Keynote Address Phill Dawson: AHE 2019

Why you should cheat: Building an evidence base to resist assessment conservatism

Associate Professor Phillip Dawson, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

Recent media coverage could lead us to believe that there has been exponential growth in the use of ‘contract cheating’ websites by students. These services provide bespoke assignments for students – for a fee – in as little as a few hours. Contract cheating websites often claim that this type of academic dishonesty is undetectable, and aside from instances where students are careless or stupid there is evidence that routine marking does not detect contract cheating. Left unchecked, this poses a serious threat to the integrity of higher education courses, with flow-on effects for students and public safety.

To combat contract cheating, and other new threats to academic integrity, many institutions are becoming increasingly conservative in their assessment practices. In particular, invigilated pen-and-paper examinations and remote proctored online examinations are being touted as necessary solutions to rampant cheating.

But are conservative assessment approaches actually more secure than authentic take-home tasks? Or is a shift towards surveilled assessment types another case of ‘security theatre’, which at a great cost to learning provides little improvement to integrity? Are there alternatives that balance learning and integrity?

This keynote brings together evidence from studies where researchers try to hack or cheat to understand the relative security of different types of assessment. It encourages thinking about assessment design from the perspective of someone who might want to break things. Most importantly it sets out challenges the field of assessment for learning must meet in order to counter assessment conservatism. If assessment for learning does not own this conversation, we risk it being colonised by those who are more risk averse, or others who think the worst of students.

Phillip (Phill) Dawson is an Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE), Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. He holds degrees in education, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Phill leads CRADLE’s research agenda on academic integrity, with a focus on experimental studies and new technologies. Phill has published some of the first experimental studies on contract cheating detection and computer-based exam hacking. He is currently engaged in research on different approaches to detect and deter contract cheating, including assessment designs and technologies. He also has a keen interest in how academics make decisions in assessment design.


Twitter: @phillipdawson


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