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 –


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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.

Research update: Highlights from some current projects

February 9, 2021

It seems I have a lot of academic Integrity research projects on the go these days, so I thought I’d do a post about some of this exciting work and the amazing people I’ve been collaborating with.

Academic Integrity and Mental Well-Being

As part of my Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity role, I wanted to connect some of my research to the University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy.

I’ve been working on with two terrific graduate students, Helen Pethrick and Kristal Turner on a new project, Academic Integrity and Mental Well-Being.

So far, we have one publication from this project. Exploring academic integrity and mental health during COVID-19: Rapid review was published in the Journal of Contemporary Education Theory & Research in December 2020.

Our second paper is under peer review, so stay tuned for details on that later.

Academic Integrity: Faculty Development Needs for Canadian Higher Education

This is the inaugural project associated with the D2L Innovation Guild. This project is the first of its kind in Canada. There has never before been a multi-institutional project, with representation from across multiple provinces, that has also partnered with industry in pursuit of a common unified goal with regards to academic integrity.

This collaborative, multi-institutional project included researchers from four Canadian provinces:

  • Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, Principal Investigator, University of Calgary
  • Katherine (Katie) Crossman, PhD, Co-Investigator and Study Coordinator, University of Calgary
  • Brenda M. Stoesz, PhD, Co-Investigator, University of Manitoba
  • Kim Garwood, PhD, Co-Investigator, University of Guelph
  • Amanda McKenzie, MA, Co-Investigator, University of Waterloo

We have publicly registered our project on the Open Science Framework. You can check out details about our project here.

You can check out our project brief, which is available as an open access report (Crossman et al., 2019). This project is now complete and we submitted our final reports to the D2L Innovation Guild Board on February 8, 2021.

Contract Cheating in Canada: National Policy Analysis

 This is an exciting project that I began developing in 2018. I wanted to create opportunities for Canadian researchers to do scholarly inquiry into contract cheating. I received mentorship from Dr. Tracey Bretag in the early stages of this project. She had led a team in Australia to conduct academic integrity policy research there. She coached me on how to conduct a similar project in Canada. As a result, I launched Contract Cheating in Canada: National Policy Analysis.

The specific objectives of this project are to:

  • Identify existing components of academic integrity policies and procedures related to contract cheating;
  • Identify gaps in existing academic integrity policies and procedures related to contract cheating;
  • Evaluate the policies and procedures against existing standards for post-secondary education policy (i.e., Australian Government: Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), 2017; Higher Education Academy [HEA], 2011) with a focus on supports that have been developed for students and other campus stakeholders (Bretag et al., 2011);
  • Compare supports available for undergraduate students and graduate students; and
  • Develop and communicate recommendations for policy reform.

This national project is sub-divided according to regions of Canada and types of post-secondary institutions (e.g., colleges and universities). Different teams have been involved with each of the smaller sub-projects, with individuals from a particular region studying the policies from their own regions.

We’ve already had some great publications out of this project, the most recent of which was published in Educational Policy.

Degrees of Deceit: A Study of Fake Degrees, Diploma Fraud and Counterfeit Credentials

I am working with Jamie Carmichael at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, on a project to better understand fake degrees and fraudulent credentials in Canadian higher education.

Check out our webinar recording about this work. Some very cool resources we have already produced out of this work include:

A slide deck from our webinar session.

Counterfeit Credentials: Top 13 Recommendations for Higher Education Professionals (Infographic)

Scholarships without Scruples (Infographic)

We are also working on an edited book on this topic. More details on that will be coming soon…

These aren’t all the projects I have on the go, just a few I wanted to highlight here. Feel free to get in touch about any of these projects. You know where to find 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.

Why Superboards Could Signal the Dismemberment of Alberta’s Higher Education System

January 23, 2021

A recent CBC News article by Janet French highlights the Alberta government’s plan to establish superboards to oversee higher education in the province. It is imperative for Albertans to understand the possible implication that superboards might have on our post-secondary system.

French’s article worth a read. And pay attention to every word.

Similar to California?

Someone asked me recently whether there were other examples of this type of superboard governance that we could refer to get a concrete idea of what it might mean for Alberta. My response at the time was that to the best of my knowledge there were no such similar systems in the Commonwealth.

Canadian higher education shares much in common with its Commonwealth cousins, as it is based largely on the British system of education. It is a long history lesson, but suffice to say that the American higher education system differs from ours in some fundamental ways. Although the Canadian and American systems started out in a similar vein, the American Revolution caused some fundamental shifts that led to a bifurcation of the educational trajectories of both countries. The resulting Constitution of the United States, enacted after the revolution, provides for a far more open and entrepreneurial approach to education.

This is one reason that there are literally thousands of private universities and colleges in the United States that operate with much less oversight or quality assurance than Canadian universities and colleges. Overall, the quality of higher education across Canada is generally more consistent and steady and we do not have the drastic differences in institutional reputation that affect our neighbours to the south. This is also due, in part, to differences in how higher education is governed in both countries. Although Canadian and American universities share much in common in some ways, in other ways, they differ dramatically. One of those ways is governance.

MRU political science professor and political commentator, Duane Bratt sparked a lively conversation about this topic on his Twitter feed. One of the comments that came up is that a unified university system seems to work for the University of California (UC), so maybe it could work here. The UC system includes ten universities such as UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, etc. (As an aside, the University of Calgary’s own president, Ed McCauley, worked at UC Santa Barbara before returning to the University of Calgary in 2011, so he is no doubt well versed on the UC system.)

A system similar to the UC system could be one possible outcome if one or more superboards for post-secondary education in Alberta were to be implemented. However, I would point out that although the University of California has an excellent reputation in many respects, it exists as one institution within a larger state context.

The state of California has some of the most flexible (lax?) laws around the operation of educational entities. Retired FBI Agent, Allen Ezell and his colleague John Bear, write extensively about this in their book, Degree Mills. To paraphrase some of their key ideas, just about anyone can open a business in the state of California and call it a school. This has led to a proliferation of private entities offering so-called educational programs of questionable quality, or in some cases, outright fraudulent credentials. Although the University of California may be a reputable school, it is situated in a state where, without exaggeration, literally hundreds of other alleged universities and colleges dole out parchments with little to no credibility behind them. In my opinion, the larger higher education system that exists in the state of California is not one to which Alberta ought to aspire.

Lack of clarity regarding a possible superboard

In his remarks to the General Faculties Council (GFC) on December 10, 2020 President McCauley commented that the University of Calgary has been advocating for “the continuance of bicameral University governance and autonomy” (p. 2). The minutes of the GFC meeting are a matter of public record and can be found here.

These remarks at GFC, as well as commentary made by our executive leaders since then should not be taken lightly. They signal that our university president, along with other university presidents in Alberta, are concerned about the possibility of the dismantling of the bi-cameral governance model that currently exists at our institutions (i.e., at the University of Calgary, this means the Board of Governors and General Faculties Council) if a superboard to oversee universities is established. This website provides a brief overview of the University of Calgary’s governance and leadership.

It is not clear at the moment how an Alberta superboard for post-secondary governance might be structured or what powers they might have. It is also not clear if there would be one board for universities and another for colleges or if each system would be overseen by its own superboard. Right now there are more questions than answers. What is clear is that the possibility of establishment of one or more superboards to oversee higher education in Alberta poses the greatest potential for change to post-secondary governance that the province has seen in more than half a century – or perhaps ever.

A governance perspective: The potential dismemberment of Alberta’s higher education system

At this point, no one knows for certain what the superboards for higher education might mean. At the risk of sounding alarmist, if superboards are established, the possibility of the bicameral governance structure being dismantled is a real possibility. In turn, this could lead to a radical restructuring of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions.

I believe this is something we must pay close attention to. Funding cuts are one thing. The possibility of the dismemberment of our university governance structure is something else entirely. I use the word “dismemberment” here intentionally – and quite literally. To dismember is to sever the limbs from the body. The Board of Governors and the General Faculties Council are our university’s governing bodies. If the university does not have its own governing bodies, it would very likely lose its autonomy and its ability to function in the way it has for decades. This could be the case of every post-secondary institution in Alberta. Without bi-cameral governance, every single one of Alberta’s universities could be crippled in terms of their ability to make decisions for themselves.

When people hear that I study ethics and integrity in higher education, they often think that I study matters related to student conduct. Although that is true, it is not the entire story. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin, integritas, meaning to integrate or to make whole. A breach of integrity means that something that was previously whole has been compromised. In my opinion, the establishment of a superboard to govern higher education in our province could represent a direct threat to the integrity of our university system.

These superboards have not yet been formed, but now is very much the time for advocates of higher education to pay attention and become educated. At the very least I recommend spending some time on the Alberta 2030 Initiative website to find out more about some of what is planned for post-secondary education in Alberta.

I encourage you to learn as much as you can about how and why bi-cameral governance is a hallmark of Canadian higher education and how the autonomy it provides to individual institutions promotes ethical governance and decision-making in a variety of ways. Governance work is not values-free and nor is it agnostic. As Jenny Ozga so eloquently points out in her book, governance and policy work can be a form of advocacy. The very values that the University of Calgary – and other post-secondary institutions in Alberta – hold are lived out not only in the decisions that we make, but through the structures and systems in place that allow us to make those decisions in the first place.


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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.


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.

Shadow Courses and Their Impact on Academic Integrity

October 26, 2020
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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


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.


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.


Bains, M. (2019). Woman allegedly paid to take exam arrested at SFU. CBC News. Retrieved from

Bernstien, J. (2016). Concordia student and tutor face criminal charges for allegedly cheating on exam. CBC News. Retrieved from

Caldwell, B. (2014). Alleged cheats arrested over math exam at University of Waterloo. The Record. Retrieved from

Eaton, S. E. (2020). An Inquiry into Major Academic Integrity Violations in Canada: 2010-2019. Retrieved from

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

Mitchell, R. L. (2014). Pirates, cheats and IT certs. ComputerWorld. Retrieved from

Prisiajny, T., & Lai, C. (2015, January 7). York grad student charged after impersonating Waterloo student math exam. Excalibur. Retrieved from

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:

Theophille, V., & King, A. (2019). Case # 9: Exam Impersonation. Retrieved from—exam-impersonation.pdf

Wadhwani, A. (2019, December 18). Student, impersonator arrested for alleged cheating during final exams at SFU. Victoria news. Retrieved from


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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.

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