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Towards Consistency and Transparency in Academic Integrity

Edited By Salim Razı, Irene Glendinning and Tomáš Foltýnek

This book is an outcome of the 4th International Conference «Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond» organized by Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Mendel University in Brno, and the European Network for Academic Integrity. The conference is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships Programme of the European Union. It aims to be a forum for sharing best practices and experiences by addressing issues of academic integrity from a wide-scope global perspective. With regards to the crucial role of ethics and honesty in academic work, universities are in need of more effective policies against infringements of academic standards. The papers in this book therefore aim to contribute to the standardization of consistent and transparent approaches to issues of academic integrity from several perspectives.

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Global Essay Mills Survey in Czechia: Insights into the Cheater’s Mind (Veronika Králíková / Tomáš Foltýnek / Jana Dannhoferová / Dita Dlabolová / Pavel Turčínek)

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Veronika Králíková1, Tomáš Foltýnek2, Jana Dannhoferová3, Dita Dlabolová4 & Pavel Turčínek5

Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic

Global Essay Mills Survey in Czechia: Insights into the Cheater’s Mind

Abstract: University student cheating is a widespread problem. A project called Global Essay Mills Survey (GEMS) was launched to explore student self-reported use of essay mills and associated sites or companies. This paper deals with contract cheating in the Czech Republic and shows results from data collected through the GEMS project. More than 500 respondents answered questions related to contract cheating – students’ motivation, circumstances, experience and opinions. We found that 19.7% of the students admitted to various forms of contract cheating. In this article, we look closely at this group of respondents and compare their answers with the non-cheating group. We conclude that cheaters are more aware of somebody else who had their work ghost-written, find more reasons to excuse their behavior, and suggest more lenient penalties.

Keywords: cheating behaviors, contract cheating, Czechia, essay mills, ghost writing

Introduction

Cheating is a common part of life today for students (Rabi et al., 2006). Many researchers and psychologists have examined the reasons leading students to cheat. In order to prevent (or at least minimise) student cheating, educators have to understand the cheaters’ behavior and identify factors leading them to cheat.

According to Hutton (2010), students cheat because the benefit/cost trade off favors cheating. McCabe and Trevino (1997) indicate that students cheat because they see their peers doing it. Hence the students’ opinions may also be a result of peer pressure and lead students to be rather tolerant toward dishonesty among their peers (Lim & See, 2001; Rabi et al., 2006). ← 185 | 186 →

Definition of cheating

A broad meaning of the term “cheating” is actions that attempt to get any advantage by means that undermine values of integrity (USD, 2018). According to Sheard, Markham, and Dick (2003, p. 46), “cheating is described in terms of a series of practices which cover a range of areas that can be defined as illegal, unethical, immoral or against the regulations of a course or institution”. Furthermore, some research indicates that students do not understand what constitutes cheating (Burrus, McGoldrick, & Schuhmann, 2007). They are not able to define this term and even more, they do not perceive many inappropriate behaviors as cheating (Rabi et al., 2006).

In this study, we focus mainly on contract cheating. This term was defined by Clarke and Lancaster (2006, p. 2) as “offering the process of completing an assignment for a student out to tender”. Newton and Draper (2017) believe that contract cheating threatens to seriously undermine higher education standards.

The legal aspects of contract cheating have been dealt with, for example, Draper and Newton (2017). They call for a new criminal offence to be created under UK law which specifically targets the undesirable behavior of these companies in the UK, though the principles could be applied elsewhere.

Our motivation

The opinions and attitudes of cheaters have been explored by many researchers and the number of students who report having cheated is still alarming. The aim of this article is to analyse data from the GEMS project that was collected in the Czech Republic with a focus on those who admitted cheating. The purpose of this research is to identify cheaters’ opinions and attitudes and to reveal the motivation factors and circumstances leading them to cheat. The results will be combined and compared with similar research conducted in Czechia one year earlier (Foltýnek & Králíková, 2018).

Methodology

This paper is based on data collected within the GEMS (Global Essay Mills Survey) project. As the name itself implies, this research examines student self-reported use of essay mills and associated sites/companies. The online questionnaire served not only to identify the cheaters and tools that they use the most, but also to explore the views of the respondents on students’ behavior, consequences of cheating, and their opinions on the legality of essay mills. ← 186 | 187 →

The questionnaire was created by an international team led by Rebecca Awdry from Deakin University in Australia. The English original was translated into 22 languages, piloted, debugged and distributed online through coordinators in each country.

In total, 10,495 responses were collected (6,989 full and 3,506 partial). As the responses were collected based on the home language, it was necessary to reassemble them according to the country of origin. Australia, Serbia, Sweden, Chile, Czechia and Romania were the most represented countries in the survey, followed by Turkey, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy and Ukraine.

In Czechia, data collection was carried out with the help of volunteers who distributed the link to the questionnaire among their classmates and friends at various universities and faculties across the country. This method was used in previous research as well and proved to be efficient (Foltýnek & Králíková, 2018). Due to the informal form of distribution, students were open and not afraid that their admissions would have any consequences for them.

For the research, only full responses were used. For the purposes of this article, we divided the respondents into cheating and non-cheating groups based on their answers to 14 questions, asking whether they had ever received a work from essay mills, peer sharing sites, essay bidding sites, contract essay sites, another student, or a friend or family member to submit it as their own work. Particular questions distinguished whether it was for money, document exchange, or free. The specific questions are provided in the Appendix. Those who answered at least once differently from “no” or “never” were considered as cheaters.

Data processing was carried out in MS Excel. Pivot tables were used to monitor independence using Pearson’s chi-squared test. The significance level for the p-value was set at 5%.

Results

Out of the total number of 574 responses, 113 respondents (19.7%) were identified as cheaters, i.e. acquired work (either paid for or free) from various sources to submit it as their own. First, we will look closely at how they obtained the work. The largest number (82) received it from a friend or family member. For 63 respondents, this was the only response; the rest (19) used this method in combination with others. ← 187 | 188 →

Table 1: How the Cheaters Obtained their Work

How they obtained the workN%
Obtained via internet – paid162.8%
Obtained via internet – exchange of documents132.3%
Obtained via internet – for free234.0%
Obtained via internet – cumulative396.8%
Obtained from another student – paid152.6%
All above cumulative508.7%
Obtained from a friend/family – for free or paid8214.3%
Total11319.7%

Most of the students (82) acquired their work from someone else only once or twice. Another 27 students did it up to 5 times, and 4 did it more than 5 times. As we can see, about a quarter of cheaters repeated their offence multiple times.

In the following part, we are going to compare the views of the cheating and non-cheating students.

Cheaters are more aware of their friends or peers having used these sites and they are more aware of someone who has been caught (see Table 2). Therefore, they may perceive this behavior as normal and lapse into it as well.

Table 2: Awareness of Others Using Contract Cheating Sites and Being Caught for Contract Cheating

illustration

To prove that the difference between cheaters and non-cheaters was statistically significant, we used Pearson’s chi-squared test (Pearson, 1900). We will show the calculation just for the first question; the rest were done analogically. Our null hypothesis was that the answers of cheaters and non-cheaters don’t differ. The distribution of the answers is shown in Table 3. ← 188 | 189 →

Table 3: Distribution of Answers for The Question “Are You Aware of Any of Your Friends or Peers Having Used these Sites (Either Essay Mills, Exchange Sites, Peer Sharing, or Assignment Bidding Sites)?”

illustration

Based on the answers, we calculated theoretical frequency m for each cell, which is shown in Table 4:

illustration

where ni is the number of all answers in row i, nj is the number of all answers in column j, and n is the number of all answers (Pearson, 1900).

Table 4: Theoretical Frequencies for the Question “Are You Aware of Any of your Friends or Peers Having Used these Sites (Essay Mills, Exchange Sites, Peer Sharing, or Assignment Bidding Sites)?”

illustration

Based on these two tables, we calculated Pearson’s chi-square:

illustration

where r is the number of rows, c is the number of columns, and m’ is the number of observed answers (Pearson, 1900).

The result of this calculation is si χ2 = 14.515. There is one degree of freedom. Upper-tail critical values of the chi-square distribution table give a critical value of 3.84 at 95% significance level. As the chi-squared statistic of 14.515 exceeds this critical value, we rejected the null hypothesis and concluded that the answers of cheaters and non-cheaters were different at 95% significance level. ← 189 | 190 →

Let us look at the circumstances under which the respondents think it is acceptable to cheat. We can see that cheaters identify each of the given scenarios as an excuse for cheating more often than non-cheaters. Consequently, non-cheaters ticked significantly more often the option “Never” (specifically, 51.6% of non-cheaters stated that it is never acceptable to cheat; only 16.8% of cheaters thought the same).

Table 5: Under What Circumstances Do You Think It Is Acceptable to Cheat?

illustration

Cheaters are also more lenient in terms of suggested penalties. As we can see from Table 6, cheaters more frequently suggested more lenient options, whereas non-cheaters suggested harsher penalties. If a student is caught submitting work written by someone else, 27% of non-cheaters suggested expulsion as an appropriate penalty. To the contrary, only 8% of cheaters agreed with this outcome. Cheaters significantly more often suggested a lower mark (31.9% compared to 21.0% of non-cheaters) or re-submission of the task (63.7% compared to 41.6% of non-cheaters). ← 190 | 191 →

Table 6: What Do You Think Should Be the Outcome for Students Caught After Buying Work and Submitting It as their Own?

illustration

The next question was “Why do you think that students use these sites at university”. Again, we will look at the difference between cheaters and non-cheaters (see Table 7). As we can see, for most of the reasons, there are no significant differences between cheaters and non-cheaters. The most significant difference was in “Seeing other people doing it”. This reason was chosen by 35.4% of cheaters, but only by 23.6% of non-cheaters.

Table 7: Why Do You Think that Students Use these Sites at University?

illustration

← 191 | 192 →

illustration

The last group of questions we are dealing with asked students about the (il)legality of essay mills. At first, students were asked if they think essay mills are illegal in their country. Then, they were asked if they should be illegal. Those who answered yes were asked whether it should be the companies’ or students’ fault.

There was no difference between cheaters and non-cheaters regarding their opinion of the legality of essay mills. In both categories, around 27% think essay mills are illegal, about 30% think the opposite, and the rest are not sure (see Table 8; p = .479). The fact is that under current Czech legislation, essay mills are legal. Of course, a student submitting work written by someone else is violating study regulations and possibly committing fraud, but companies themselves are not doing anything illegal.

Table 8: Do You Think Essay Mills Are Illegal in Your Country?

illustration

When it comes to the question about whether the essay mills should be illegal, the opinions of these two groups differ (see Table 9; p-value is 0.004). Whereas 54.2% of non-cheaters think that essay mills should be illegal, in the group of cheaters it is only 38.9%. Then, 38.1% of cheaters and 25.4% of non-cheaters think they should not be illegal and the others are not sure. Both groups agree that contract cheating is both the student’s and company’s fault. ← 192 | 193 →

Table 9: Do You Think It Should Be Illegal (Against the Law) for Companies or Other People to Be Able to Sell Work to Students to Help Them Cheat in their Degree?

illustration

Discussion

The results suggest that students who self-reported at least one form of contract cheating also saw their peers doing it more often. They are also more aware of someone else who has submitted work elaborated by a third party. And to a large extent, they see this as a reason why students cheat. Cheaters also more often consider various scenarios as an excuse for cheating and suggest less severe penalties for contract cheating.

In Czechia, research on contract cheating has already been carried out by Foltýnek and Králíková (2018). Their survey was conducted in 2017 and the number of respondents was 1016. In total, 8% (77) of respondents admitted cheating, compared to the GEMS results; where up to 19.7% (113) of respondents could be identified as cheaters. A noticeable difference between the two results may have a very simple explanation. While in the first study (Foltýnek & Králíková, 2018) it was possible to identify a cheater based on one question only, in GEMS the respondents were identified as cheaters if they answered other than “not” or “never” in at least one question out of fourteen. These questions provided more specific scenarios and therefore students had more chances to realise that they actually did something similar.

Let us now look at the question asking whether they were aware of someone who had ever submitted ghost-written work. In the research of Foltýnek and Králíková (2018), the proportion was 34%, compared to 24.5% in GEMS. It should be noted that in both cases, these responses came only from those identified as non-cheaters. The cheaters in GEMS expressed awareness of such cases more often. The earlier study (Foltýnek & Králíková, 2018) did not ask cheaters this question.

These two research studies agree on the reasons under which it is seen by students as acceptable to cheat. If we focus on the non-cheaters, respondents in both studies most often answered never, followed by lack of time. In the GEMS research, those identified as cheaters were also asked this question, answering that cheating is acceptable in the case of lack of time. According to Foltýnek and Králíková (2018), lack of time was the most frequent reason leading students to ← 193 | 194 → cheat. Putting these two results together, we can see that Czech students cheat most often because they see this as the most excusable.

Students’ contract cheating was also investigated in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia in 2016 within the South-East Europe Project on Policies for Academic Integrity (Glendinning et al., 2018). Researchers found that 27% of students from this region knew someone who had their work ghost-written, which is the same result as in GEMS (if we don’t distinguish cheaters from non-cheaters).

Hosny and Fatima (2014) revealed that 21.62% of investigated students (undergraduate female students from one particular university in Saudi Arabia) admitted to “previously paying someone to do an assignment for them”, compared to 19.7% in the GEMS study.

Newton and Lang (2016) mention the unpublished results of a survey performed by Turnitin in 2013 at US universities. In this study, 7% of students admitted to having purchased an assignment and about 23% to knowing of someone among their peers who had done it. Out of 19.7% cheaters from GEMS, only 5% actually purchased their works (via the internet or from another student), and 14.3% obtained it from a friend (without distinguishing whether it was for free or paid).

Limitations of the study

The percentage of women who participated in the survey was higher than in the real Czech student population. Based on data from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (2017), there were 56% female students in this country. Even the research of Foltýnek and Králíková (2018) conducted in the Czech Republic struggled with this problem. In the previous research, 80% of participants were women (Foltýnek & Králíková 2018); while in the GEMS data presented in this research the percentage of females was 75%. Smith (2008) argues that disproportion is linked to surveys done online, where women are more willing to respond than men. Differences in responses between genders have not been investigated in this paper, but the research of Foltýnek and Králíková (2018) found that men self-report cheating significantly more often than women. Therefore, the results may be biased and the real percentage of cheating students may be even higher.

Conclusion

This paper presents Czech results from the Global Essay Mills Survey which investigated student attitudes to different forms of contract cheating. Based on the ← 194 | 195 → answers to 14 different questions, 19.7% of respondents were identified as cheaters, most of them obtaining the ghost-written work from a friend or family member. The most significant findings from our study are that students who self-reported contract cheating also:

More often see others committing contract cheating;

Are more aware of someone being caught for contract cheating;

Find various circumstances as excuses for cheating, whereas the majority of non-cheaters think that cheating is unacceptable;

Tend to suggest less severe penalties for cheating.

The survey also asked about the legality of essay mills. Neither group of respondents (cheaters and non-cheaters) differed in their opinion that essay mills are illegal. A significant difference appeared in the question of whether they should be illegal. The opinion about making contract cheating services against the law was higher in the non-cheating group.

The next steps will be to perform a similar analysis on the data from other countries involved in the GEMS project and to make a mutual comparison. We will try to formulate general recommendations by learning from good practices in countries with a low percentage of cheaters. Overall, the results indicate that institutions must not be lenient towards student cheating, because the behavior of peers emerged as one of the major excuses for cheating, together with lack of motivation, not understanding the task, and poor time management.

Acknowledgement

The authors would like to thank Rebecca Awdry for the survey tool and methodology design. This article was funded by the Internal Grant Agency of Mendel University in Brno, project number PEF_DP_2018006 and by ESF funded grant on MENDELU international development, project number CZ.02.2.69/0.0/0.0/16_027/0007953

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Appendix

Questions used for identification of cheaters

A respondent was identified as a “cheater” if he/she responded to the identified questions at least once in a different way than “never” or “no”.

Have you ever bought work (with money) from any of the following types of sites, to submit to your university as your own work?

Essay mills (sites that sell pre-written essays) ← 197 | 198 →

Peer-sharing sites (sites which ask the user to upload an essay or resource before they can download something)

Essay bidding sites (sites where the user uploads their requirements for work and available writers bid to undertake the work at competing prices)

Contract essay sites (sites which offer the reader bespoke essays to their specific requirements and timeframes)

Have you ever received work by exchanging a document or information with any of the following types of sites, to submit to your university as your own work?

Essay mills (sites that sell pre-written essays)

Peer-sharing sites (sites which ask the user to upload an essay or resource before they can download something)

Essay bidding sites (sites where the user uploads their requirements for work and available writers bid to undertake the work at competing prices)

Contract essay sites (sites which offer the reader bespoke essays to their specific requirements and timeframes)

Have you ever received work for free (without money) from any of the following types of sites, to submit to your university as your own work?

Essay mills (sites that sell pre-written essays)

Peer-sharing sites (sites which ask the user to upload an essay or resource before they can download something)

Essay bidding sites (sites where the user uploads their requirements for work and available writers bid to undertake the work at competing prices)

Contract essay sites (sites which offer the reader bespoke essays to their specific requirements and timeframes)

Have you ever bought work from another student to submit as your own assignment?

Have you ever got work to submit as your own (whether free or for money), from a friend or family member?


1 Ing., Department of Law and Social Sciences, veronika.kralikova@mendelu.cz

2 Mgr., Ph.D., Department of Informatics, tomas.foltynek@mendelu.cz

3 Ing. Mgr. Ph.D., Department of Informatics, jana.dannhoferovova@mendelu.cz

4 Ing., Ph.D., Department of Informatics, dita.dlabolova@mendelu.cz

5 Ing., Ph.D. Department of Informatics, pavel.turcinek@mendelu.cz