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New laws could make our business illegal: assignment-seller

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A business that sells used assignments to high school and university students online is worried a proposed new law could criminalise what its operator argues is a legitimate educational service.

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Thinkswap is an online marketplace for assignments, study guides and notes produced by, and sold to, high school students in years 11 and 12, as well as university students across Australia.

Work from current and former students of Adelaide University, Flinders University and UniSA has been uploaded to the website, which boasts 150,000 student members.

Draft federal legislation, currently out for consultation, would impose criminal penalties including potential imprisonment for people who provide assignments to students during the course of their study.

ThinkSwap founder Adam Fasullo says his website prevents cheating by opening all uploaded content to plagiarism detecting software like TurnItIn, and by enforcing a rule that no work can be uploaded for a particular subject until the author has completed it.

He argues the new laws are necessary to discourage essay-writing mills, which produce original work for students to use as their own, but that there was a clear distinction between those businesses and his, which does not produce any original academic work.

“We open up the text content (allowing anti-plagiarism software to) see the full body of the document,” he told InDaily.

“I don’t believe the scope to misuse this work is great.

“They (cheaters) would surely be caught for using it in that way.”

Fasullo said his business should not be conflated with those that produce fraudulent original work.

“The current draft (bill) is extremely broad,” he said.

“I don’t believe it’s the spirit of the law … to actively criminalise what we do.”

However, a leading academic integrity researcher told InDaily the assignments posted on Thinkswap can be being used for cheating purposes, and that assignment-sharing websites like it act as a gateway to direct plagiarism.

UniSA Business School associate professor and academic integrity expert Tracey Bretag told InDaily students who are determined to cheat can use material on Thinkswap, relatively easily, to do so.

“It isn’t that difficult to get around (anti-plagiarism) software,” she said.

“I think it is naïve to think that it (ThinkSwap) wouldn’t be used for cheating.

“They should be concerned.”

Bretag said it was right to make a distinction between people who write work for students to directly use under their own name, and services that provide past work, like Thinkswap.

But assignment-sharing websites often act as a “slippery slope” towards “transactional” thinking about academic work.

She said her research showed students who use such websites are twice as likely as other students to also use – or go on to use – services that produce original assignments for cash.

“Thinkswap in itself isn’t a cheating service, but it is a slippery slope towards cheating (and) the bottom line is that the material available on Thinkswap does get used for cheating purposes,” said Bretag.

“There’s a blurry line between … sharing (and) cheating.”

She acknowledged that universities often provide past assignments for students to use as exemplars, but that that process is transparent to both staff and students, who could be confident in the quality of the work.

Fasullo said he was confident the proposed legislation would be tailored to exclude Thinkswap’s operations – and those of similar businesses – before it reaches federal parliament.

However, he said Thinkswap always acts in accordance with the law and that any element of the business that falls foul of the legislation – if it passes parliament – would be shut down.

Submissions on the draft Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill are due to be released within the next month.

Thinkswap’s submission argues that the platform is “essentially a commercial digitisation of the collaborative study practices that students have always practiced whilst being mindful of observing academic integrity”.

“Promoting academic integrity has always been of paramount importance and at the forefront of the way we operate,” it reads.

“Students are afforded copyright in the work they create and have a right to legally publish any work they produce.

“Should this be facilitated through Thinkswap, we uphold ourselves in protecting the interests of the original author and any potential concerns around the misuse of their work.”

You can read the full submission below.

 

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