Friday, May 26, 2017

Brno, Day 3

Day 2
The last day of the plagiarism conference in Brno - time has just flown by! It's been so wonderful to talk (and share some wine) with colleagues from around the world who are concerned with academic integrity. Here's a short overview of the talks I heard today:
  • Thomas Lancaster from Staffordshire University opened up the third day with his talk on "Rethinking Assessment by Examination in the Age of Contract Cheating." He first showed us some current newspaper articles about contract cheating, then ads from sites offering exam sit-ins, and all sorts of technology that can be used for cheating: Special cheating watches, mini-earpieces, a pen with a camera, boxer shorts (!!) with communication devices built in, and a mobile phone cover that looks like an ancient calculator and actually works, so that it passes a quick check by a proctor. There is quite a market for such tools, apparently. He also showed ads for people wanting others to take the exams for them that contract cheating sites insist that potential "authors" pass. So we have cheaters cheating to be employed as cheating enabelers .... He brought up an important question involving so-called "smart drugs" (Nootropics): Should the use of such drugs to enhance performance be considered cheating, as they are not available to everyone? It was noted that coffee and cigarettes can be considered a nootropic as well. 
  • Trudy Somers, from the online university Northcentral University suggested taking lessons from how businesses attempt to fight corruption and embezzlement. She notes that the Fraud Triangle or Diamond is used to explain situations in which this can occur: When there is pressure or incentives to do so, the person has the opportunity, there is a ready rationalization, and they have the capability to do so. 
  • Wendy Sutherland-Smith, from Deakin University in Australia, spoke about a system that is in place in 5 out of 6 Australian states: There are student advocates who are there to ensure that students do not face academic integrity hearings alone and know their rights as well as the formal procedures and range of potential outcomes. She notes that the largest problem students with integrity issues face is pressure and a fear of failure. Many in such a situation think that everyone else is cheating, and when they see others getting away with contract cheating, they rationalize (see above) that they can do it, too. Sie suggests introducing academic integrity modules in core units, increasing legitimate support (also for online students!), pressure governments for national legislation on contract cheating, and increase contract cheating awareness campaigns (there will be one in October, I didn't note the date, will add it here when I find it). She also suggested using technology for identification of students, I am quite opposed to such surveillence technologies, personally. She closed encouraging us to focus on EDD: Education, Deterrence and Detection, and to involve students in the issue, as they are our allies in the fight against contract cheating.
  • Veronika Králíová, a master's student of Tomáš Foltýnek, conducted an analysis of the ghostwriter market in Czechia. She was able to identify more than 100 sites, although it was not possible to determine if the same person or company was behind multiple sites.  She then looked at the log files for her university for three months and found tens of thousands of accesses to these sites. She also commissioned two papers (and the ethics of this was questioned during the discussion) and then surveyed people online to ask if they had ever used such a service. 8 % stated that they had, 60% of them had asked a friend or classmate, the rest used the services of a company. She suggests that, among other things, her university re-direct student attempts to access cheating sites to a page that informs the student about the legitimate help they can get at the university
  • Patrick Juola, from Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, USA, spoke about using stylometrics to detect whether the authors of two papers are probably the same person or not. He introduced an interesting case he was involved with, determining that the author "Robert Galbraith" was most probably JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books. After a newspaper picked this up, Rowling admitted that she was, indeed, the author. He emphasized that any seven word string that you write would most probably be unique unless you are quoting someone or using a set term or saying. I've been saying this for years, but no one believes me, so now I can quote Juola on it 😀. He has a company that offers authorship comparison services, and notes that determining multiple authorship is still a research question.
  • There was then a discussion panel on "Strategies for Addressing Contract Cheating" with Thomas Lancaster, Phil Newton, Shiva Sivasubramaniam, and Chloe Walker. I think we could have discussed with these four until sundown, at least, but there was only an hour available. An interesting discussion flared up over whether the outsourcing of writing work to services in disadvantaged countries is colonial exploitation. It was also noted that some students are getting overassessed, and the burden of grading all of these assessments increases the workload for the teachers. The topic of gift authorship was also briefly touched on. I think Chloe summed it up nicely when she said: Ethics gets subsumed to the practicalities of Real Life.
  • Teddi Fishman, the former director of the International Center of Academic Integrity had the job of summing up the conference. One of her important points is that we get bogged down in dealing with what we don't want: plagiarism, grade inflation, data manipulation, contract cheating. She suggested that we refocus our efforts on what we want: Skill acquisition, verifiable & trustworthy data, and learning. We have to require that the students participate actively in the learning, and we need to introduce more interactivity into the process, getting away from boring lectures. She strongly encouraged us to be brave and try out new formats of assessment, for example, students submitting videos of themselves doing what they need to be learning, or some such. And then to practice what she preached, she had someone prepare some slides she had not seen before, and she used them to sum up the conference, a sort of Powerpoint Karaoke. There were some really difficult pictures presented, but she always came up with something good! 
I read some of the papers for talks that I was not able to hear because they were in parallel sessions. I'd like to comment briefly on two of these here.
  • Marco Cosentino, Franca Marino, Chandana Haldar and Georges J. M. Maestroni give an account of the experience they had of being added as honorary authors to a (rather flawed) paper and having to expend much effort (and wait a long time) for a retraction to be published.
  • Julius Kravjar is looking to extend the thesis repository that he and colleagues run with their plagiarism detection system SVOP in Slovakia to a pan-European repository of theses and dissertations. He examines various issues that would have to be dealt with if there was to be such a repository. 
There were so many good discussions over the last three days, during sessions and during outings. For example, on the bus I discovered that the person sitting next to me, Erik Borg, is one of the chapter authors for a book that is in preparation! We've exchanged many emails but never met in person. There were also many representatives from various countries that are members of the Council of Europe who were there to learn. I find that quite heartening that they are planning on getting active about academic integrity! I didn't see any German officials, although there were participants from Germany, with talks and posters. I will try to spread the word about the European Network for Academic Integrity!

As a Swiss Army Knife-carrying person I was quite enchanted with these knives in chocolate:

Bizarrely, I had the following tweet in my timeline after tweeting up a storm the past three days on contract cheating:

I guess they didn't understand what I was tweeting about....

Brno, Day 2

Day 1                                                                                                                  Day 3 → 
Just got back from a long afternoon and evening of a social program that included a lot of history of the region. Here is a short list of the talks that I heard today at the plagiarism conference in Brno:
  • The conference began today with a keynote speach from Calin Rus from the Intercultural Institute of Timisoara, Romania. He spoke about "Competences for Democratic Culture Model" that the Council of Europe is proposing for setting out the values, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and cultural understanding that should be the basis for education in countries that are members of the Council of Europe. In a way this boils down to showing respect to people you fundamentally disagree with. Rus linked intercultural competencies to a culture of academic integrity. This was widely acclaimed as being a good description of the way forward towards a "whole school" approach to education.
  • Phil Newton from Swansea University then gave a rousing keynote on dealing with contract cheating. He referred us to the Australian site on the topic, cheatingandassessment. He walked us through the current business of ordering and selling bespoke essays that is part of the "gig-economy." He noted that contract cheating is big, cheap, quick, versatile, and established, so we have to learn to deal with it. We can't eradicate it, but we can make it harder to get away with. Setting short turnaround times is not a solution. He proposes ALE, not the beer, but Assessment design, Law and Education. Included in the education must be the educators. His group looked at 20 books on teacher education and found that only 12 of them even used the word "plagiarism", and none contained even the words "academic integrity," We need to engage, educate, and understand our students and design assissments to limit the influence of contract cheating. We need to focus on what students can do (i.e. demonstrate in a viva/oral exam), use portfolios and personal & specific assessments. He notes that the ghostwriter market is legal at the moment, but we should consider how to perhaps make it illegal. During the discussion it was noted that many academics are living in precarious situations and may be driven to work as ghostwriters.
  • Ali Tahmazov & Cristina Costinius, from the text-matching software company Strike Plagiarism, spoke of the role of politics in academic plagiarism. They cautioned about countries trying to have their own software programmed just for their particular country. There is a limited use for one-size-fits-all solutions.
  • Irene Glendinning, Dita Dlabolová, and Dana Linkeshová spoke about exploring issues challenging academic integrity in South East Europe. They obtained funding from the Council of Europe for a project SEEPPAI in which they interviewed students and teachers in Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia. They used the same instruments as the EU-Erasmus-funded IPPHEAE project, and thus could compare the results with the results of the EU countries (there are 50 countries in the Council of Europe). The results are published on the SEEPPAI web page. When asked if there was any reaction from the respective governments, a member of the audience noted that Montenegro is currently purchasing a country-wide licence for test-matching software.
  • Gábor Király from the Budapest Business School in Hungary spoke about comparing lecturers’ and students’ understanding of student cheating. I was unable to watch the presentation, as the use of Prezi unfortunately caused me to suffer an acute case of vertigo. 
  • Salim Razı, from the Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University in Turkey (and who will be organizing the plagiarism conference in 2018) presented the Turkish situation with respect to policies for plagiarism and academic integrity. His goal is to set and enforce nationwide, consistent and standard sanctions for plagiarism. He notes that just because there are no investigations by an ethics board, this does not mean that there is no plagiarism. It is just being dealt with on another level. He called for plagiarism awareness training to begin as early as possible.
  • Jonathan Kasler, Tel Hai College, Israel, conducted an interesting survey using Don McCabe's self-reporting questionnaire on cheating. He found significant differences between the Hebrew- and the Arabic-speaking students at his school. A good debate ensued as to whether this was due to cultural differences, or to the L2 problem, that is, the Arabic-speaking students are not working in their mother language.
  • Emilia Sercan, an assistant professor for journalism at the University of Bucharest, Romania and an investigative journalist, reported on plagiarism in PhD theses awarded just at military universities in Romania. That alone was hair-raising enough. She has, working alone, documented 15 cases of blatent plagiarism in doctoral dissertations in the past two years. The prime minister, Victor Ponta, was involved in a long, drawn-out plagiarism scandal involving his PhD that eventually ended in him asking for his doctorate to be withdrawn. There were so many cases that involved high-ranking politicans, she was only able to briefly present a few. The political reaction has been to restrict public access to doctoral dissertations.
  • The moning session ended with Chloe Walker from the University of Oxford, UK, presenting a working paper on the Nairobi Shadow Academy. In Kenya there is a very large group of so-called "academic writers" that write bespoke essays in English. She has managed to contact many such writers and has had 220 answer a written survey. She interviewed 29 in a semi-structured manner and had in-depth interviews with 4 writers. She also did some first-person ethnography, pretending for two weeks to be a potential writer for one of the agencies. She is looking at, among other things, the motivations of the writers. For most, it is the money, although some only get paid 3-4$ per page, while others can earn 25-30 $/page. It is a career that can be done from home and is very flexible. One writer defended his work with: "If I don't stock cigarettes in my shop, that won't keep people from smoking." She closed with the question as to how it is possible for a 2nd year medical student in Kenya to write a graduate-level philosophy paper of passable quality for a German university, having had no prior training, never attending a lecture, and having never read a philosophy text in his life. I noted that the reason is probably that the paper was not even read by the grader. I look forward to reading her dissertation when she has it published.
So, those were the talks I managed to visit today, more coming up on Day 3, the final day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Brno, Day 1

Day 2
The Third International Conference Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond is currently taking place in Brno in the Czech Republic. I am attending just for the fun of it and so enjoying speaking with all these people who, like me, are interested in promoting academic integrity and dealing with the plagiarism problem. Here is a short review of the talks I heard today:
  • The opening keynote was by Tracey Bretag, from the University of South Australia, on "Evidence-based responses to contract cheating." She noted that many teachers have had a feeling that there is a massive problem with contract cheating, but since it has finally hit the media in the form of scandals such as the MyMaster or the Airtasker ones, there is now attention being focused on cheating behaviors. She and her group have been collecting data on contract cheating, surveying both students (14 086) and staff (1 147) on how wrong they find various cheating activities and whether they have observed such behavior or done it themselves. They also asked for the outcomes (a much, much better term than "penalty" or "sanction") of being discovered. Surprisingly, they were able to isolate a group of about 600 cheaters and could compare their attitudes to the non-cheaters. Cheaters thought that more than 60 % of other students cheated, so they perhaps think that it's okay for them to cheat. Staff was much more realistic, assuming between 1 and 10% of students cheating. They are still evaluating the data, but it is clear that just "fixing" assignment design is not the answer! Forcing exams instead of writing papers is not the answer, as there are more opportunities to cheat in exams, for example by sending someone else to take the exam or using electronic devices. Problematic was that only 3% of the cases detected resulted in suspension, although that is communicated as the outcome for being caught cheating. 23 % of the staff noted that they were not informed of the results of their informing official bodies of a cheating incident.
  • Tomáš Foltýnek from the Mendel University in Brno then introduced the European Network for Academic Integrity that was founded yesterday in Brno with currently nine institutions. Institutions can be members, individuals can join as supporters. They want to focus on collecting and communicating best practice about academic integrity, and for organizing more conferences like the current one. In 2008 there will be a conference in Turkey, in 2009 in Lithuania. They will also be offering workshops to members. Annual fee for institutions is to be 300 €, for supporters 50 €. They are also supported by the Erasmus+ program and the Council of Europe.
  • Jeffrey Beall from the University of Colorado, Denver, gave a keynote on Detecting and reporting Plagiarism in Predatory Journals and Other Publications. He noted dryly that it sometimes seems that plagiarism is only important when the person accused is your enemy. If your hero is caught plagiarizing, it's not a problem. There are very few incentives for people to report plagiarism, and there can even be more punishment for the informer than for the plagiarist. He gave some examples of publishers that exploit the gold open-access model and promise peer review, but don't acutually do so. There was even one journal for which we could have still submitted an article today and had it published on May 31! Beall has charted some of the fake citation indices, and they appear to only ever increase, never to decrease. He published an article, Advice for Plagiarism Whistleblowers, together with a colleague, Marx Fox, who ended up in court over a case of whistleblowing, but was able to win his case (1 - 2). Beall also discussed the plagiarism in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s thesis.
  • The "Gold Sponsors" of the conference were each given a short slot to present material, with the express purpose of NOT giving a sales presentation. Goa Borrek (Turnitin) spoke about his Journey in Academic Integrity, and James Bennett (Urkund) about Why Percentages are not your Friend. Borrek presented a model "From Plagiarism to Academic Excellence" that looked a lot like the Academic Integrity Maturity Model, but I was in the third row and could not make out the text on the slide, so I am not sure. Bennett was preaching to the converted with a contrived example demonstrating that percentages can be extremely misleading. I questioned why, then, does Urkund use so many percentages in their reports and got a rather roundabout answer saying that people expect them. 
  • I chaired a session on "Internationalisation, student mobility and academic integrity" that had an interesting collection of talks about various countries and cultures. Eckhard Burkatzki (Germany) spoke on Cultural Differences regarding expected utilities and costs of plagiarism, investigating students from Germany, Denmark and Poland. They come from different trust cultures and turned out to have significantly different attitudes towards plagiarism. Amanda McKenzie and Jo Hinchliffe (Canada) had some interesting Integrity Insights from India they collected during visits to nine different Indian universities. For example, some universities use biometric scanners for fingerprints in the lecture halls and the students must check in and out of the lectures and the exams. They noted that many second and third tier universities do not prepare students well for Master's level work in Canada. Stephen Gow (UK) used critical theory to look at academic integrity issues for students from China. Bob Ives (USA) gave two talks, one on a meta-study he is doing on  predictors of academic dishonesty and some patterns and predictors of academic dishonests in Romania and Moldavia. The session closed with M. Shahid Soroya (Pakistan) giving an overview about the Status of Academic Integrity in Pakistan. They, too, have had some plagiarism scandals that made the news (3), which has driven the Higher Education Council to issue standard operating procedures for dealing with plagiarism cases. Pakistan offers the use of Turnitin at all the universities, and offers training programs for teachers. Mystifyingly, they define a threshold of 18 % or less reported by Turnitin to be "original." It was not possible to learn the reasoning behind the choice of this number.
  • In the session on "Best practices and strategies for awareness, prevention, detection of academic misconduct" Andrzej Kurkiewicz spoke about the new procedures for dealing with academic integrity cases in Poland. This seemed to involve far too many official offices and also only dealt with cases that were discovered internally. I asked about how they deal with cases that whistleblowers alert them to, but apparently they are not seen as being part of this process. Poland is also putting together a central repository of graduate theses. Andrei Rostovtsev is from the Dissernet group of academics in Russia that publicly documents plagiarism in Russian doctoral dissertations. They do a quick comparison of the long abstracts that are publicly available on Russian dissertations and have found thousands of highly similar dissertations. One rather amusing pair involves chocolate and beef. All the words dealing with chocolate were replaced by words about beef processing, the rest of the thesis is identical. There is a film about the group, showing for example the bullet hole that appeared in Rostovtsev's window in his apartment one morning. One does not make many friends documenting plagiarism in Russia, it seems. They are currently using the meta data published with the abstracts to illustrate the networks of researchers. The clusters and networks so identified are very close to the clusters of plagiarism previously identified. Ines Friss de Kereki spoke on using MOSS and JPlag to detect collusion in computer science homework programs.
We had a nice dinner at the science and technology museum in Brno, and enjoyed playing with the exhibits. I did not ride the bicycle over the tightrope, but some brave souls did.

More talks tomorrow!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Plagiarism in a CRISPR paper

A blog on stem cells, The Niche, has published an account of the publishing of an erratum on a CRISPR journal article. CRISPR is the technology used to copy slices out of DNA and paste them in other places, if I understand this terribly oversimplified description correctly. The author who was plagiarized kept exact notes on his extensive correspondence with the publisher (Springer). It's an interesting read, as it raises multiple issues.