Another brick in the wall

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I have come across an interesting twist in the contract cheating industry, Ghost Grading: Part 1 – A New Twist on Contract Cheating.  I hope I do not steal any of Dr Sarah Elaine Eaton’s thunder, especially as she still has Part 2 of her investigations to come, but the story is of interest.

It seems that teaching assistants and other instructors in North America (maybe elsewhere too?) are being targeted to outsource their grading duties.  The contract grading company gets paid by the TA at a rate lower than the TA receives from their institution, so the TA has money-in-hand without doing the work and also, as Eaton puts it,  is “gaining back time to work on other, more interesting projects.”

It is a win-win situation.  Or is it?

My first thoughts considered the irony of the practice, especially with regard to the whole contract cheating industry.

Students can pay to have their work written by a contract essay company and their work might then be marked by a contract marking company.  Nice thought: what if the contract marker gives a poor grade to the contract written essay?  Could there be cases where the same company which sells the essay to the student then goes on to mark it?   Hmmm.  Would they (do they) have safeguards to make sure they mark the essay as promised by the sales side of the company, regardless of its quality?

Taken to an extreme, this could put universities and schools out of business altogether.  There would be no need for teachers and instructors and no need for students either.  Fake universities could offer fake qualifications to fake students who buy their essays from fake firms who mark the fake essays and give fake marks so they can gain fake qualifications.

Meanwhile, having some other body/s take over high-stakes assessment might just leave schools and colleges able to focus on their core purpose: education and learning?

Fantasy and irony aside, there are more serious considerations here.

WIIFT – What’s In It For Them?

It is not a win-win situation.

The instructor earns less money (the amount paid out to the company providing the “service”) – but does gain time for other projects and activities, academic or otherwise.  Presumably the time gained is worth it.  Eaton suggests that some approaches to instructors give the impression that the educational institution approves of the arrangement, which of course they do not.  Instructors and TAs who sign up could lose trust and ultimately their jobs. They will not gain experience in marking, they will not get to know the students and their abilities and capabilities, they will not gain awareness of misunderstandings and gaps in comprehension – feedback on the teaching.  They might gain a little, they will lose a lot.

Students will lose as well. They might not get the marks they deserve and they might not get the feedback they need.  They are not getting what they paid for, they are not getting the education they signed up for.

Contract grading companies, on the other hand, gain gain gain. Or to put it another way, win win win.  What’s In It For Them? Let us count the ways:

  • they gain student work and essays which, these being unscrupulous companies, could well be recycled and re-used, perhaps sold as exemplars on essay sites or even as original supposedly-contract-written essays;
  • they gain access to courses and to copyright materials which again could be sold on or repurposed;
  • they get a potential-blackmail hold over the TAs and instructors who sign up, an academic honey-trap;
  • they gain access to learning management systems, access to data, including confidential data, data which may go well beyond the course, which they can use and/or sell on;
  • they gain access to learning management systems, with opportunities to hack and corrupt the system altogether.

The potential is frightening, and I have lost count.

I look forward to part 2 of Dr Eaton’s article.

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