• Head of College Message W09 T2 2018

    28 June, 2018


    Universities are now exposing more incidences of ‘contract cheating’. This involves students ‘outsourcing’ their assignments, or in some instances, having paid ‘ring-ins’ sit their examinations. Some universities already use software to determine whether plagiarism is occurring but they are now looking to new technology that will clamp down on unethical practices by monitoring students unique writing styles. This followed an investigation that revealed thousands of students had paid up to $1000 for a Sydney company to write their university essays.

    Forensic linguists, experts who look at ransom notes or suspicious wills, have identified around 70 different factors that make up a person’s unique writing style. These include things like the use of dashes, commas, brackets and spacing after full stops. These are like fingerprints - something unique to each person. New software can use this to compare an essay with previously submitted ones to see if they have written by the same student!

    Teachers have heard stories for years about others writing assignments or essays for other students. For some time there was a website called ‘Bored of Studies’, a play on the then government agency name ‘Board of Studies’ (now NESA) where such documents could be sourced. But it’s not all about computers, teachers have a great gut instinct when something isn’t right or when they read a paper that just doesn’t gel. The trouble is getting the proof.

    While the new technology doesn’t conclusively say whether a student has engaged in contract cheating, it makes staff aware there is a high likelihood of it occurring. Just as hackers keep circumventing new security systems, unscrupulous students will inevitably find ways around these new checks but this sends a clear signal: if you try and cheat, you will likely get caught.

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