Unintended Consequences of Social Media Engagement

Title: The unintended consequences of social media engagement – Tackling the Dissertation Writing Companies.
Speakers: Michael Mortenson and John Waller (University of Warwick)
Date: 16th November, 7pm (refreshments from 6.30pm onwards)
Location:     International Manufacturing Centre Auditorium, University of Warwick  (IMC, Central campus – Maps)
BCS Meetings are free to attend.

John Waller is an Admissions Tutor at the University of Warwick responsible for a number of taught postgraduate courses. As is common in this education sector, the student intake onto the courses is very international. Because of this wide geographical spread, social media is used to engage with students prior to their arrival in the UK.  This effort has been successful and over 80% of students engage with the University via social media prior to enrolment, but with that success has come problems.

Students and tutors alike are well versed in the problems of plagiarism. The temptation for a student to copy/paste from websites is ever-present and perceived as a route for easy grades. Tools exist to combat this cheating and UK Universities routinely submit student work to plagiarism matching tools such as Turnitin. The success of these tools has led the unscrupulous student to instead use assignment writing companies who will produce written work for a price. Crucially, companies offering these services advertise via social media (principally Facebook), so Warwick’s success at engaging with students has unwittingly created an accessible customer base for these companies to exploit.

Identifying contract-written academic work is notoriously difficult, it can be plagiarism-free and high quality. However Michael Mortensen, a lecturer at Warwick, has developed and tested a stylometric analysis tool to help identify cases where the writing style of a student is suspiciously varied, suggesting third party help.

This talk will give an overview of the social media use, the dissertation writing companies that have sought to exploit that effort and the analytical technique that has now been developed to help thwart it.


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