About this website

This website reviews a range of academic integrity issues associated with student assessment. These are troubling issues concerning how a student seeks help with tackling an assignment. More exactly, we consider forms of help that are social in nature – that is, they arise through a student’s exchanges with other people.

The reason this can be troublesome is because the main actors (student, tutor, institution) may be uncertain about when the seeking of help is legitimate. Some student help seeking practices seem unarguably wrong.  Purchasing an essay from a website for instance.  While other practices seem unarguably appropriate.  Such as exploratory conversation with the assignment tutor. But these are extreme cases: the trouble resides in a grey space between them.

The pages that follow offer an evidence-oriented review of this space. We highlight the various ways in which students might seek assignment help from other people. We intend this review to be of broad interest within university communities, particularly perhaps to the academics who set, support, and grade assignments. Apart from defining the problem, the pages that follow will also converge on some possible strategies for addressing it.  However, there are no off-the-shelf solutions available. Practitioners may find this disappointing but, having scoured the literature – formal and informal (see Section 6) – robust and general-purpose solutions at the level of assignment design remain scarce. Teachers in individual disciplines will, hopefully, find their own solutions and Section 6 might at least suggest some starting points.

Our suggestion is that the first and most important step is for all parties to have a fuller awareness of how a topic we term here ‘social plagiarism’ is playing out. The present website is an attempt to contribute to consciousness raising of that kind. It is organised as follows

  1. Problematising plagiarism: defining the matters of concern and outlining our own empirical investigations of the relevant practices
  2. Social agents of plagiarism: several sections that review how students might outsource all or part of an assignment, who the main actors could be, and how they operate
  3. Quality and scale: asking how widespread this is as an integrity problem and what is the quality of that form of assignment help that can be purchased and is sometimes termed ‘contract cheating’
  4. Institutional response: asking how institutions are reacting to the offences, how regulation is managed, and how offences are detected
  5. The conditions of outsourcing: asking how can this practice be understood as something emerging as a byproduct of wider cultural forces
  6. Addressing the problem: three strategies that might be adopted within institutions to address the problem of students outsourcing their assignment responsibilities
  7. Bibliography: the research and theory cited in these pages

This website is likely to be most useful for members of university staff that are involved with assessment integrity matters – either through administration of services or through the design of assignments. It provides a commentary on formal and informal research relating to current integrity challenges. It illustrates these understandings with data from our own empirical project.

If the analysis here helps formulate local policy, that is welcome. However, the main purpose is more one of consciousness-raising: resourcing relevant university staff to reflect on the status quo and thereby, to adjust their own practice accordingly.

If you have limited time the general conclusions may be a useful short cut or the more narrative reflection that follows these.