Use technology to catch academic cheats

Several reports have highlighted alarming statistics to reveal the problem of academic dishonesty in the UAE.

By Krishnadas Nanath

Published: Sat 7 Oct 2017, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 7 Oct 2017, 11:45 PM

Academic integrity crisis has been daunting universities for a long time, and universities in the UAE are no different when it comes to facing this Herculean task. With the advent of technology in classrooms and innovations in assessment components, cheating has shifted from the orthodox style of peeping in answer sheets to hiring online tutors for completing assignments. Assessments in universities today are not limited to examinations; students are no longer in small cohorts, pen and paper style writing is becoming obsolete, and hence new terms have evolved: Plagiarism, academic dishonesty, e-cheating and academic collusion. The cheating plague is ubiquitous and needs to be addressed from scratch.
Several reports have highlighted alarming statistics to reveal the problem of academic dishonesty in the UAE. A recent survey of doctoral work in the UAE has revealed that more than 80 per cent of university students admit to cheating (in various forms). Another survey revealed that more than 40 per cent of the students here believe copy-and-paste-type plagiarism from the Internet is either not cheating or only trivial cheating. While it might be facile to attribute academic dishonesty with the dawn of technological revolution, it is paramount to understand the root of this behaviour.
The rise of internet usage, exposure to piracy tools, a plethora of anonymous online tutors ready to assist for money; blogs on tips to reduce plagiarism score are few cited reasons for this crisis in the past. However, it is the nature of assessments that has changed radically. Assessments have transcended to research projects, academic papers, group reports, lab exercises, company reports and much more. Both technology and nature of assessments are indispensable, and thus universities in the UAE need an infallible plan to tackle this plague.
So is there a corrective other than plagiarism tools like Turnitin and formation of Academic Integrity Committees in the universities? Definitely yes, but it needs some drudgery from the faculties, administration, course designers and student office. The idea here is not to evade technology but to embrace it more to disrupt the culture that leads to plagiarism. At the outset, teachers need to break down their assessments into various parts and have a separate deadline for each submission. One of the prime reasons for plagiarism is the dearth of time, and hence students succumb to outsourcing or seeking online help for their last minute submission of final research work. However, if this final paper is broken down into five sections and each section has a deadline right from the time this component is announced, the problem would be much easier to handle. To adorn this solution, submissions could be in the form of blogs with password protected attachments so that there is now a peer pressure and recognition for timely submissions. UAE universities and schools are already using tech platforms like Moodle and hence integrating blog submissions is very much conceivable.
The second solution is to use existing tools like Google Drive, Wikispaces or Edmodo that would not only assist students to collaborate online for group submissions but also help teachers evaluate the contribution of each member in the group. Leveraging the impeccable tech and internet infrastructure in UAE, students can work on their projects using Google Drive and the tools will generate reports on contribution, uploads, daily activates and last accessed files. Faculties and participating groups can set the privacy settings on Drive. Use of these tools could also solve the problem of Free Riding or Social Loafing. Third solution is to create awareness of what is ethical, legal and moral when sharing, copying or editing content on the internet is involved. With the proliferation of social media platforms, students share, edit and post content online and hence are ignorant about dos and don'ts of online plagiarism. 
One of the areas that universities in UAE face a major issue today is online data collection by students for a survey research. Random data injection and fraud data collection are rising, and yet again, the onus is on faculties to curb this practice. The link for data collection should be setup by faculties, and simple analysis of time-stamp from the responses could give the first indication of fraud data. This area demands more corporate players and startups to use Data Analytics and come up with more educational tools that can reveal unethical and fraudulent practices.
Krishnadas Nanath is Professor of Data Analytics (Computer Engineering and Informatics Department) at Middlesex University Dubai

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