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.


Academic Integrity: Resource for Teaching Assistants

September 16, 2019
Academic Integrity resource for teaching assistants

Academic Integrity resource for teaching assistants

As a Teaching Assistant (TA) it can be tricky to know what your responsibilities are if you suspect or observe academic misconduct. This resource is intended to help both TAs and course instructors about the roles and responsibilities teaching assistants play in upholding academic integrity at the University of Calgary.

Teaching assistants are responsible for acting with integrity, maintaining the privacy of all parties involved and reporting any suspected or actual cases of academic misconduct to the course instructor. TAs are not responsible for confronting student(s) who may be allegedly responsible for academic misconduct and nor are they responsible for imposing sanctions (discipline). It is the responsibility of the course instructor to follow the guidelines established by their faculty for responding to allegations of academic misconduct.

Open communication between course instructors and teaching assistants is key. Establishing expectations early in the term, before issues might arise can be very helpful for teaching assistants.

It is important for teaching assistants to know they are not alone when it comes to upholding academic integrity.

This one-page tip sheet is intended as a suggested guideline to help teaching assistants figure out what to do if they encounter or suspect a breach of academic integrity. This handout is not exhaustive and it may not cover all situations. This resource was developed specifically for teaching assistants at the University of Calgary and may not apply to TAs at other institutions.

Here is a link to this free and downloadable .pdf resource: U Have Integrity: Resource for Teaching Assistants.

Here is the text of the .pdf for anyone wanting a quick read:

As a teaching assistant it can be tricky to know what your responsibilities are if you suspect or observe academic misconduct. This resource is intended as a suggested guideline about what to do in such situations in your role as a teaching assistant (TA). This resource may not cover all situations, but in can serve as a starting point. 

What to do 

  • Familiarize yourself with the University of Calgary Student Academic Misconduct Policy and Procedure. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the resources and services offered by the Student Success Centre about academic integrity. 
  • Start a conversation with your course instructor at the beginning of the term about what they expect from you in terms of upholding integrity in your role. It is a good idea to do this before you undertake your work so both parties have clear expectations. 
  • Act as a role model for academic integrity. 
  • Discuss any alleged or actual breaches of integrity with the course instructor. 
  • Gather evidence related to the alleged misconduct. Keep detailed notes of the incident, including dates and times, who was involved, etc. Provide this information to the course instructor. 
  • Remember that learning how to address academic misconduct is part of your training as a teaching assistant, but you are not alone! 

What to avoid 

  • Do not keep the incident a secret (even if the student asks you to). Talk to the course instructor. 
  • Do not discuss the matter with any other teaching assistants, students, etc. 
  • Do not confront a student. It is the role of the course instructor to address alleged or actual academic misconduct with the student(s) involved. 
  • Do not impose any sanctions (punishments) on your own. The course instructor (not the TA) is responsible for following the guidelines established within the faculty about how to address actual or suspected cases of academic misconduct. 
  • Do not share details (even if they are de-identified) on social media, even in closed or private groups.

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 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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