Ghost Grading: Part 1 – A New Twist on Contract Cheating

August 19, 2021

You likely already know about commercial contract cheating (e.g., term paper mills, essay mills, assignment completion services, and so on.) It seems some companies behind these services are pursuing a new line of business, targeting educators. Companies are targeting graduate student teaching assistants (TAs) and faculty members offering “grading” assistance. Grading is a term we use a lot in Canada, but it can also be called marking or assessing. Although this is a new twist on contract cheating, it would stand to reason that this type of service might be called contract grading, but that term already exists in Canada and the United States and it has an entirely different meaning, so I have dubbed this service “ghost grading”.

With ghost grading, third party commercial entities offer to do grading for TAs and profs on their behalf.

It seems to work like this: a company approaches the TA or instructor individually, often via e-mail. The company offers to provide grading services for a fee. The company operates as a third party to complete grading work on behalf of instructors, who pay a fee to outsource this work.

Instructors and TAs are being pitched on the idea that the rate they pay for sub-contracting out grading duties is less than their own hourly rate would be, so they are gaining back time to work on other, more interesting projects.

The prof or TA makes a private side deal with a third party company. The educators give the company their learning management system (LMS) login credentials and their grading is “taken care of” by the contractor.

These companies sometimes allege or insinuate they are reaching out to the TA or the prof with the permission of the administration or the school. Of course, this isn’t at all the case. The school administration might have no idea this is happening, or at least, not until after it has been discovered. By that point, might be considered misconduct on the part of the TA or academic staff member who has engaged with one these companies and dealt with as such.

Remember, contract cheating companies are predatory and they care about one thing: generating profit, lots and lots of profit.

They are known for having sophisticated marketing and they know exactly what messages to send to get new customers. A naïve teaching assistant who actually believed that the company is operating with the permission of the administration can be completely duped and even though they might be committing an act of misconduct by engaging with the company, they might also be a victim of the scam.

So far, I can find little documented about this phenomenon, but I am hearing increasing reports of it happening. If you have been approached by a company offering such services, please feel free to reach out to me. In Part 2, I’ll share more about this practice and its impact.

Read more:

Ghost Grading: Part 2 – Examining Possible Legal Loopholes in Canada

Related posts:

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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 or anyone else.


Why Universities and Colleges Need Clear Policies to Deal with Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Records and Test Results

August 17, 2021
Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the new academic year just around the corner, universities and colleges are grappling with a return to campus. Some institutions are calling for mandatory vaccine requirements, and the list continues to grow. In Canada, for example, journalists are sharing news of this rapidly changing landscape on a daily basis. Here are just a few examples of news stories from major news outlets:

Just this morning, the President of the University of Calgary sent a campus-wide e-mail stating:

“Starting September 1, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge will require all those coming to campus to undergo regular rapid testing. Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are exempt from this requirement.

Students, faculty, and staff who are not fully vaccinated, and those who would prefer not to disclose their vaccine status, will need to regularly complete a rapid screening test and receive a negative result before they participate in in-person activities.

Any individual who cannot be tested or vaccinated based on medical or other protected grounds recognized by the Alberta Human Rights Act can request an accommodation.”

The e-mail was signed by all three Alberta university presidents:

  • Bill Flanagan, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Alberta
  • Ed McCauley, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary
  • Mike Mahon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Lethbridge

I applaud this decision – wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

What was absent from this communication, and most of the communication I have seen about vaccine requirements on campuses, is what the consequences will be for falsifying vaccine documents. On August 9, the Associated Press published an article on how “Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards worry college officials” in the United States.

It is utterly naïve to think that fake COVID-19 test results or vaccination records are limited to the United States or other countries. These are already available for sale for Canadians. I will not include links to these services in this blog post because I do not want to give the impression that I am endorsing any of these services, but you can do a simple Internet search yourself to find out how easy it is to buy these in Canada.

One Canadian news report claimed that fake COVID-19 vaccine passports were available for purchase online for as little as $12. That’s about the same cost as a box of donuts and a couple of coffees from a popular Canadian donut chain restaurant.

A critical question that remains unanswered is: What are the consequences for presenting fake or fraudulent COVID-19 documents on our campuses?

For staff and professors, I expect that human resources departments will be involved. For students, I expect that presenting fake COVID-19 would be a violation of student conduct rules (e.g., academic or non-academic misconduct). What is unclear is how such cases will be dealt with.

Falsifying COVID-10 vaccination status or test results is a willful act of dishonesty and needs to be treated as such.

I contend that such consequences need to be articulated through institution-wide policies and procedures and must be consistent across the institution. For example, it would be ridiculous for a student in arts to receive a warning and a student in science to receive an expulsion for the same offence of presenting a fake COVID-19 vaccination record. Similarly, it would diminish public trust in the institution if contract-based staff were dismissed from their employment for presenting faked COVID-19 documents, but tenured faculty members or administrators received a warning.

Universities and colleges need to take a strong and public stance on the issue of fake COVID-19 documentation.

This is no time to hide behind political-speak such as, “Violations will be addressed on a case-by-case basis” or “We do not expect this to be a problem”. This is a time for universities and colleges to communicate clear and firm expectations that presenting accurate and honest information regarding COVID-19 vaccination status or test results is essential for upholding the academic integrity and ethical standards. In addition, institutions need to develop and communicate clear and firm consequences for presenting fake or falsified COVID-19 documents.

Further, it would be useful for institutions to track and report on misconduct that occurs related to COVID-19, for all campus stakeholders including students, staff, faculty, and administrators and report back to the community on how cases are addressed. This is a not only a matter of public interest, it is a matter of public health. Lives are literally at stake.

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Share or Tweet this: Why Universities and Colleges Need Clear Policies to Deal with Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Records and Test Results – https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2021/08/17/why-universities-and-colleges-need-clear-policies-to-deal-with-fake-covid-19-vaccination-records-and-test-results/

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 or anyone else.


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