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

September 7, 2021

In Part 1 of this series I talked about how contract cheating companies are now targeting professors and teaching assistants (TAs) to offer grading services. Since then, I have done a bit of digging into whether it is legal, or even permissible to outsource one’s grading responsibilities.

I figure if you are hired to for an academic role that includes teaching that would also including taking responsibility for grading and other duties related to assessment. Of course there are provisions to work with a TA in some courses, but TAs are also employees of the university and their work is approved by the institution. In cases like this, working with a TA is a perfectly legitimate activity and there is no deception. Ghost grading is different because it can happen without the knowledge or permission of the employer.

Ghost graders are unauthorized individuals, hired under the table, to perform academic duties that would otherwise be conducted by academic staff or teaching assistants.

Employing ghost graders also deceives students because they have no idea who is assessing their work or who has access to it. Just as educators expect students to complete their assignments themselves, without engaging a third party, so too, should students be able to expect their professors and teaching assistants to assess their work. If a professor or TA hires a ghost grader, the student has no idea what that individual or company might do with their work without their knowledge, such as re-sell it or share it to the contract cheating company or any other additional third party. You can start to see how the practice of using unauthorized ghost graders gets complicated fast. By hiring a ghost grader, educators are breaking trust with their students and their employers.

University faculty members at publicly-funded universities in Canada are often unionized. To my surprise, I found several examples of collective agreements and employment contracts that do not strictly prohibit the outsourcing or sub-contracting of one’s duties. I started with my own university. I searched for the terms “outsource”, “outsourcing”, “subcontract”, and “sub-contract” in our collective agreement for academic staff. I found no matches for these search terms. I reviewed the collective agreement and it was not immediately evident to me that there was any clause that specifically prohibits faculty members from outsourcing their job duties to a third party. (Please note: I am not a lawyer or an expert in contract law.)

I found this puzzling. I am the first to admit that I am not a lawyer, and nor am I an expert on labour laws, collective agreements or contracts. So, I reached out to the University of Calgary Faculty Association (TUCFA) on August 12, 2021 via e-mail to ask for clarification regarding outsourcing in University of Calgary’s collective agreement, but yet to receive a response. To be fair, I am quite sure they remain very busy with matters related to COVID-19 and I will update this blog post if I receive a reply from them.

Out of curiosity, I repeated the search and scan with the collective agreements for academic staff at the University of Alberta (Alberta, Canada), the University of British Columbia (British Columbia, Canada), and Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) with similar results. As a non-expert, I could find no immediate evidence in any of them that it is prohibited to outsource one’s grading responsibilities, or any other employment duties, for that matter.

I should point out that I have not conducted an in-depth investigation into this. I am situated in Canada and I cannot speak to what happens in any other country. I did not conduct a scan of the collective agreements that cover teaching assistants, but I would not be surprised if the situation was the same.

Following my first blog post on this topic, I received a number of e-mails from individuals telling me stories of professors at their university (in Canada and elsewhere) who regularly outsource their grading duties, paying for services out of their own pocket or under a research grant, classifying them as “professional services”. This is all anecdotal and I cannot substantiate any of it.

What I can say is that it seems there may be a legal loophole, at least in Canada, that would allow contract cheating companies to wiggle into this new line of business of offering grading services to professors and teaching assistants. As with student contract cheating, the companies would not be at fault, particularly since there are no laws in Canada prohibiting these kinds of companies from operating. In other jurisdictions, were laws against contract cheating have been enacted, the focus has been on academic cheating, so there may be loopholes elsewhere that legally allow companies to reach out to faculty and teaching assistants to provide sub-contracting services.

Of course, no collective agreement or employment contract can be exhaustive of all the ways that an employee can engage in misconduct. It could be that there is no clause in these agreements that strictly prohibits outsourcing of work because it falls under a general category of employee misconduct that might be addressed on a case-by-case basis, with investigators considering numerous pieces of evidence and details. It seems bizarre to me that this particular loophole exists, because it has left post-secondary institutions vulnerable to exploitation from commercial third-party providers who profit from various forms of misconduct. And if faculty and teaching assistants do not know that it is unacceptable to outsource their work, then it seems reasonable to expect that some of them might fall prey to companies who promise to ease their stress and relieve them of aspects of their work that they find unrewarding or too time-consuming.

Contract cheating companies are infiltrating higher education faster than ever before; and they may have just found a whole new market for illicit academic outsourcing services with professors and teaching assistants being their target customer base.

Read more:

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

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.


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 schools need “safe sharing sites” for students: Promoting academic integrity with ethical approaches to file-sharing

March 3, 2021

#ICAI2021 - Eaton quoteCommercial file-sharing and homework help sites have proliferated during the COVID-10 pandemic. One recent news report states that Chegg is now worth $12 Billion USD. And that’s just one company.

During the 2021 International Center for Academic Integrity conference, there were a few sessions dedicated to how to deal with companies such as Chegg, CourseHero and other commercial entities. One answer might be for schools themselves to create “safe sharing sites” for students.

The idea is similar to that of safe consumption sites for those who use drugs to do so in a monitored and safe environment. The purpose of a supervised or safe consumption site is to support harm reduction for users.

To transfer the analogy to academic file sharing, if students are going to share files anyway, it is incumbent upon schools provide them with safe and supported ways for them to do so. Safe sharing sites can promote ethical decision-making, minimize academic misconduct, and foster a sense of school community where profs, administrators, and students are working together to uphold integrity.

The onus is on educational institutions to support students’ learning. When schools invest in student learning through institutionally-supported tools and platforms, they support the student experience. Developing safe sharing sites is one viable way to address the problem of unethical file-sharing.

Putting resources into trying to combat global corporate entities whose primary purpose is to make a profit from our students is a losing battle. Putting effort into submitting requests to take down materials from corporate third party sites is like a game of whack-a-mole we can never win. As I commented in one of the conference presentations during the ICAI conference: Schools paying for a commercial file-sharing site account in order to find out what is on their website is like paying a drug dealer to find out what is in their pills. When schools pay for an account on corporate 3rd party sites, we help to finance the industry we are advocating against.

As educational institutions, we must find ways to work with our students, not against them. File-sharing is a normal online behaviour, so let’s provide students with the tools to do what they are going to do any way in safe and supported ways that help them – and us – uphold integrity on our campuses.

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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.


New book Series: Ethics and Integrity in Educational Contexts

February 1, 2021

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I am pleased to announce a new book series, Ethics and Integrity in Educational Contexts by Springer.

About this series

The aim of this series is to provide an authoritative series of books on topics relating to ethics and integrity in educational contexts. Its scope includes ethics and integrity, defined in broad and inclusive terms, in educational contexts. It focuses on higher education, but also welcomes contributions that address ethics and integrity in primary and secondary education, non-formal educational contexts, professional education, etc. We welcome books that address traditional academic integrity topics such as plagiarism, exam cheating, and collusion.

In addition, we are particularly interested in topics that extend beyond questions of student conduct, such as

  • Quality assurance in education;
  • Research ethics and integrity;
  • Admissions fraud;
  • Fake and fraudulent credentials;
  • Publication ethics;
  • Educational technology ethics (e.g., surveillance tech, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, as they are used in education);
  • Biomedical ethics in educational contexts;
  • Ethics in varsity and school sports.

This series extends beyond traditional and narrow concepts of academic integrity to broader interpretations of applied ethics in education, including corruption and ethical questions relating to instruction, assessment, and educational leadership. It also seeks to promote social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The series provides a forum to address emerging, urgent, and even provocative topics related to ethics and integrity at all levels of education, from a variety of disciplinary and geographical perspectives.

Editorial Board

I am delighted to work with an international group scholars and experts as members of the Editorial Board:

Tomáš Foltýnek, Department of Informatics, Faculty of Business and Economics, Mendel University, Brno, Czechia

Irene Glendinning, Coventry University, Coventry, UK

Zeenath Reza Khan, University of Wollongong, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Rebecca Moore Howard, Syracuse University, New York, USA

Mark Israel, Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services, Perth, Australia

Ceceilia Parnther, St. Johns’ University, New York, USA

Brenda M. Stoesz, The Center for Advancement of Teaching and Learning, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Forthcoming and New Books

The first book to launch the series will be Academic Integrity in Canada (Eaton & Christensen Hughes, eds., forthcoming). I will share more details about this first book when we are closer to publication, which should be in mid to late 2021.

Proposals for a number of other books to join the series are underway, with authors and editors from a variety of countries.

If you have an idea for a book to be included as part of this series, please contact me.

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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.


New article: Understanding the academic integrity policies of publicly funded universities in western Canada

December 23, 2020

Educational PolicyThe latest article in our project, Contract Cheating in Canada: National Policy Analysis has just been published!

Stoesz, B., & Eaton, S. E. (2020). Understanding the academic integrity policies of publicly funded universities in western Canada. Educational Policy. https://doi.org/10.1177/0895904820983032

Abstract

We examined 45 academic integrity policy documents from 24 publicly-funded universities in Canada’s four western provinces using a qualitative research design. We extracted data related to 5 core elements of exemplary academic integrity policy (i.e., access, detail, responsibility, approach, support). Most documents pointed to punitive approaches for academic misconduct and were based on the notion that academic misconduct results from a lack of morals. One university used the term “contract cheating,” although nearly all categorized the outsourcing of academic work as plagiarism. Details about educational resources and supports to increase student and staff understanding of academic integrity and prevention of academic misconduct were sparse. This study signals the continuing punitive nature of academic integrity policies in western Canadian universities, the reluctance to address contract cheating directly, and the need to revise policies with deeper consideration of educative approaches to academic integrity that support students and academic staff.

Keywords: academic integrity, Canada, contract cheating, educational supports, higher education, policy

This is an open access article and is free to read and download.

For more information about this article, or the national project, please contact me directly.

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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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