Shadow Courses and Their Impact on Academic Integrity

October 26, 2020
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Abstract

In this post I explore what shadow courses (also known as ‘parallel courses’) are, how they operate, who offers them, and who takes them. I further explore ethical issues related to shadow courses including misrepresentation of the legitimacy of the course, copyright infringement, interference with learning expectations, and potential illegal activity. I conclude with a call to action for further research to gather empirical evidence about the impact of shadow courses on post-secondary education.

Keywords: Shadow courses, parallel courses, higher education, post-secondary, international students, ESL, English as a Second Language, EAL, English as an Additional Language

Background

I first heard the term shadow course at the Canadian Consortium Day of the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) annual conference in 2018 in Richmond, VA, USA. Colleagues from Ontario were talking about private companies who offered post-secondary courses for their students in other languages. Since then, there has been little written about shadow courses, even though they have continued to proliferate to the extent that they are now widespread across Canada, and other countries as well.

What are Shadow Courses?

Shadow courses, also called parallel courses, are offered by commercial third-parties who have no official relationship with a post-secondary institution. They sometimes operate as private tutoring companies. A shadow course is a clone of an official university or college course offered in a language other than English; they exist so students can learn the material for their post-secondary courses in their preferred language (e.g., Mandarin).

Shadow courses might be offered with the exact same name and course number as those of a legitimate higher education institution, with course materials that follow the week-by-week schedule of the official course, including offering students previews of assignments, quizzes, or final exams. These course materials can be acquired from students registered in the official institutional course or from teaching assistants who can be lured into supplying these materials to the company in exchange for a fee.

Students register in a shadow course and then proceed to take the entire course in their preferred language, following the exact syllabus as the official version of the course. Shadow courses are not taught by university faculty, but by individuals hired by the private tutoring companies who may or may not have academic credentials that qualify them to teach the course material. Students submit their assignments and take tests and exams on campus, but instead of actually attending classes at the university or college, they instead they turn to the shadow course where they can attend lectures in their preferred language.

Who Offers Shadow Courses?

Shadow courses are offered by unauthorized commercial third-party enterprises who often have no official affiliation or relationship with a legitimate higher education institution.

These companies may also offer additional services such as academic consulting, advising, or tutoring. In some cases, such companies may also offer additional (and sometimes illegal) services, such as hiring an individual to sit an exam in a student’s place. Such individuals might be referred to as impersonators, proxy students, or stand-ins. The use of exam impersonators has been a growing concern in academia and industry for a number of years now (Harper et al., 2020; Mitchell, 2014; Theophille, & King, 2019).

The size and scope of the industry remains unknown. Post-secondary educators and higher education staff have reported the existence of shadow courses in Canada in Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver, though they are likely offered across the country.

Who Takes Shadow Courses?

Students for whom English is an additional language take shadow courses. These students may have insufficient English language proficiency to complete their academic work in English, or they may simply prefer to learn in their first language because there is less cognitive load than learning in an additional language.

Key Ethical Issues

Companies offering shadow courses may view themselves as being benevolent. They may claim that they are helping students succeed by offering courses in students’ preferred language and supporting them in ways the official institution does not.

Although the intentions of these companies may seem benevolent or helpful at first glance, there are a number of ethical issues to consider.

Misrepresentation

Third companies that offer shadow courses are not endorsed by or affiliated with the institution where students are registered. They may market themselves as having an official relationship with the school when that is not the case. Some tutoring companies misrepresent their relationship with the learning institution or the legitimacy of the courses they offer. Shadow courses are usually not approved or endorsed by legitimate post-secondary institutions.

Some companies will offer courses rent rooms on campus so they can offer on-site lectures. Even if institutions are aware of such room rentals, it can be problematic to cancel room-rentals once a contract has been signed. Few institutions have policies that explicitly prohibit outside tutoring companies or other educational businesses from renting rooms on campus. This remains a loophole at some institutions that can provide opportunities to third-party operators to offer shadow courses right on campus.

Copyright Infringement

In order to teach the material companies offering shadow courses and the tutors who teach them may be violating copyright laws, by using materials for which they do not own the rights. The issue of illicit and illegal file-sharing is one of growing importance in the academic integrity community (Rogerson & Basanta, 2016, Seeland et al., 2020).

Interference with Learning Expectations

There is an implicit, and often unspoken expectation at learning institutions that students will learn the language of the discipline they are studying through their course work. Students learn vocabulary, terms and the discourse of the discipline in their lectures and classes. For students for whom English is an additional language, there is an expectation that they will continue to improve their language proficiency throughout their student experience. By taking shadow courses, students miss the opportunity to improve their English in an authentic learning environment. By circumventing the official lectures and opting instead for a shadow course, students may find themselves perpetually behind in terms of improving their English language skills.

Potential Illegal Activity

It may not be illegal for students to take courses in their preferred language instead of the official language of instruction; however, if students then go on to hire an impersonator to take examinations on their behalf, they may be engaging in an act of criminal fraud. In Canada, there are documented cases of examination impersonators being arrested in Ontario (Caldwell, 2014; Prisiajny, & Lai, 2015), Quebec (Bernstien, 2016; Meagher, 2016), and British Columbia (Bains, 2019; Wadhwani, 2019). Although the connection between these cases and commercial third-party companies was not established, they nevertheless captured the attention of the media (Eaton, 2020), and created a public relations crisis for the institutions named.

Concluding Remarks

There is enough informal and anecdotal evidence to show that commercial third parties are operating in a systematic manner to offer shadow academic courses in major Canadian centres across the country. This is not an issue that pertains to one particular school, but is an issue of importance to higher education in general.

The question of how to address these companies is a complex one that requires input from educational stakeholders involved at the institutional level, as well as across provincial, national, and even global networks. At this point, there is little empirical data to help us understand the impact of shadow courses on students or the legitimate learning institution where they are enrolled. There is an immediate and urgent need for more research, particularly in Canada, to understand the impact of shadow courses in higher education.

References

Bains, M. (2019). Woman allegedly paid to take exam arrested at SFU. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/burnaby-rcmp-investigate-after-sfu-catches-alleged-paid-test-taker-1.5400400

Bernstien, J. (2016). Concordia student and tutor face criminal charges for allegedly cheating on exam. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/concordia-student-charged-for-cheating-1.3815520

Caldwell, B. (2014). Alleged cheats arrested over math exam at University of Waterloo. The Record. Retrieved from https://www.therecord.com/news-story/5210859-alleged-cheats-arrested-over-math-exam-at-university-of-waterloo/

Eaton, S. E. (2020). An Inquiry into Major Academic Integrity Violations in Canada: 2010-2019. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1880/111483

Harper, R., Bretag, T., & Rundle, K. (2020). Detecting contract cheating: Examining the role of assessment type. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16. doi:10.1080/07294360.2020.1724899

Meagher, J. (2016, October 21). Concordia student, tutor face criminal charges in exam cheating case. Montreal Gazette. Retrieved from https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/concordia-student-tutor-face-criminal-charges-in-exam-cheating-case

Mitchell, R. L. (2014). Pirates, cheats and IT certs. ComputerWorld. Retrieved from https://www.computerworld.com/article/2490886/it-skills-training-pirates-cheats-and-it-certs.html

Prisiajny, T., & Lai, C. (2015, January 7). York grad student charged after impersonating Waterloo student math exam. Excalibur. Retrieved from https://excal.on.ca/york-grad-student-charged-after-impersonating-waterloo-student-math-exam/

Rogerson, A. M., & Basanta, G. (2016). Peer-to-peer file sharing and academic integrity in the Internet age. In T. Bretag (Ed.), Handbook of Academic Integrity (pp. 273-285). Singapore: Springer.

Seeland, J., Stoesz, B. M., & Vogt, L. (2020). Preventing online shopping for completed assessments: Protecting students by blocking access to contract cheating websites on institutional networks. Canadian Perspectives on Academic Integrity, 3(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.11575/cpai.v3i1.70256

Theophille, V., & King, A. (2019). Case # 9: Exam Impersonation. Retrieved from https://shared.uoit.ca/shared/department/academic-integrity/documents/case-study-9—exam-impersonation.pdf

Wadhwani, A. (2019, December 18). Student, impersonator arrested for alleged cheating during final exams at SFU. Victoria news. Retrieved from https://www.vicnews.com/news/student-impersonator-arrested-for-alleged-cheating-during-final-exams-at-sfu/

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is an Associate Professor the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


New Report: Contract Academic Work and Contract Cheating: Policy Brief

October 19, 2020

Cover - Contract academic work contract cheatingThe week of October 18-23, 2020 marks Fair Employment Week, hosted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). In many countries, it also marks Integrity Week, built around the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. These weeks have coincided for the past several years. A few years ago, I began to study the intersection of contract academic work and contract cheating (e.g., essay mills, term paper mills, etc.)

This report offers a preliminary discussion of the intersection between precarious academic employment and the commercial contract cheating industry. I have written it with the Canadian context in mind, though it may be relevant in other jurisdiction as well. The entire report is available for free download here.

Abstract

Purpose: The goal of this report is to provide substance for an evidence-informed discussion about the intersection of precarious academic employment and the contract cheating industry.

Methods: This is a qualitative report informed by the extant literature. It synthesizes available source material relating to academic staff who also supply services (e.g., essay writing, assignment completion, etc.) to the commercial contract cheating industry.

Results: A summary and synthesis are provided of issues relating to precariously employed academic staff and the contract cheating industry. A key outcome of this work is to highlight how the commercial cheating industry preys on underemployed academic staff. Predatory practices of the contract cheating industry are highlighted including false promises of high pay and meaningful work. Consequences such as disciplinary action and dismissal of academic staff who moonlight as suppliers to the industry are discussed, along with possible counter-measures to raise awareness and protect academic staff.

Implications: This guide is intended to provide guidance on methods used by the commercial contract cheating industry to exploit contract academic staff. Recommendations are provided on how to build awareness about the issue and also consider protections for the precariously employed.

Additional materials: 1 table; 46 references

Document type: Report, 26 pages

Keywords: academic integrity, higher education, academic labour, contingent faculty, precarious employment, cheating economy, sessional, adjunct, faculty

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is an Associate Professor the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


Don’t want to attend your Zoom class? There’s a bot for that

October 16, 2020

Did you know that there’s now a bot that will attend Zoom classes on behalf of students? Well, there might be more than one, but one in particular, Beuler, has the tag line of “Zoom out. Sleep in.”

Beuler - About Us

Beuler – About Us – Screen Shot 2020-10-16 at 7.46.20 AM

In the “About Us” section of the website, it says: “Bueler was created as a dorm room project by two Zoom University students who understand the consequences and dangers of early classes. Instead of sacrificing their health and wellbeing, they decided to create a software application that would go to their classes for them.”

Dustin Bakkie did this video for educators on how to counter its use in classes.

Policy can take a long time to catch up to practice, as I pointed out with some colleagues in this article, so my guess would be that many institutional academic misconduct policies would not yet include explicit language to make the use of such bots a breach of integrity. Having said that, there may be provisions in some policies that prohibit students engaging with a third party to complete academic work on their behalf, or having someone else impersonate them. In this case the “one” might not be a human, but instead a bot, so policy interpretation might be the key to holding students responsible for their actions.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


Workshop: Exploring Racism and Academic Integrity through a Circle Process

October 16, 2020

ATESL 2020I’m excited to partner with colleagues from Norquest College and the Alberta Council on Academic Integrity to present this workshop at the Alberta Teachers’ of English as a Second Language (ATESL) 2020 E- Conference: Seeds of Possibility: Curiosity, Drive, and Innovation.

Workshop Description

In this session participants will explore and experience the Circle of Courage and circle process by engaging in a dialogue on anti-racism and racism related to academic misconduct.

The Circle of Courage (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 2005) is a model of resilience and positive development based on Indigenous values of Belonging, Mastery, Independence and Generosity. Applied together with a circle process, this way of approaching the relational space in classrooms helps create the conditions for students and instructors to engage more authentically and openly in difficult complex topics. As a holistic approach to discussion this a way to spur conversation about the dynamic faced by English as additional language learners.

Keywords: Academic integrity; Restorative Justice; Restorative Practices; Circle Process; Racism

Reference:

Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M., & Bockern, V. (2005). The circle of courage and positive psychology. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 14(3). 130-136.

Workshop Materials

You can download our workshop materials for free from here: http://hdl.handle.net/1880/112689

Presenter bios

Sheryl Boisvert, B.Ed, CPA, CGA is currently a full-time instructor at NorQuest College. Though she has performed a variety of roles since 2001, Sheryl has found being an instructor to be the most fulfilling.  She has always believed that students gain a better understanding of the material they learn when they can go beyond textbook theory and put concepts into practice.

Nazanin Teymouri, MBA, is as an instructor at NorQuest College in the Faculty of Business, Environment, and Technology. Currently her time at the college is split between teaching and co-leading research initiatives on academic integrity. With a background in communication and business, her focus is on analysis, cultural understanding, and collaboration aimed at bettering the learning environment.

Jamie Ahksistowaki Medicine Crane is Blackfoot from Kainai and Piikani, an activist, advocate, educator, and multi-disciplinary artist. Shes very passionate in education and is currently working with NorQuest College as a curriculum developer- in regards to Indigenous education, history and perspectives, building faculty capacity, supporting curriculum development and Indigenization strategy.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. She is a long-standing member of ATESL. Her research focuses on academic integrity.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


Webinar: Creating a Culture of Equity in Academic Integrity: Best Practices for Teaching and Learning with Dr. Ceceilia Parnther

October 7, 2020

Creating a Culture of Equity in Academic Integrity: Best Practices for Teaching and Learning – Webinar

Presenter: Dr. Ceceilia Parnther

Overview:

Ceceila ParntherThis session will review inequitable practices related to academic integrity. These practices threaten to undermine the vital work of celebrating and affirming a diverse academic community. This presentation will consider the ramifications for students, teachers, and researchers, and offer research-based solutions to refine current approaches to teaching and upholding academic integrity.

Learning Outcomes:

Engaged participants will:

  1. Define the current challenges to equity in academic integrity.
  2. Recognize current practices and the ways they may uphold unequal outcomes.
  3. Review best practices for equitable practice in academic integrity.

Presenter bio:

Ceceilia Parnther, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator in the Department of Administrative and Instructional Leadership at St. John’s University. Her research interests include academic integrity education and equitable college student success initiatives. Before joining the faculty, Ceceilia worked in student and academic affairs in various capacities, including academic integrity, advisement, and student conduct. Among others, her most recent research is found in Higher Education Research and Development, Innovative Higher Education, and The Journal of College Student Retention.

Date: Friday, October 9, 2020
Time: 10 – 11:30 a.m. – Mountain Time – Please adjust to your local time zone.
Locations: Online via Zoom

Please note: This workshop will be recorded, registration will close on Thursday, October 8, 2020 at 1 p.m. (MT) and a Zoom link for the workshop will be sent to you the morning of the webinar. The recording link will only be sent to registered participants.

Register here.

Keywords: academic integrity, academic misconduct, student conduct, equity, diversity, inclusion

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


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