How universities are tackling plagiarism with personalised assessments

How universities are tackling plagiarism with personalised assessments
The battle between academic plagiarism and personalised assessments. Source: Shutterstock

From the simple click of a button, students everywhere can receive pages of valuable academic content to paste into overdue essay assignments and dissertations with looming deadlines.

With the evolution of the academic black market, universities are struggling to tackle the technological temptations of online essay mills and purchased pre-written materials.

There are many custom writing services that try to sway students to sign up to a service of plagiarism, but how are institutions approaching the fake essay epidemic?

According to a recent article by The Guardian, “Essay mills are becoming increasingly normalised. The only way to beat them is to design assessments they can’t reproduce.”

Universities worldwide are putting their thinking caps on, combining creative efforts to produce ingenious ways to beat these virtual systems of academic dishonesty.

Enter the concept of personalised assessments. Traditionally, exams have required the memorisation of information and written tasks, but professors are seeking to swap these for contemporary customised tests.

Instead of asking students to remember lecture notes and write a bundle of essays in a 3-hour slot, learners may now be asked to demonstrate their skills through a practical activity or presentation.

By shifting from the exam hall to a one-on-one environment, students are expected to display their hard-earned knowledge and skills in front of observing examiners.

As The Guardian explains, “An authentic assessment might require students to develop a research proposal to investigate a specific problem and make a pitch to present it, similar to the Dragon’s Den television show.”

So, how does this help to tackle plagiarism? Well, through a practical exam, it would be difficult for a student to pretend that borrowed work is theirs. This new format will put them on the spot and ask them to answer spontaneous questions from the facilitator.

Students will have no time to Google the answer and there will be room for problematic essay mills within this new arrangement. By claiming their grades through formulated opinions and independent thought, students can no longer simply regurgitate information.

This will also save university staff a lot of time as the personalised assessments will not require the endless marking of essays. They could be recorded and played back for examiners, or feedback could be given back that same day.

But with every new idea there comes potential drawbacks. For instance, not every student will be an effective face-to-face communicator. A few may find comfort sitting and writing behind a desk rather than speaking in front of a small audience.

Also, if a high-achiever is expected to get top marks but lacks the social skills to complete an ‘authentic assessment’, will that place them at a disadvantage? And will they be judged on their knowledge or confidence levels?

With the arrival of this individualised exam concept, there are plenty of questions to be considered and angles to be analysed.

Yet, one thing is certain, if personalised assessments help universities get the upper hand in the fight against academic plagiarism, surely they’re worth trying out?

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