top of page
  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

Breaking bad

Evening all,

Apologies for the break in service, but it's still better the train system in England, right?

*Recent unfortunate events* had something of a negative effect on my general sense of wellbeing, took some wind out of the proverbial sails. In typical fashion though, rather than shying away or going quietly into the dark night, I've returned all the more encouraged to continue my work. Specifically, I'm going to redouble my efforts to utterly destroy the business model of mass contract cheating in higher ed. You gotta have goals, right?

As I've discussed before, cheating is, in fact, rampant. Research tells us this, and any practitioner in the space will confirm. Universities possess mountains of data which very strongly indicate cheating is occurring, even if they are unaware of this fact.

Now, although I don't subscribe to the "moral failure of students" discourse around cheating, there most definitely is failure. Students make poor choices sometimes. We have to expect that, and have appropriate ways of identifying and remedying those errors. However, as anyone familiar with the topic will know, even once you've identified students and those apparent poor choices, responding to that information is a mountain in itself. It is the mountain. Once we have data to support concerns about students, at many institutions we go through an incredibly laborious, occasionally Kafka-esque, process which leads to a decision. However, currently our equipment is not really fit for the purpose of climbing the mountain.

Having handled a lot of cases, at an ever-growing rate of detection, improvements have been made. Myself and a colleague who I've mentioned before (@fourthlinemagic) created "Courageous Conversations" partly in response to a higher detection rate. Not to toot horns, but the chapter we wrote outlining Courageous Conversations was published earlier this week. Feel free to take a look. It is a more efficient process in which every student is treated fairly, and many more students see they were treated fairly. But we can't stop there.

If a student is not in a place to act with courage, for any reason, there follows a mountain of work to interpret evidence, and report it to decision makers. That's why I'm starting to give very serious thought to what I think is an entirely new model of investigative reporting of contract cheating in particular.

Because so much of my investigative work is data driven, it struck me that the reporting should also be data driven. What I see in the data is behaviours which make it improbable, and often impossible, for an enrolled student to be undertaking the "work of learning" (h/t Prof Cath Ellis) themselves. I'm envisioning a three or four stage report in which:

  • the generic cheating behaviours are described,

  • the occurrences of those behaviours are described (subject/assessment/day/time),

  • The student's response is provided, and commented on where appropriate,

  • And the full detail of all the data evidence is provided.

If combined with a Courageous Conversation, and if acceptable to decision makers, this report would be efficient, consistent and provide in the process a very significant downward pressure on the impulse to contract cheat or collude in online assessments. It would also clean our backyard in a way that we have not even attempted in the past, because of our poor equipment (skillls and will), or our lack of equipment (people).

If anyone else has a better way forward, I'm all ears.

Until next time,


118 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Jun 01, 2023

Hi Kane. As we are currently revamping our whole approach to AI, it would be very interesting to know more about what this would entail. Perry


Phoebe Churches
Phoebe Churches
Jun 01, 2023

Hi KM, I have recently read your paper, and have a few questions which I would be interested to discuss with you. I am running Advocacy & Legal services at an independent student union at a large sandstone university. One way or another, I have been involved in advising students facing academic misconduct allegations for about 20 years across two institutions, so I have thoughts and concerns based on the student experience of both formal and ‘educative’ responses to alleged misconduct by students. We both seem to share an interest in humane dealings with students. Would you like to chat?

Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page