Using Turnitin as a tool for attribution in cases of contract cheating

A paper from the STEM Annual Conference 2014.

Although methods for automatically detecting contract cheating, that is finding students who have outsourced the production of their assessed work to a third party, have been proposed, successful implementations of these detection methods have not yet been reported. This paper instead reports on an investigation to make use of a database of known work for this purpose. The work is accessed through the non-originality engine Turnitin, against which attempts at contract cheating found on agency websites are matched.

369 assignment specifications found on online agency contract cheating sites, such as Freelancer.com, were collected between January and November 2013. These were all assignment specifications for which attempts to attribute these with any level of certainty to an academic institution had proved impossible to a contract cheating detective. The assignment specifications all represented cases that looked likely to belong a UK educational institution. The assignment specifications were run through the Turnitin database in use within the UK and the results analysed as part of a process attempting to notify tutors that one of their students may be attempting to cheat.

The initial indications were that the use of Turnitin was of value to the contract cheating detection process, with 105 out of 369 (28.5%) initially identified. 2 out of 369 (0.5%) were subsequently found by a tutor at the institution concerned as a result of being in the database. However, several challenges were identified that will require the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) communities to come together and work to improve the use of Turnitin within the contract cheating detection process. This paper explores the results of this study and the wider issues surrounding the use of Turnitin for the detection of contract cheating.

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