Webinar: Contract Cheating in Canada: Exploring Legislative Options

October 4, 2021

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: URGENT AND EMERGING TOPICSJoin us for an introductory discussion about the commercial contract cheating industry (e.g., term paper mills, homework completion services, and paid imposters who take exams on behalf of students). One question people often ask is, “Why aren’t these services illegal?” The short answer is: Academic cheating services are not currently illegal in Canada, but they are in other countries. In this session we’ll provide an overview of which countries have successfully enacted legislation against predatory industry that profits from academic misconduct. We will provide an overview of the legal structures in Canada that might facilitate or present barriers to such legislation being enacted in this country. We do not promise answers or solutions to the complex issue of contract cheating, but instead provide an evidence-base for deeper discussion.

The intended audience for this session is primarily for those in Canada interested in contract cheating from the Canadian legal context. Participants from other regions are also welcome.

By the end of this session engaged participants will be able to: 

  • Describe what contract cheating is
  • Understand how legislation against contract cheating has been enacted in other countries
  • Discover legal aspects of contract cheating in Canada and beyond

Facilitators: Alicia Adlington &  Sarah Elaine Eaton, University of Calgary
Date: Friday, October 29, 2021
Time: 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. (Note: This is Mountain Time. Please convert to your local time zone)
Location: Online via Zoom

Please note: Registration will close on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. (MT) and a Zoom link for the webinar will be sent the morning of the workshop.

Register now

For more information, visit the website: https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/series-and-events/academic-integrity-urgent-emerging-topics

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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 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.


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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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.


Academic Integrity: Transforming Invisible work into Visible and Valued Work

July 7, 2021

In a previous post I talked about how the work of academic integrity is often invisible and unrecognized. Today I wanted to share some exciting news. Over the past couple of years, colleagues at the University of Calgary have been working hard to update an old and outdated manual to address hiring, merit assessment, tenure and promotion for academic staff.

In the fall of 2020, I had an opportunity to connect with the two project leads, Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk and Dr. Francine Smith, to speak specifically about matters relating to ethics and integrity. We talked about the invisible nature of academic integrity work and how I’d heard anecdotally from colleagues that for those without a formal leadership appointment, such as an Associate Dean who investigates and adjudicates academic misconduct allegations and cases, had no formal mechanism to have work relating to academic integrity recognized when it came to our bi-annual review as faculty members. Similarly, there was no formal way to showcase this work in an application for hiring, tenure or promotion.

Dr. Strzelczyk and Dr. Smith listened closely and asked insightful questions about how academic integrity work could be better recognized as legitimate academic work at our university. Generally, our work as professors is broadly classified into three main categories: Research, Teaching, and Service. The amount of time we spend working in each area depends on the type of appointment you have, but in most cases, academic staff are expected to contribute to all three areas.

We had an open and collegial exchange about which categories academic integrity work would fall into. There are a limited number of us at our university who conduct research into academic integrity, so instead we focused on teaching and service. It became obvious that academic integrity work certainly counts towards service when it involves reporting and preparing evidence when a breach of integrity (i.e., academic misconduct) is suspected. We also talked about how it should also be recognized as a teaching and learning contribution. We talked about the need to recognize effort that goes into conceptualizing, designing, and implementing ethical assessments, for example. We explored the idea that when a professor takes time to prepare materials to teach their students how to learn ethically (e.g., developing tip sheets for their students on how to cite and reference properly) that these activities are related to teaching and learning, rather than service. We talked about how faculty work relating to academic integrity isn’t about teaching or service, but rather teaching and service.

I was really impressed with how my colleagues listened and responded. They incorporated changes into the handbook that I’m really quite ecstatic about and I wanted to share with you the specific language around these updates, so that if you are thinking about updating your own faculty handbooks on your campus, this might serve as a model.

The new University of Calgary GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Process Handbook was officially approved last month by our General Faculties Council (GFC) one of the highest governance bodies of the university. In the handbook, academic integrity is now officially recognized as part of our Teaching (Section 1.3) and Service (Section 1.4) responsibilities. The specific passages where academic integrity is highlighted are as follows: 

“Teaching may take different forms such as direct or classroom instruction at undergraduate and/or graduate levels, as well as competency-based education, and/or field and practicum supervision. Teaching activities may include lectures, seminars, tutorials, laboratories, clinical sets, advising/counselling, creating lesson plans, assessments, grading, and examinations, and upholding academic integrity. Delivery of instruction and support of student learning may be face-to-face, on-line and blended and may occur inside and outside of the classroom, on and off campus (including land-based education), in collaboration with other instructors, other faculties, associated institutions, community organizations or with Indigenous knowledge-keepers and communities.” (Bolding added).

GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Process Handbook (Section 1.3.3, p. 10)

and

“Service to the University may include participation in Program or Unit-level, Department or Division, Faculty, and University committees, councils, task forces, ad hoc teams, and governing bodies, or other parts of the University including the Faculty Association. Activities that contribute to upholding academic and research integrity across various parts of the academy shall also be considered as important service contributions to the University.” (Bolding added).

GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Process Handbook (Section 1.4.3, p. 11)

This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that academic has been explicitly named in our institutional faculty handbook in this way. To say I am excited about this is an understatement!

The details of exactly how this work can be recognized has yet to be determined, and the devil is always in the details, as they say. Nevertheless, we now have a mechanism by which it can be recognized and that in itself is a huge step forward.

I am hopeful that this will provide colleagues on campus with a means to move academic integrity work from being invisible to being not only visible, but also valued. I also hope that other institutions, both universities and colleges alike, will take similar action to ensure that the work that goes into upholding and enacting academic and research integrity is clearly acknowledged as being legitimate and important contributions to the role of an academic staff member.

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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.


Preface and Intro: Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity

March 30, 2021

To celebrate the release of Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity, I’m doing a series of blog posts. Each post highlights key ideas from various chapters. I’ll also share some extra trivia and tidbits, so even if you’ve read the book, you’ll get some insider info that isn’t in the book itself. I’ve done a video to accompany today’s post and it has different content than the written blog post, so be sure to check out the video, too.

In today’s post, I share a story a conversation with one of my mentors that had an influence on my writing. I also share you an overview of how the book is organized.

Dedication & Preface

Normally, I wouldn’t talk about the dedication, but in this case, it is worth mentioning. When Libraries Unlimited / ABC Clio approached me in January 2019 about writing a book, at first I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t familiar with the press, but after consulting with some library colleagues whom I trust, they assured me that in the field of library sciences, they are a very well respected and have more than 60 years of experience in academic publishing. After some back and forth with the publisher, I sent in a proposal and in March 2019, I signed the contact.

The next month Tracey Bretag visited us at the University of Calgary to keynote the inaugural Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity. While she was here, I told her I’d just signed a book contract. Our exchange went something like this:

Tracey: “A book! That’s a big project!”

Me: “I know…”

Tracey: “What will you say that is new?! I’ll be excited to read it… but you’ve got to bring something new to the table!”

Tracey wasn’t the only one to make such a comment. Those words rang in my head at every stage of the writing process. I have learned over the years that two of my strengths as a writer are synthesizing existing information in a straightforward way and also forecasting emerging trends. In this book, I do both of these things, and I also propose a new framework for understanding plagiarism in higher education that goes beyond the traditional notions of text and ideas.

I submitted the full manuscript to the book publisher in May 2020, where it then underwent a rigorous process of editing and feedback. Tracey never got to read the book manuscript, as she was already ill when I submitted it. The academic integrity world reeled in grief when she passed in October, 2020.

I realized that I needed to acknowledge Tracey’s passing in the book itself. Thankfully, my editor at Libraries Unlimited, Jessica Gribble, was gracious and understanding. Jessica and the publishing team allowed changes to the book after it had gone into the copy editing phase of production. I was able to make some updates to the text and add a dedication. The book is dedicated to Tracey and I will remain forever grateful for her constant encouragement, and also her challenge to bring something new to the field.

Table of Contents

Here’s an overview of what’s in the book:

  • Introduction: Overview of the book
  • Chapter 1: A brief history of plagiarism
  • Chapter 2: Contextualizing and defining plagiarism in higher education
  • Chapter 3: Intentionality, textuality, and other complicating factors
  • Chapter 4: A multi-stakeholder systems approach to plagiarism: The 4M framework
  • Chapter 5: Evaluation and assessment
  • Chapter 6: Self-plagiarism
  • Chapter 7: Academic file-sharing: Sharing is caring, and other myths
  • Chapter 8: Contract cheating: Outsourced academic work
  • Chapter 9: Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Chapter 10: Recognizing, reporting, and resolving plagiarism
  • Chapter 11: Plagiarism by professors and researchers
  • Chapter 12: Conclusion: Contemplating the future of plagiarism

The structure of the book changed somewhat as I was writing it. For example, in the proposal the title of Chapter 9 was “Tackling the taboo: Plagiarism and international students”. Even though I knew I wanted to address the complexities and bust some myths related to international students, that title never really felt comfortable. As I was writing, my university was engaged in a search for its first ever Vice-Provost of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Like so many others during the spring of 2020, I became ever more aware of the need to address bias and discrimination on our campuses and in society. So, the chapter evolved quickly. In the end, it realized it was not a chapter about international students, but about equity. Once I committed to that, the chapter went in an entirely different direction; one I think that is ultimately stronger, more relevant, and more timely.

Other topics I address it the book that I had not anticipated include COVID-19 (see Chapter 5 and Chapter 12), machine learning (see Chapter 12), and the role parents play in how well their children act with integrity in school (see Chapter 4 and Chapter 8).

In the end, although this is a book about plagiarism in higher education, I also wanted it to address academic integrity (and misconduct) more generally. The community of scholars who study academic integrity has been a small one. It has been growing in recent years, and my intention for this book is to provide a solid and interesting book for current and future students, scholars, practitioners, and others who care about academic integrity in their professional practice.

Related posts:

The unboxing: Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity – https://wp.me/pNAh3-2FZ

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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.


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