure an image of my partner. I have never done this before; it was such a positive experience’

‘I loved the experience, in such a short span of time you can get to the core of a person. I was thinking about this person, how is it actually possible, I found it fascinating, even though I can’t relate to other things, I could on height’

‘I actually found it really easy to be open and talk, I think that’s probably because you set the tone. With what was coming up, there was a lot of things we both could relate with, there was a lot of similarities in the way we experience things and why we do or don’t do things such as drink alcohol. Some of the reasons might be religious, spiritual, cultural, traditional or just because you don’t want to’

‘I learnt that we automatically make assumptions from the way you see people, visually see them, until you start talking to them, then you make more assumptions. You automatically build a picture in your head, as you speak to them you learn a lot about how much they know and how capable they are. Because you assume their capabilities in different ways… you suddenly become acutely aware how the assumptions shape your opinion of that person- unconscious bias ‘

Additional materials:

Doirean Wilson (2017) An Inclusive Teaching, Learning & Training Approach to Diversity: Strategic Framework Model (pdf)

Doirean Wilson (2017) If you were me, and I were you! Identity swap subject prompt cards (pdf)