When an Australian university decided to block online access to companies suspected of offering ways to cheat on homework, it found that attempts to visit their websites dwarfed the number of people on campus at the time.
Michael Sankey said Charles Darwin University, where he is director of the future of learning, had blocked access to 2,084 websites that had been blacklisted in a confidential Tertiary database Education Quality and Standards Agency (Teqsa), disseminated among institutions last September.
In just one month, the CDU recorded nearly 10,000 site visits, despite many of its students being away from campus due to the pandemic. Teqsa has since added around 250 websites to the database and flagged impending “enforcement action” against some of the most visited sites.
Recent research from support service Studiosity found that one in four Australian university students knew peers who had cheated in 2021, while more than half of Canadian post-secondary students had witnessed cheating.
Higher education is not the only sector grappling with academic malpractice. The number of final year students in New South Wales caught cheating on assessment tasks last year was 27 per cent higher than before the pandemic, with 854 offenses detected.
Such numbers scratch the surface of a snowball problem, as students “under pressure” look for ways to save time. “Things like essays, exams [and] the quizzes are really easy to cheat as they are accessible to contract tutors,” said Professor Sankey. “Many universities use the questionnaires that come with their textbooks. The answers are out there.
He said the CDU’s efforts have not stopped students from accessing cheating services off campus. And much of the on-campus access had likely been missed, with suspicious websites popping up faster than authorities can identify them. “The artificial intelligence behind a lot of these cheat sites is really breeding itself.”
Torrens University Vice-Chancellor Alwyn Louw said a “significant” proportion of cheating cases identified by his institution involved master’s students in business administration or information systems.
He said cheating was a global problem. “We shouldn’t be naive about the creativity behind all of this. Nor should the problem be oversimplified. It’s not just a matter of education, and it will go away. It’s about monitoring, managing and supporting consistently.
Phillip Dawson, associate director of the Center for Research in Digital Assessment and Learning at Deakin University, said assessment tasks could be designed to reduce misconduct. Research suggested that students were less likely to cheat on tasks they “actually wanted to do” and less able to cheat on tasks involving interactive oral assessment.
While oral assessment was “resource intensive”, it could be deployed “at times when it really matters” rather than on an ongoing basis. ‘We spend a lot of money on exams,’ Professor Dawson noted. “It’s not like all the other assessments are free.”
Professor Sankey said alternative forms of assessment could be quicker and easier than the traditional techniques used by academics by default. “Most people teach the way they were taught,” he said.
But the pervasiveness of cheating necessitated new forms of “personalized” and “authentic” assessment, where students had to apply rather than simply repeat what they had learned. For example, they could communicate career perspectives in role-plays “mimicking what they might do in the workplace.”
Most workers don’t write essays, take exams or take quizzes, Prof Sankey said. “They sit in business meetings and on committees and solve problems.”