Monday, 25 March 2019 10:28

Software to help stop contract cheating announced

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Software to help stop contract cheating announced Image by Pankgraf from Pixabay

Australian universities are set to start using technology to detect whether students have used third parties to complete their assessments — what is known as contract cheating — with Turnitin, an academic integrity technology firm, saying that the software had been created by local academics themselves.

Known as Authorship Investigate, the software uses forensic linguistic analysis and natural language processing to help investigate differences in written work. It also aids in collecting evidence to look into potential cases of contract cheating.

A statement from Turnitin pointed out that about 6% of Australian students had confessed to contract cheating.

Additionally, 15% said they had bought, sold or traded notes, and 27% had shared completed assignments.

Turnitin said the MyMaster scandal in 2014 — where students were found to have enlisted a Sydney company to write essays, assignments and take online tests for them — highlighted the problem of contract cheating, and had affected the reputation of Australian students and universities.

Asked about the licensing and price of the software, Anna Borek, Academic Partnerships manager at Turnitin, said the Authorship Investigate licence was based on a named user model and the price would depend on the institutional requirements. "The platform itself is cloud-based – all you need is an Internet browser in order to use it," she added.

Borek also outlined the way the software worked. "Authorship Investigate efficiently provides data-driven insights into whether students are doing their own work, enabling you to uphold your institution’s commitment to educational excellence. When suspicions of contract cheating are raised, Authorship Investigate helps investigators quickly gather facts, collate information, and make impartial judgments.

"The instantly generated Authorship Report organises document metadata, analyses readability scores, and compares the depth and breadth of vocabulary in the student’s work. A top-level summary saves the investigator time by quickly identifying differences and potential issues in suspicious student submissions.

"It is important to note that an investigator ultimately decides if they want to look further into a paper. Authorship Investigate does not make a determination of authorship; it is a tool to help streamline the investigation process."

“The Authorship Investigate tool has been invaluable as a means for collecting material to pursue cases associated with academic integrity,” said Dr Nick Milne, senior lecturer in the School of Engineering at Deakin University.

“It has helped save time in preparing evidence and helped me to get through the complexity of cross-school and cross-faculty investigations. The analytical features have helped me in determining whether there was a case to be pursued and where to focus my investigatory efforts.”

“After years of development and testing, we’re thrilled to bring Authorship Investigate to the higher education market,” said Turnitin chief executive Chris Caren.

“We hope that broad adoption of this tool will not only help institutions efficiently investigate whether students are doing their own work, but will also bring visibility to the problem of contract cheating.”

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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