Contract Cheating and Assessment Design

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Photo by Adikos, 2010. Reproduced under Creative Commons licencing ( without change.

The MyMaster scandal involving several prominent NSW universities in 2015 highlighted the proliferation of contract cheating (or ghostwriting) of student assignments as a significant problem facing all Australian universities.

Associate Professor Tracey Bretag and Dr Rowena Harper of the University of South Australia are now investigating this phenomenon through an Office for Learning and Teaching Strategic Priority Project. Project partners include colleagues from the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales, Griffith University, and Swansea University (UK).

Contract Cheating and Assessment Design: Exploring the Connection is a nationwide project aiming to explore if and how authentic assessment may be used to assure academic integrity. The investigators are particularly concerned with exploring:

  • the role of assessment design as both a cause of and possible solution to the problem of contract cheating;
  • if there are particular assessment strategies that can be used to deter students from resorting to contract cheating; and
  • whether the risk of contract cheating can be “designed out” of assessments altogether.

In exploring these issues, the project focuses on the views and experiences of two critical stakeholders in academic integrity – students and teaching staff. Participants will take part in surveys to further investigate the nature and scope of contract cheating. The project will also analyse data that demonstrate which types of assignments are most commonly contracted out to third parties.

It is anticipated that the findings emerging from the project will improve our understanding of this critical issue. In doing so, the project team hope to develop proactive, evidence-based learning and teaching strategies to support universities in future.

For more information, please visit the project website. There is also the opportunity for staff to participate in the study via an anonymous survey at the educational integrity intranet site.

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