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....

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