We welcome education secretary Damian Hinds’ call yesterday to beat the cheats by tackling the use of so-called 'essay mills' by students.
His challenge to tech giants, including PayPal, Google and Facebook, to stop promoting and facilitating essay writing services is eye-catching. But it will be effective?
We hear much about the powerful artificial intelligence (AI) employed by these companies, but the sad reality is they fail to prevent obvious images and discussion of self-harm from being widely shared; how would they be able to identify and deal with far more subtle adverts and promotional material for essay writing services?
But the second part of Hinds’ statement did resonate with me: his call for education providers to introduce honour codes and to leverage the strong cultural power of peer pressure and the academic community.
After all, students are not only cheating themselves, but also each other.
What may be less obvious is that technology can play a strong role in cementing that 'community power'.
I am not talking here about students suspected of using essay mills 'trolling' each other online, reverting to the digital equivalent of the lynch mob that we see in other walks of life. Rather, we may employ 'nudge techniques' like those found in our learning analytics service to promote the positive benefits and expectations of integrity to students.
In the week her organisation launched its new Authorship Investigate tool, I am reminded of the words of Turnitin’s Gill Rowell in a blog she wrote last year, that academic integrity is a learned skill that needs to be reinforced throughout education.
Carrots and sticks
In an age when almost all student essays are submitted electronically, the 'sticks' of online plagiarism detection and digital writing style 'fingerprint' evaluation can be effectively complemented by the 'carrots' of nudge technology and greater integration of academic integrity issues into the curriculum and face-to-face teaching.
In this way, humans and technology can come together and provide an unbeatable solution to this problem.
As we look for a topic for our next Horizons group meeting in June - where we discuss how emerging technologies can tackle the biggest challenges in education - we see this area as an obvious candidate.
Please email us with any ideas you have about how we can innovate to beat the cheats.