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There are a number of red flags.
June 24, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe


 
The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:49 PM on June 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


I didn't see any citations.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 2:00 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?”

Yikes!
posted by bewilderbeast at 2:02 PM on June 24, 2011 [19 favorites]


People have always plagiarised. Seneca the Elder (c. 50 BCE- c.40 CE) has chunks on it. And there were entire books on Virgil's 'thefts.' There was probably a book out there on the 10 Commandments screaming about the use of 'coveting thy neighbour's oxen', written by the person who'd prided themselves on that excellent phrase, and if any one was going to stop people coveting oxen, it was them.

It's easier to catch them nowadays, though, because on the whole they're rather lazy. The amount of people who don't even change the font on the bits they've copied and pasted to match the rest of the paper just bewilders me.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:03 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's see a paid essay writer/homework do-person help you in courses where the final is 40% of your grade and your mid-term is 20-30%.

Let's not say I agree/disagree with either side here, just that some courses of study are inherently immune from this type of cheating anyway.

Interesting post. Makes me even more cynical about my little piece of paper on the wall, but then again I already was.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:04 PM on June 24, 2011


“...in order to have the life you want there are things you must do that you don’t want to do, and may even be incapable of doing. ... if you cheat, we will fucking expel you.” But if you don’t cheat, you’ll get a D.

Most the paper assignments I get are: read these articles, regurgitate them, quote them, tell me what it’s all about.

I'm pretty sure a C- is achievable here without cheating. Especially if grammatical correctness is a red flag for fishiness.
posted by segfault at 2:05 PM on June 24, 2011


It doesn’t seem to work for anyone involved. Except for me of course.

Heh
posted by doobiedoo at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2011


Cheat: But plagiarism is going to happen in a society in which you are told, “This is something you need to do in order to have the life you want, and in order to have the life you want there are things you must do that you don’t want to do, and may even be incapable of doing.

But once you get that life you are going to have to do things that you don't want to do and may even be incapable of doing. The students do what they have to get the A (or passing grade). The guy at Goldman Sachs does what he has to to get the big bonus. The senator does what he or she has to to get re-elected or the big job in the private sector. In no case are they actually interested in what they are doing for its own sake, they just want the results that doing it - or faking it - will bring.

I'm not even sure what my point is, but I'm pretty sure that this is just about the educational system.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:11 PM on June 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?”

Several years ago, I caught a freshman comp student plagiarizing from multiple websites. I dragged him/her into my office and, as we say in my family, spoke firmly.

STUDENT: I would never plagiarize a paper. It was the friend who wrote the paper for me.

[looooooong pause, during which I contemplate walloping my head against the desk really hard and/or self-defenestration]

ME: ...That didn't help your case any.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:12 PM on June 24, 2011 [21 favorites]


... spending at least two nights in all 48 continental states.

Pet peeve: what this person means is "all 48 contiguous states". There are 49 continental states, 48 of which are contiguous. The two terms unfortunately share the shortening "ConUS".
posted by gurple at 2:16 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of the "cheater" dialogue doesn't ring true for me (probably because I got my degree at a technical school which only offers "professional" majors like engineering and chemistry - there really weren't any useless courses) - it's possible that widespread cheating is a sign of institutional failure, but this doesn't explain the student who falsifies their thesis research.

You don’t want to be punishing these people for doing this, and they don’t want to be cheating in the first place.

This seems to be framing it as pure, virtuous students being corrupted by a sick system. I don't necessarily agree with that.
posted by muddgirl at 2:17 PM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


People like to learn. I can't let go of that. Even learning how to plagiarize well is learning.

Teaching is an art - one that is not very well understood nor encouraged in 'factory' education systems today. For most subjects students could be graded on their ability to present their learning (demonstrate competence) in oral/visual/film projects they would use the same organizing, analyzing, synthesizing skills as writing.

Perhaps the demise of the art of writing is the real problem here.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:17 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's Never Lurgi: it is just about the educational system, or it is not just about the educational system?
posted by madcaptenor at 2:17 PM on June 24, 2011


$25-$35 a page? What is the average undergrad midterm assignment these days, 10-12pages? Say 6-8 hours to make sure its a bangup job, $52-$70 an hour... that's some real money.

One problem, if it's a larger research paper, where does he get the kind of institutional library access you'd need to get a B+ on a upper level or graduate term paper? Google researching is fine for undergrad intro survery courses, but if he's charging people to write graduate level papers with extensive research notes, those journal articles are often times locked down pretty tightly. Or does he have a "costs plus" payment model for that big a project?
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:19 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pet peeve: what this person means is "all 48 contiguous states".

I don't think ANYONE counts Montana.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:20 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?”

This reads like a joke but it certainly isn't. I occasionally deal with students who are accused of plagiarism and, unfortunately, it's often the case that they have clearly committed plagiarism but don't even know it. These are graduate students.

I'm not sure who is at fault here: the universities for not adequately explaining that plagiarism is about more than just not including citations, or the students for not thinking that, maybe, putting that essay from the Internet into "my own words" isn't very different from straight up copying and pasting.

Certainly, though, as It's Never Lurgi suggests, this is not just isolated to the academy. This is a society-wide problem.
posted by asnider at 2:20 PM on June 24, 2011


I don't get why people put up with taking courses they haver no interest in. Go get a job selling life insurance or something. There are still jobs out there that don't require a college degree. Or at least take courses that interest you. I just don't get it.
posted by GuyZero at 2:21 PM on June 24, 2011


Good grief, this is one of the reasons I love teaching chemistry. I make up new exams every semester. Students have to show their work. There are ways to engage different learning styles, but at the end of the semester, they either know the stuff or they don't. They can either demonstrate that competence or they can't.

Students may get help from someone else on their lab reports, and often do. But as long as you keep cell phone or other audio/video/texting eliminated from the quizzes and exams - which are the bulk of the course grade - the student pretty much gets the grade they deserve.

Maybe that's why many people hate chemistry (and physics, math, etc.) courses so much. They actually require you to know something, rather than regurgitating your instructor's or some author's more subjective ruminations.
posted by darkstar at 2:22 PM on June 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


But if you don’t cheat, you’ll get a D, which is as good as being expelled.

Seems to me that a D should be as good as "you need to take that class over again until you do it right", not "as good as being expelled". There's part of your problem right there; the punishment for cheating is the same as the "punishment" for not learning, when really the punishment for not learning should simply be you don't make any forward progress until you actually learn something, and thus way less harsh than the punishment for cheating.

Of course, at $Ridiculous Tuition per semester, who can afford to re-take classes?

I do wonder [warning: beanplating] how much of this follows these people into their later lives, though; if the guys at Goldman Sachs grew up seeing no meaningful difference between the punishment for getting caught cheating and the punishment for being a "failure". As our society seems to increasingly criminalize getting poor, it's going to get harder and harder to convince people they shouldn't lie, cheat and steal to get rich.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:23 PM on June 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


What is the average undergrad midterm assignment these days, 10-12pages?

I just recently graduated from the same university system (although possibly not the same college) as Teach. As an English Major papers were rarely assigned to be over 10 pages. 3-4 for a regular "paper," 4-6 for a midterm and 10-12 was the max I ever got for a final. Keep in mind these were hard limits both ways; going significantly (>2 pages) over or under got you penalized.
posted by griphus at 2:25 PM on June 24, 2011


Shades of gray, GuyZero? I had a bunch of requirements, could pick from certain fields, but my interest in those classes was far lower than my interest in classes related to my major.
posted by ambient2 at 2:25 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Go get a job selling life insurance or something. There are still jobs out there that don't require a college degree.

Would you like fries with that?
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:25 PM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


er, the same university system that employs Teach.
posted by griphus at 2:26 PM on June 24, 2011


One problem, if it's a larger research paper, where does he get the kind of institutional library access you'd need to get a B+ on a upper level or graduate term paper?

I'm going to guess that Cheat has a friend who has institutional library access and logs in using their account.

(If I were feeling really cynical I'd think that Cheat and Teach are the same person -- I mean, come on, their names have the same letters! -- but that's going a bit too far.)
posted by madcaptenor at 2:26 PM on June 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


My mom's a university professor, and is in fact dealing with this situation right now - two plagiarists in one of her class filing grade appeals. The school's policy is apparently that on the first incident, you get a letter in your file and specific instructions on what plagiarism is and how to avoid it and basically efforts to avoid students not realizing that what they did wasn't okay, but otherwise isn't punitive. The second incident, they come down on you like the hammer of Thor.
posted by kafziel at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2011


Also, I guess I should point out tuition at Teach's school is about $4,000 a semester for a 12-16 credit load and no labs or equipment costs.
posted by griphus at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2011


Plagarism never even crossed my mind. Im sure I have edged near some shade of gray at some point in my academic careeer, but never plagarism. Or crib sheets... but seriously, I can look at myself front current perspective and I can remember efforts of reverse engineering certain components - which could be convoluted into an engineering sort of plagarism.

But yeah, I often wondered how people who were incapable of writing, thinking or learning the material passed certain classes.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:29 PM on June 24, 2011


they come down on you like the hammer of Thor.

You mean... Mjölnir?
posted by indiebass at 2:32 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Entitled assholes think they should get the reward without learning anything. Later, those same know-nothings will help to dismantle our systems of higher learning, because, "Hey, what's the point of a degree? I got one, and all I did was party and cheat my through!" Then, they will blame the system, calling it broken. Sorry, folks, but the system isn't broken. It's just that people are dishonest, lazy, self-centered fucks. We've forgotten that an education used to be a luxury worth dreaming of and fighting for. In too many places, it still is. But in the US, too often, college is just a four year ethics test. And sometimes when you pass you actually fail. Then we all fail.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:33 PM on June 24, 2011 [26 favorites]


Shades of gray, GuyZero? I had a bunch of requirements, could pick from certain fields, but my interest in those classes was far lower than my interest in classes related to my major.

Yeah, but at least you could choose. And you cared about your major.

And considering how many college grads complain about the lack of decent jobs, saving the money on buying papers and going straight to operating the fryer seems pretty straightforward if that's the dichotomy we're proposing here.

My attitude is just that you should give a shit or you should get out. I don't understand the motivation of taking a class that you hate so much you don't want to do the readings.

I do sympathize with ESL students as my wife does editing and it must be painfully difficult to write a college-level essay when you have a grade-school grasp of the language because you're a new speaker. But there's a pretty clear line between editing, remedial help and plagiarism.
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on June 24, 2011


Sorry, folks, but the system isn't broken. It's just that people are dishonest, lazy, self-centered fucks.

They have always been those things. If the system requires that they be otherwise in order to yield desirable outcomes, the system is broken.
posted by enn at 2:35 PM on June 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


The most disturbing thing about that article was the lecturer's positing of a rational choice model. There's been some…controversy.
posted by urschrei at 2:36 PM on June 24, 2011


Entitled assholes think they should get the reward without learning anything.

Anecdotally, a lot of the US institutions I've been involved with which suffer from widespread cheating intentionally attract foreign students. Students who have to pass or risk losing their student visa.

Honestly, I can not say that I would not cheat in that situation.

Sorry, folks, but the system isn't broken. It's just that people are dishonest, lazy, self-centered fucks.

A system that doesn't account for its population is a broken system. I said that I don't think students are corrupted by the education system, but on the other hand I don't think all cheaters are dishonest, lazy, self-centered fucks. The last time I cheated on an assignment was senior year in high school, economics worksheets. They were literally worthless time-wasters, often giving completely incorrect information about economics. Was I a lazy fuck, or was I prioritizing the 1 million other things I had to do in a school day?
posted by muddgirl at 2:40 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this is just the logical result of the college degree becoming the new standard for employment for even basic gigs that shouldn't require a 4 year degree. I don't have a degree and there are jobs that simply will not consider me even though I have years of experience in my field and they've told me outright they don't care what the degree is in, so long as I have one.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:41 PM on June 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


I had to resubmit the dissertation part of my master's thesis and thought the first submission was so shambolic that I'd be better off pursuing a totally different topic, from scratch, even though I only had a month to do it. During that month I was so disorganised and stressed about the damn thing that I never made it to a tutorial and finally submitted it with the sinking feeling that my last chance at getting through this course was riding on a loose sheaf of weakly argued turds which had no business calling itself an essay. So when my tutor called me up to discuss the paper I went to his office like a dead man. As he walked me through the paper, quizzing me on random paragraphs, sources and footnotes, I realised that they weren't accusing me of failure so much as plagiarism; it was very good, he said, too good in fact to have been written by me, judging on the basis of the first dissertation. To this day I rub my lapels like a smug motherfucker at this backhanded compliment but at the time I was so relieved at the accusation I was like "YYYEEEEAAAAH, PLAGIARISM!!"
posted by doobiedoo at 2:46 PM on June 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


One problem, if it's a larger research paper, where does he get the kind of institutional library access you'd need to get a B+ on a upper level or graduate term paper

My local university offers library cards to community members. I had one a long time ago. It has restrictions, but there's no reason anybody couldn't go into that library, get whatever they needed from the stacks, and do their reading and note-taking in the coffee shop on the first floor. That's what I did as a grad student, because I didn't want to drag 200 pounds of bound journals home.

Also, here in Michigan we have a state-wide electronic library system. I can place holds through my local library and books from all over the state will be delivered to me there. I often end up with books from university libraries because I am interested in non-fictiony stuff.

I have occasionally considered--by which I mean, fantasized about--writing term papers for money. I used to teach writing at the college level, and I think the biggest challenge would be pitching the diction appropriately so that the student got a good grade but didn't get flagged for writing too well. At the height of my amoral fantasizing, I figured I'd use the vast backlog of student papers I had stored on my computer, and just fix them up enough for the A.

I taught as an adjunct, and I bet I could make more writing the papers than grading them.
posted by not that girl at 2:47 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Between this and the previous post on the "hook-up culture" of modern universities, I wonder how long it will be before people start paying other people to have sex for them because they're not very good at and and want a rep as a player but don't have the time.
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on June 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


I cheated a few times on inconsequential things when I was a kid, too. And yes - I think that I was being a dishonest, lazy, self-centered fuck.

They have always been those things. If the system requires that they be otherwise in order to yield desirable outcomes, the system is broken.

I agree that many people have always been those things. However, I disagree strenuously with your second point. Rewarding that behavior by pretending it's an institutional failing rather than a failing of our national character is part of the problem. If we don't allow people to fail when they try to slide by, then we wind up with a nation of secret failures sliding by. Joy.

Anecdotally, a lot of the US institutions I've been involved with which suffer from widespread cheating intentionally attract foreign students. Students who have to pass or risk losing their student visa.

Guess what: foreign students who flunk out should lose their student visas. Make room for students who will learn more than that ignorance and dishonesty are the keys to the American dream.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:53 PM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


One problem, if it's a larger research paper, where does he get the kind of institutional library access you'd need to get a B+ on a upper level or graduate term paper?

Pretty much what not that girl said, plus some universities (my alma mater, for example) give alumni full access to their libraries for free. If I want to be able to actually sign books out (as opposed to reading them while physically sitting in the library), I'd have to pay a small annual fee of around $20.

Since Cheat did go to college, this could be how he accesses an institutional research library when and if he needs one.
posted by asnider at 2:54 PM on June 24, 2011


Also, as an adjunct I regularly saw papers I suspected were plagiarized; I never seemed to have the luck other people do at finding the source by googling, though I did once or twice. I don't have the sympathy for plagiarizing students that these two seem to, but I would find myself letting things slide because I got paid such a low per-course rate that every extra half-hour I spent brought my hourly wage closer to McDonald's pay. I was always weighing what I ought to be doing as a teacher against the reality of my wage, and this was one of the places I really was consciously aware of that. If I couldn't find the source within a few minutes, it didn't feel like it was worth my time to look harder for it, and I found that pursuing plagiarism cases without solid proof to be very unsatisfying--sometimes students confessed, but if they didn't, there wasn't much I could do.

I do think part of the problem is that college has now become like an extension of high school--it's a thing you have to do whether you want to or not. It is a lot to ask of people that they hold to the highest ethical standards when they're being forced through a curriculum they only care about for the credential.
posted by not that girl at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anecdotally, a lot of the US institutions I've been involved with which suffer from widespread cheating intentionally attract foreign students. Students who have to pass or risk losing their student visa.

Honestly, I can not say that I would not cheat in that situation.


Especially since (as mentioned in the article) these papers in low-level classes basically boil down to "Regurgitate this material in grammatically correct English." I honestly don't know why so many courses bother with essays other than out of tradition, because in practice they are not testing any sort of higher-level reasoning beyond what an exam covers. It's a totally unfair and unnecessary disadvantage for non-native speakers, and even more so if they are going to school for something like a Math degree and only have to write papers in courses outside of their major.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:59 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Honestly, who doesn't think we've been heading down this road for a while now?

Man, if I had a dollar for every (supposedly bright and educated) person I've dealt with in my professional life that couldn't construct a reasonable sentence or commit a cogent thought to paper I'd be a rich man. And that's just among the people with actual power in the workplace.

These kids have come up through a thoroughly asinine system of "teaching to the test". Learning is just something you chew up and regurgitate. It's a job, not an adventure. Why would anybody be surprised that they take the same approach in college? Many of these kids are going to cut-and-paste their way through college, graduate, and then cut-and-paste their way through a career.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:01 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder how long it will be before people start paying other people to have sex for them because they're not very good at and and want a rep as a player but don't have the time.

That sounds much like the basis for the recent movie Easy A.
posted by grouse at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2011


what i'm wondering is how many teachers don't even bother to look for this kind of thing - it's my understanding that many of the part timers are underpaid and work a lot more hours than they're actually paid for

"teach" caught 6 students out of 36 - how many of his colleagues catch that many? - it seems to me that if you have 1 out 6 students doing this and you've only got a handful getting caught, then there's a lot of staff who aren't bothering to look for it and the odds are fairly good of getting away with it
posted by pyramid termite at 3:15 PM on June 24, 2011


Guess what: foreign students who flunk out should lose their student visas. Make room for students who will learn more than that ignorance and dishonesty are the keys to the American dream.

Universities shouldn't accept students that can't or won't pass their classes. So who's teaching that ignorance and dishonesty are the keys to the American dream?
posted by muddgirl at 3:18 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh wait, how will they pad their admissions and graduation rates without turning a blind eye to cheating? A catch-22...
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry, folks, but the system isn't broken. It's just that people are dishonest, lazy, self-centered fucks.

From best to worst possible results:
-Cheat, don't get caught: Get diploma, and preserve free time.
-Work hard, pass class: Get diploma, sacrifice free time.
-Cheat, get caught: No diploma, preserve free time.
-Work hard, fail class: No diploma, sacrifice free time.

If your goal is exclusively to get a diploma, and not to actually get an education, cheating is actually the completely rational choice for any class where your odds of getting caught plagiarizing are around the same as your odds of passing the class (or lower). Depending on how you value your free time vs. how you value a diploma (and these are college kids we're talking about) it can become even more rational to cheat. That's a broken system.

Now, it's broken in a couple of ways - the larger issue of people caring about getting a diploma more than they care about getting an education is complicated to fix. But making it so that "Cheat, get caught" gives a worse result than "Work hard, fail class" does seems like it ought to be easier to fix and would certainly be a step in the right direction.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:26 PM on June 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


But making it so that "Cheat, get caught" gives a worse result than "Work hard, fail class" does seems like it ought to be easier to fix and would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Can we brand them with a scarlet C, for "cheater"?
posted by madcaptenor at 3:29 PM on June 24, 2011


I wonder how long it will be before people start paying other people to have sex for them because they're not very good at and and want a rep as a player but don't have the time.

Robert Sheckley's story The Robot Who Looked Like Me features a man who wants to date a nice woman, but finds that he just can't fit it into his incredibly busy schedule. So he has a robot made to do the wooing for him.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:35 PM on June 24, 2011


I heard that he plagiarized that.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:37 PM on June 24, 2011


$25-$35 a page? What is the average undergrad midterm assignment these days, 10-12pages? Say 6-8 hours to make sure its a bangup job, $52-$70 an hour... that's some real money.

See, that's where I don't get how this works. To do a bang-up job on a 10-12 page paper in my undergraduate history courses, it would take me more like 30-50 hours minimum, often much more time. I spent 12 hours just writing my most rushed 10-page paper -- and that didn't include any research time.

So either I'm a terribly slow researcher and writer (possible - certainly, I am for the graduate level), or American universities have much easier grading than Canadian ones, because I'm sure I couldn't have spent 6-8 hours on any 10-12 page paper and still get above a C. So, no future as a cheater for me.
posted by jb at 3:43 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not that you're slow, but some people are exceptionally fast writers, or learn to be. I think that is a necessary skill if you were to assist cheaters as your main source of employment.
posted by grouse at 3:46 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interesting that Teach didn't use anti-cheating software, beyond his (her?) intuition and Google. No time for Turnitin, or no campus license?
posted by doctornemo at 3:47 PM on June 24, 2011


NCLB should have been applied to colleges and universities. Standardized testing would shut this crap right down, er, in theory.

I think Teach made it pretty clear that most of his students didn't even know why they had to take that course other than to fulfill a requirement. That in itself is a major flaw and a lesson that should be learned long before a kid makes it to university. I know quite a few educators and most of them often complain that the students don't even know they the F they are there.

I'd start every new session with a lecture about why the F they are there and why it's important to have a well rounded education. Make 'em write a paper about that!
posted by snsranch at 3:49 PM on June 24, 2011


Can we brand them with a scarlet C, for "cheater"?

Except they won't have read the book, so they won't even get the reference! :P

As I suggested in my first post, making it so failing a class doesn't automatically equal not getting a diploma would be one fix.

Off-the-cuff, what about a solution where students receive two grades: one evaluating how well they have learned and mastered the material, and a second evaluating how much effort they have put into learning and mastering the material? Base one on test grades and quality of papers, the other one gets stuff like attendance, getting all the papers in on time, etc. It'd be "A for effort" taken literally and separated out from the other sort of A.

To pass the course, you need to get a passing grade on your "mastery of the material" grade, and those grades are ultimately what counts towards your diploma. But if you fail to master the material but get a good enough "effort" grade, the college credits you tuition equal to the cost of the class, so you can re-take it without additional expense - since if you put in the work but still didn't get the subject, assuming you're reasonably intelligent (intelligent enough to get admitted) it's probably a reflection on the quality of teaching you got, anyhow.

Extra bonuses: A.) scholarships can use "effort" grades as one of the criteria for keeping/maintaining the scholarship - so that kids on scholarship are more inclined to risk taking challenging classes, but less inclined to slack off and coast. B.) if your transcripts include both grades, it becomes easier for future employers to discern between brilliant slackers, hard-working but not-super-bright kids, etc.

I'm basically just thinking out loud here, and I came up with this all right now on the spot, so I'm sure there are holes in this idea, but the point is: there are ideas, there are things to try to make this better that could be pursued by any individual college, rather than sitting around bemoaning how "kids these days" are all good-for-nothing lazy fucks.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:49 PM on June 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


We don't have Turnitin or similar software where I work, but I've caught lots of plagiarism in my first year English classes using techniques like the ones described in this article. I can only bust them for it if I have proof, and yet I still give a lot of Fs for plagiarism. It sets off my alarm bells when I have a student who turns in solid B-level take-home essays, but can't write above a middle-school level on in-class essays or exams, but if I don't have proof of essay-buying or plagiarism, there is nothing I can do.

This is why I'm assigning more in-class writing than I used to, and giving more exams. These are the only ways I can ensure that the work I'm assessing was written by the student who turned it in. (Although even this requires vigilance--I once caught a student using an iPhone to copy from Wikipedia during an exam.) Checking for plagiarism in take-home essays is starting to consume nearly as much time as the grading. I can't imagine trying to handle this as an adjunct; it burns me out even though I'm full-time faculty. And really, I was hired for my teaching skills, not my policing skills.

burnmp3s: these papers in low-level classes basically boil down to "Regurgitate this material in grammatically correct English." I honestly don't know why so many courses bother with essays other than out of tradition, because in practice they are not testing any sort of higher-level reasoning beyond what an exam covers.

Assignments like this test whether students are capable of college-level reading comprehension. Yes, there are other skills that are important too--critical thinking, for example--but at base they've got to be capable of reading and comprehending. Sadly, many aren't, and they simply should not be passed to the next level.

madcaptenor: Can we brand them with a scarlet C, for "cheater"?

Simon Fraser University has done it. There's a special grade for those convicted of academic dishonesty: "Is there a grade worse than F? There is now at SFU: It’s called FD--failed for academic dishonesty...."
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:03 PM on June 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Interesting that Teach didn't use anti-cheating software, beyond his (her?) intuition and Google. No time for Turnitin, or no campus license?

Although, to be fair, Turnitin throws a lot of false positives, especially if you're in a quotation-heavy field like English.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:16 PM on June 24, 2011


It's not that you're slow, but some people are exceptionally fast writers, or learn to be. I think that is a necessary skill if you were to assist cheaters as your main source of employment.
posted by grouse at 6:46 PM on June 24 [+] [!]


But you still have to read the book/do the research. This alone takes more than 6-8 hours for any undergraduate humanities course I've completed.

That said, I did go to university in Canada; even for our beginner survey courses, we read academic books and articles. My very easiest course was an introductory Asian history course, in which we had to do 3 book reviews over one year - but those books included a 300-page academic monograph which was a) graduate level reading (or so the TA said and I now agree), with language so complex that I spent about 1/3 of the review criticizing the author for not presenting her ideas more clearly. For all of my other survey courses, I was required to cite journal articles and/or books only available through a university library, in addition to the assigned texts.

As for who is to blame: claiming that universities are to blame is like saying a restaurant is to blame if I pay for my lunch with counterfeit money. I mean, they shouldn't have asked me to pay for that lunch, I need my money for other things - it's their fault for asking me to pay.

Plagiarism is academic-theft, just as much as counterfiet money is - you are obtaining something (a degree) under false pretences. There is no such thing as a "useless" or "unnecessary" course -- every required course is put there because that is what that university thinks that you need to know before they agree that you should have a degree from them. Yes, you have to learn to write an essay to have a BA -- that's a huge part of what claiming to have a BA means. We wouldn't let people claim to have a J.D. if they had never looked at a law book, or say that it was okay for M.D.s to skip their anatomy classes. Any JD or MD who cheated on those requirements would rightfully be stripped of their degree.

As for BAs being required for every job: that is a problem. We should stop this by, for example, making it illegal to discriminate against non-degree holders if the employer cannot demonstrate that the degree is integral to the job. (Though, ironically, I recently worked in a job where a degree was definitely not integral, but the best people happened to have masters degrees or grades good enough that they were shortly in a masters degree program - on average, they just learned faster than the one's only with BAs.)
posted by jb at 4:19 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Is there a grade worse than F? There is now at SFU: It’s called FD--failed for academic dishonesty...."

I liked mstokes650's idea of "something worse", but I couldn't figure out what that might be. This works quite well, I think.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:20 PM on June 24, 2011


This conversation has the making of a neat little one-act play where Teach could be all in white and Cheat could be all in black and the setting could be a small park and they could be two old people playing chess.
posted by Renoroc at 4:29 PM on June 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Off-the-cuff, what about a solution where students receive two grades: one evaluating how well they have learned and mastered the material, and a second evaluating how much effort they have put into learning and mastering the material?

No, no, no, a million times no. As much as it's hard to tell exactly how well a student has mastered the material, it's still a lot easier to tell how well they've mastered it than how hard they've tried. For example, some students come to office hours a lot, so I know they're trying. But other, similar students may spend the same amount of time working with a tutor, or in a well-organized study group with their friends, or any number of other kinds of effort. How am I supposed to tell that second kind of student apart from a third kind of student who just doesn't try at all?
posted by madcaptenor at 4:30 PM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


NCLB [No Child Left Behind] should have been applied to colleges and universities. Standardized testing would shut this crap right down, er, in theory.

Are you seriously proposing this? When I teach, the goal is for the students to understand and master the material, and tests are where they demonstrate that understanding. Standardized test seems to turn everything into an orgy or memorization.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:39 PM on June 24, 2011


But you still have to read the book/do the research.

Not necessarily. Some of my best marks in my undergrad (also in Canada) were on papers I wrote about books that I hadn't actually read. At best, I'd skimmed them.

I didn't cheat. There was no plagiarism or anything like that going on, but I sometimes just didn't read the book. Instead, I cherry-picked quotes and used what I learned in the lectures to analyze the text.

Now, I rarely skipped classes and I did actually read the secondary sources that I was citing, but I didn't always read the primary text. If you're decent at BSing, you can write a paper in 6-8 hours or less and get a B+ (or better).

I think it would be hard to do this consistently, especially if you aren't actually attending the lectures. But, someone like Cheat probably writes essentially the same paper many, many times and so it because something that doesn't involve much research and can be done quickly and easily.
posted by asnider at 4:41 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is cheating that widespread? It never occurred to me when I was in college that someone else could do my work. Hell, I guess actually liked school, but that didn't keep me from drinking a lot of beer. I knew folks in school who used to copy each others homework sometimes, but they still had to test on the material (engineering), so it wasn't like they could avoid learning it.

Interesting conversation to read. Glad to see Teach not getting on his high horse. Glad to see Cheat not being terribly smug about it.
posted by Xoebe at 4:47 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


(If I were feeling really cynical I'd think that Cheat and Teach are the same person -- I mean, come on, their names have the same letters! -- but that's going a bit too far.)

Wouldn't it be delicious if they were ... and Teach was actually writing the Cheat papers for her OWN class?!

THAT's making good use of one's education.
posted by Surfurrus at 4:59 PM on June 24, 2011


Assignments like this test whether students are capable of college-level reading comprehension. Yes, there are other skills that are important too--critical thinking, for example--but at base they've got to be capable of reading and comprehending. Sadly, many aren't, and they simply should not be passed to the next level.

Why is an essay specifically the best way to measure reading comprehension in a low-level college course? An exam or quiz would seem to be a better test, because the instructor gets to choose what exactly the student should understand about the text. Or even better, why not sit down with the student and have a conversation with them about the material?
posted by burnmp3s at 5:05 PM on June 24, 2011


It's just that people are dishonest, lazy, self-centered fucks.

>They have always been those things. If the system requires that they be otherwise in order to yield desirable outcomes, the system is broken.


...What?

By this logic, society shouldn't have any laws prohibiting undesirable behavior.
posted by artemisia at 5:06 PM on June 24, 2011


Random thoughts:

--Students claim they "didn't know it was plagiarizing" from the elementary grades on, and they do it over and over again because teachers keep believing them.
--Teachers go over plagiarism every year from the elementary grades on. Every year.
--My brother in the Foreign Service conducted an academic honesty project when he was in Kyrgyzstan. You think it's bad here? It is worse in other countries. His audiences could not understand why he thought they shouldn't cheat. They all cheated. It was how you got through.
--I got through college mostly not reading the readings but writing sheer B.S. I got B's for the first part of college when I was working on being an alcoholic. I got A's for the last part after I stopped drinking. I didn't read a whole lot more in the last part. I was busy reading other things.
--I'm a writer. I've had quite a number of things published. It's easy for me.
--Writing my Ph.D. dissertation was a horrid slog, not because I minded citing everything, but because there were things I couldn't say in the way I wanted to say them--couldn't say at all--because they didn't fit the academic discourse of my field.
--Half the time when my sixth grade students are writing in a stilted, grown-up manner with perfect grammar and spelling, it's because their parents made them write it that way
--I once told a dad I was giving him an F for writing boring encyclopedia-style papers, and made his son write the paper over again.
--One kid this past year wrote a horrid pile of crap for a research paper that was clearly extensively paraphrased from his sources. My reaction? I sat down with him and asked him what it was he wanted to say. He was terrified, but eventually I dragged out of him what he really wanted to say about the subject, and it was a whole lot better.
--We reward REALLY BAD WRITING in our educational system. It's what we give A's for.
--I have my students do most of their writing in class. It means I don't get through as much in the curriculum, but what the heck.
posted by Peach at 5:16 PM on June 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


Math is not exempt from people trying to buy "papers"/"exams" - I had a classmate this last semester try to convince me to do his take-home math exam (which was MEANT to be open book and done with a calculator, mind you) because he didn't have "time".

(I said no, not just because that's a stupid thing to need to cheat on and because I actually believe in academic honesty, but also because he was a dudebro who thought Fred Durst was still relevant)
posted by FritoKAL at 5:22 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Standardized test seems to turn everything into an orgy or memorization.

Hmm, maybe I should take more standardized tests.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:22 PM on June 24, 2011


Everybody tries standardized tests in college. But then you just have to go take more tests. At the clinic.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:25 PM on June 24, 2011


I'm put out by Cheat's argument that, of course, students pay him* to write their papers because the course is a waste of their time. I don't care if you're there only to get a degree because someone told you to or because the university wouldn't count a graduate level course for a breadth requirement** having an undergraduate degree ought to at least be certification that you're competent enough to pass an intro course in any random subject, particularly one that doesn't expect you to use semicolons correctly. After all, you're probably not going to have previously learned how to do whatever job you get.

*Do we actually have pronouns for these people? I notice that Teach was decided to be a woman earlier. There's maybe something interesting in our pronoun choices.
**That's how I ended up in the most bullshit course I took. I figured I had already fulfilled the requirement and thus wasn't honour bound to not take a bullshit course. Part of me regrets it as it was cheapening my degree.

posted by hoyland at 5:41 PM on June 24, 2011


jb - "on average, they [people with MA degrees] just learned faster than the one's only with BAs"

..and that's why a master's degree of some sort has become essential for advancement in the public sector in Canada. In order to complete a master's degree, you had to teach yourself to be an expert, after a fashion, in some sub-discipline. That's powerful stuff.
posted by sfred at 5:44 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


>We reward REALLY BAD WRITING in our educational system. It's what we give A's for.

I'd like to hear more about this idea - is the stuff that gets As at least stylistically correct (with good sentence and paragraph structure), but just unoriginal? Or do people who can't write a decent sentence get As somehow?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 5:48 PM on June 24, 2011


I got As. And my sentences were spectacular!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:50 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Off-the-cuff, what about a solution where students receive two grades: one evaluating how well they have learned and mastered the material, and a second evaluating how much effort they have put into learning and mastering the material? Base one on test grades and quality of papers, the other one gets stuff like attendance, getting all the papers in on time, etc. It'd be "A for effort" taken literally and separated out from the other sort of A.

Wait, so what about people like me? I didn't try at all in the vast majority of my non-major classes, didn't do much of my homework, and tested well enough to have a 3.4 overall average.

Of course, in my major, I had a 3.9, and easily put dozens of hours a week into it.

What should my GPA have been under this scheme?
posted by Netzapper at 5:53 PM on June 24, 2011


What should my GPA have been under this scheme?

3.4 overall, 3.9 in your major. You'd also have a separate schema of "effort" grades [note: come up with a better name] with, I dunno, 2.1 overall (or something) and 3.9 in your major - wouldn't matter as far as graduating, would only matter for cost of re-taking failed courses and might matter for scholarships. And a future employer could look at your resume and see pretty clearly that you apply yourself and kick ass at stuff that interests you and are smart enough to just coast by on the stuff that doesn't interest you, which is IMO more useful than just 3.9 in this class, 3.0 in this other class.

As much as it's hard to tell exactly how well a student has mastered the material, it's still a lot easier to tell how well they've mastered it than how hard they've tried. For example, some students come to office hours a lot, so I know they're trying. But other, similar students may spend the same amount of time working with a tutor, or in a well-organized study group with their friends, or any number of other kinds of effort. How am I supposed to tell that second kind of student apart from a third kind of student who just doesn't try at all?

Maybe it varies from subject to subject a bit, but even as a student it was usually pretty easy to distinguish between slackers and people who try hard but aren't great at it. Still, I dunno, some mandatory office hours visits or something? I guess I'm also seeing the "grading curve" for effort as being fairly forgiving - you show up to class on time every day, do your homework, do the readings, get all the papers in on time (and they're the right length, meet the assignment's requirements) and you're probably looking at a solid "B" or "B+" for effort just on that basis. Skip lectures, etc., and your "effort" grade starts to slip.

Not perfect, I'm sure, but it would hopefully encourage putting effort into challenging classes instead of coasting through easy ones, or just plain cheating. Though I do also really like the "FD" grade thing.
posted by mstokes650 at 6:30 PM on June 24, 2011


Or even better, why not sit down with the student and have a conversation with them about the material?

This becomes difficult when your course has five hundred students in it.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:48 PM on June 24, 2011


For my students, philosophy is in no way relevant, or at least not obviously relevant, to the practice of whatever profession they came to college to get into in the first place.

Argh. Isn't the definition of a good teacher, someone who can take a subject (any subject) and make it relevant and interesting?

I think you'd have less of a problem with plagiarism if you had better teachers.

(Now granted the system doesn't help much when it puts hundreds of students into a single class...but nevertheless)
posted by storybored at 6:57 PM on June 24, 2011


but even as a student it was usually pretty easy to distinguish between slackers and people who try hard but aren't great at it.

In small classes, maybe. I teach large classes. I'm lucky if I know my students' names. (And when I taught small classes I did know my students' names, and took pride in it. This seriously makes me sad.)
posted by madcaptenor at 6:58 PM on June 24, 2011


To this day I rub my lapels like a smug motherfucker at this backhanded compliment but at the time I was so relieved at the accusation I was like "YYYEEEEAAAAH, PLAGIARISM!!"

Ah, my old friend, accidental praise...

Something like this also happened to me. In the end, I would say that it was pretty damaging, and it became something of a turning point for me. I walked away from the experience with the glow of overachievement. But over time it felt more like a cheap thrill. And eventually it just made me sad. I came to understand what it really meant, that this person expected less of me. Resentment grew and festered. And since then, I've sought a new standard. I treat each teacher as a blank slate and strive to hit the mark of fulfilled expectations. I project myself from the outset. Hopefully, then, a teacher will never misjudge my potential. Or suspect that I'm purchasing it...
posted by stroke_count at 7:04 PM on June 24, 2011


I've often thought of hiring these guys to write some technical whitepapers for me. Seriously $25-$30/page that would be super cheap.
posted by humanfont at 7:10 PM on June 24, 2011


I had to resubmit the dissertation part of my master's thesis and thought the first submission was so shambolic that I'd be better off pursuing a totally different topic, from scratch, even though I only had a month to do it. During that month I was so disorganised and stressed about the damn thing that I never made it to a tutorial and finally submitted it with the sinking feeling that my last chance at getting through this course was riding on a loose sheaf of weakly argued turds which had no business calling itself an essay. So when my tutor called me up to discuss the paper I went to his office like a dead man. As he walked me through the paper, quizzing me on random paragraphs, sources and footnotes, I realised that they weren't accusing me of failure so much as plagiarism; it was very good, he said, too good in fact to have been written by me, judging on the basis of the first dissertation. To this day I rub my lapels like a smug motherfucker at this backhanded compliment but at the time I was so relieved at the accusation I was like "YYYEEEEAAAAH, PLAGIARISM!!"
posted by Ratio at 7:22 PM on June 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


How much for classroom participation?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:46 PM on June 24, 2011


This conversation has the making of a neat little one-act play where Teach could be all in white and Cheat could be all in black and the setting could be a small park and they could be two old people playing chess.

"I've been to the zoo. I said, I've been to the zoo."

Yes, we know how this one ends.
posted by digitalprimate at 8:19 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is an essay specifically the best way to measure reading comprehension in a low-level college course?

Because in the vast majority of essay-oriented classes, the purpose of essays is not just to measure reading comprehension, but also to teach one how to write an essay. That is one of the essential skills that one is supposed to master to be granted a BA.
posted by jb at 8:51 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Argh. Isn't the definition of a good teacher, someone who can take a subject (any subject) and make it relevant and interesting?

I think you'd have less of a problem with plagiarism if you had better teachers.


"Relevence" is for high school. Me, I'm all about making high school relevent - especially math, why don't we teach stats and accounting instead of factoring? - because it's mandatory.

But university is a choice. You wanted a BA? That means doing some required courses. Otherwise, you don't want a BA, you want a training certificate.

Also, university students are adult, and adults have to do non-fun, non-relevent things all the time. So they should just suck it up, or go back to high school if they want to be babied.
posted by jb at 8:55 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


You'd also have a separate schema of "effort" grades

I put...well, let's say 'not a lot' of effort into my postgrad studies. I got straight High Distinctions. Explain to me why I'm being graded lower than somebody who had to struggle more to grasp the same material? Why do I get a handicap because I can recall material after hearing or reading it once and can use it to throw together a really good 10-12 page paper in as many hours? Your system sounds like AFL: 'Look, you missed, but you tried really, really hard, so we're going to put a couple of extra posts either side of the goal, remove the cross bar, and let you kick it along the ground. Yay, you got it in after all!'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:17 PM on June 24, 2011


The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me.

This actually really makes me think about some of the comments I got on my undergrad papers. I noticed that about once a quarter when I was taking a writing class, I'd get back a paper with a sentence underlined and a comment like "Well said!" It was almost always a sentence I'd really worked on, and I'd always sort of accept it with a "Yeah, I suppose that was really well said." It had never before occurred to me that maybe they were underlining sentences to google, just in case.
posted by troublesome at 9:47 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


burnmp3s: Why is an essay specifically the best way to measure reading comprehension in a low-level college course?

jb: Because in the vast majority of essay-oriented classes, the purpose of essays is not just to measure reading comprehension, but also to teach one how to write an essay. That is one of the essential skills that one is supposed to master to be granted a BA.

Yes, this. Their essays tell me not only about their reading comprehension skills, but also their writing, research, and critical thinking skills.

burnmp3s: Or even better, why not sit down with the student and have a conversation with them about the material?

thomas j wise: This becomes difficult when your course has five hundred students in it.

Luckily, I don't teach that many students, but even with eighty students, it's difficult to sit down and have a conversation with each of them about the material. You know what though? I'd love to be able to do assessment this way. It would be pretty clear who had and had not mastered the material. Wouldn't tell me a damned thing about whether or not they could write well, though, so I'd still have to assign essays.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:01 PM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


>I'd like to hear more about this idea - is the stuff that gets As at least stylistically correct (with good sentence and paragraph structure), but just unoriginal? Or do people who can't write a decent sentence get As somehow?<

Good writing has a purpose and an audience. Good writing can dance like a dachshund on its hind legs, or like a dust-devil in a dirt road. Good writing makes you think you always thought the way you do after you finish it, or else it makes you disagree passionately. Good writing sometimes goes a-C-a-C-a-EXplosion or in an outward spiral, ending with a disturbing question, instead of thesis-paragraph-paragraph-paragraph-conclusion. Good writing startles, soothes, or suggests.

"School writing" is assigned, is generally stuffy, has an artificial purpose, is read by one other person who is reading it only to put a grade on it, and, if it shows any original thought, should do so only in the most cautious manner possible.

If you can't write a decent sentence, you're unlikely to get A's, and in my experience it's rare that you're going to think much that's original either. The problem is, if you spend your entire career just focusing on the "decent sentence" part without learning how to express your opinions, you will learn to be a boring writer and plagiarism will seem merely a way of producing decent sentences.
posted by Peach at 3:56 AM on June 25, 2011


"... spending at least two nights in all 48 continental states.

Pet peeve: what this person means is "all 48 contiguous states". There are 49 continental states, 48 of which are contiguous. The two terms unfortunately share the shortening "ConUS".


I've thought that even "contiguous states" was a little ambiguous when referring to the lower 48. One possible expansion of CONUS is "Conterminous United States". "Conterminous" means "sharing a common boundary". To me, this nails it.
posted by JimDe at 5:24 AM on June 25, 2011


Essays aren't just busy work. Most people assign them for various reasons: to see if students have learned how to process ideas on their own; to help students learn how to construct an argument; to help them learn to write (you only get better at writing by writing more); to encourage students to express their ideas in their own words; to encourage those who may not perform well on exams and show them that other skills are valued besides working under a 2 hour time constraint.

Personally, I think most students are honest and genuinely do their best to write in their own words on a topic and that quite a bit of plagiarism comes from panic. Some, however, don't value writing at all and see it as a chore and have no compunction about cheating. These make me mad, because they're essentially trying to get one up on their peers who are struggling with doing their own writing even if it's not easy for them. I've tried various strategies, running extra writing tutorials, designing very hard to plagiarise assignments, allowing people to rewrite. These are, of course, really time-consuming strategies and if you're a contract teacher you get no reward for all that extra time, so I don't fault teachers in those situations for not doing such things. (That's one more reason why relying on contract lecturers is bad for education overall, as is the lack of value placed on teaching skills for tenure-track or tenured faculty.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:20 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I may be incredibly naive, but I went to a university (Rice University) with a strict honor code that I think very effectively creating an environment that was un-conducive (surely there's a better word....) to cheating.

On any test or paper, you were required to write or sign the statement "On my honor, I have never given nor received any unauthorized aid on this exam/paper/etc." There was an Honor Council which was a group of students elected by the student body to investigate and decide punishments for people reported to be breaking the honor code. The purpose is to "Uphold the integrity of the Rice University degree." Not only are you required to follow the Honor Code, you are required to report any possible offenses of the honor code. If you know someone has cheated, and you don't report them, you yourself can be held in violation of the honor code.

In practice, this was taken very seriously both by professors and students. All exams at Rice are un-proctored, meaning there is no one but the students in the room. Rice also allows for take-home exams, on the professors discretion. Often these were open-book exams, but I did have a few closed-book take home exams. You were told how much time you were allowed to take and not to use your book or notes or get help from anyone and you were trusted not to break these rules. If the prof had any reason to suspect you broke them, you went in front of the Council.

I'm sure people sometimes cheated or went over time or snuck a look at their notes. But I'm also sure that they did that when their roommate wasn't around and they never told anyone. I had the experience several times of working on exams on campus in computer labs with lots of other people taking the same exams and we often would express our frustration out loud, but no one ever offers any help to anyone else, because all it would take was one person reporting that and everyone could be expelled.

I think the important part of the Rice Honor Code was in putting its enforcement in the hands of students, and then giving the student body quite a lot of trust. In addition to the education on the code and what it means given at orientation and sometimes by professors in individual classes.
posted by threeturtles at 9:20 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


threeturtles: I think that Caltech is the same way. A friend of mine who went there said that not only did they sometimes have closed-book take-home exams, one time he had a timed closed-book take-home exam.

Personally, I think that's just being mean.

I prefer the teacher I had at college who said that all his exams where open book on the grounds that life was open book. Fair point.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:03 PM on June 25, 2011


It's so painfully obvious what the answer is here, but us Americans are so stupidly individualistic that we can't see it though it sits right before eyes.

Set up project teams in university classes, the "paper" should be a team presentation, because for the rest of your life in the professional world, that is exactly what you will be doing. Swap out the project lead for each team presentation, that way you write one paper per semester, but participate in five. Get it? See, it's the process that's more instructive than the final presentation! The process is where you learn, so gain some damn efficiencies in how the process in taught.

Ah! But the difficulty in realizing those gains at the University Level goes back to heart of rugged individualism and of course with the entire University System on the dole, there is absolutely no incentive to actually teach efficiently! I argue the primary goal of the University System is to get millions of dollars in taxpayer's money every year, actual learning is a lower priority. The only ones that are there to ensure that actual learning is occurring are underpaid adjunct professors. Adjuncts that are also expected to be the watchdog for the moral heart of the universities. Adjuncts with zero effect on anything that really makes any damn difference at all besides ruining a credible punter's semester and possibly a derailing a chance for a University Degree .

The whole moral argument of plagiarism and disgust towards those who do it completely misses the problem and solution, and is just more of the same useless moralistic finger-wagging that makes not one whit of difference. Well, I'm not counting hoisting one's self up onto the saddle of a high horse as a useful difference...

Anyway, "Cheat" could then be hired into the university system to coach said project teams how to write, and those teams can pay 35 dollars an hour for his/her help. It's called consulting/contracting in the real world, because here in real-land everyone is resource-constrained and needs to budget that into the triple constraint.

It'll never happen though. Sigh.
posted by roboton666 at 12:19 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This becomes difficult when your course has five hundred students in it.

So does grading essays. I took a course in college around that size and after getting back a C on the first in-class essay with no corrections or comments written on it, I asked the TA who graded it about it. She admitted that she didn't understand a lot of it (she was not a native English speaker) and literally told me not to "use so many big words." I believe one example she used was that I should change "local population" to "people who lived around there." From then on I just summarized the reading material that the essay questions were based on from memory without adding any kind of insight or critical thinking in as simple of language as I possibly could, and I never received a grade lower than an A after that.

I understand that an essay could theoretically be used to evaluate students at a higher level than an exam, but at least in my experience the ones assigned in low-level courses do not. Also, if spending ten minutes per student determining if they understand the material or not would take 5000 minutes (equivalent to over ten 8-hour days), that seems to me to be a glaring indication that instructor to student ratio isn't exactly going to result in a great learning experience.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:41 PM on June 25, 2011


Set up project teams in university classes, the "paper" should be a team presentation, because for the rest of your life in the professional world, that is exactly what you will be doing. Swap out the project lead for each team presentation, that way you write one paper per semester, but participate in five. Get it? See, it's the process that's more instructive than the final presentation! The process is where you learn, so gain some damn efficiencies in how the process in taught.

But a university is NOT just a corporate training ground - different courses are meant to teach different skills. If you take business or commerce classes, group presentations are exactly what you will do.

But historians, for example, almost never do group presentations in the professional world; heck, they almost never do group research and presentations are essays read aloud. History undergraduate classes teach you both history and how to be a historian, which means lots and lots and lots of reading and then writing. Similarly for literature studies, philosophy -- in sociology, you learn to design studies and write their style of research papers.

Now, you could ask: why does anyone want training as a historian (or a philosopher or a sociologist)? Because, even if one doesn't go on to graduate-level work, this training makes for better writers and is better at teaching certain critical thinking skills which continue to be very valued both economically and socially outside of academia. A recent study of the critical thinking skills of university students found that people in traditionally academic majors improved more in their first two years than students in more purely professional majors like business.

I have no problem debating the relevance of tertiary education to the vast majority of working people in the developed world. But I certainly don't want to see tertiary education gutted to serve short term corporate needs or working styles.
posted by jb at 4:05 PM on June 25, 2011


Anyway, "Cheat" could then be hired into the university system to coach said project teams how to write, and those teams can pay 35 dollars an hour for his/her help. It's called consulting/contracting in the real world, because here in real-land everyone is resource-constrained and needs to budget that into the triple constraint.

Hiring a writing coach is perfectly acceptable and would not be the same as cheating, so long as the coach isn't doing the actual writing. There's a big difference between what Cheat does now and what you're proposing, but you seem to be implying that they're essentially the same thing. I'm not sure why you're making that implication.
posted by asnider at 7:07 PM on June 25, 2011


... I certainly don't want to see tertiary education gutted to serve short term corporate needs or working styles. - jb

The university is embedded in a culture that is not supportive of learning for learning's sake. It is absurd for an instructor to ignore this. Of course many do -- and they spend an inordinate amount of time fighting the ('rational') plagiarism and cheating. (see above)

What roboton666 presented is a brilliant teaching technique (project-based teamwork, presentation to peers for peer review, and using 'consultants' to hone skills). It is ideal for getting a "buy in" from the students. It is a way to seduce students into learning (in spite of themselves). And it teaches the students to focus on the work instead of 'pleasing the teacher'. If done well, the students can learn more than was required -- and they may even enjoy it. It is remapping their idea of why they are in school (i.e., not for grades, but to learn).

I learned how to do this many years ago when a middle school drama teacher gave me his secret - 'they will never embarrass themselves in front of their peers.' But there is much more to it than throwing students into the fray - the students have to be taught group process, organizing-writing-research skills, building consensus, collaboration, presentation skills, and critical thinking (there is always a Q & A for the presentation). It takes a lot of work for the instructor, but then it saves a lot of 'policing' in the end. And ... it is very rewarding for any teacher who loves seeing a glimmer of 'transformation' in students. Sometimes it is shockingly rewarding.

Of course many people still believe that education is just presenting material - no matter whether students are interested or not. This used to be the default way of teaching at college level - just throw the material out and if the students don't pick it up it is their fault. In fact, the higher level one teaches, the less teacher training they got (the less they have to understand developmental theories or learning theories). I think that has been changing. The real tragedy is, though, a brilliant scientist/historian/writer does not always make a brilliant teacher.

The world really needs brilliant teachers. I think that is what this 'plagiarism plague' is really about.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2011


Set up project teams in university classes, the "paper" should be a team presentation, because for the rest of your life in the professional world, that is exactly what you will be doing. Swap out the project lead for each team presentation, that way you write one paper per semester, but participate in five. Get it?

Okay. The one time I did commit plagiarism – I think; I don't remember the details, or how well I covered my tracks – was a team research paper, in high school. What happened was, the other two people bailed, since of the three, I was the highest "achiever", and I felt like I had to scramble together a paper to save myself.

How exactly you avoid this dynamic in college classes where the "team members" likely as not will never be in the same class together again, I have no idea. Team presentations work in the working world because you gotta work with your team members day after day even after the presentation's done.
posted by furiousthought at 10:30 AM on June 26, 2011


There are many, many ways to assess teams furiousthought - and most people have only experienced the unfair ways -- most people enter college with a bad history with teamwork. Then once in college, they find few college instructors who know how to teach teamwork.

It is time-consuming to teach teamwork, group dynamics, collaboration -- let alone to mediate with teams in the classroom. But if one has as much commitment to the process as the product it can be done. Not doing it simply teaches students that responsibility to their peers is as meaningless as the paper they write or the project they present.

Unfortunately, college learning does not inherently come with meaning -- it has to first be imbued with it by a good instructor (sort of 'priming the pump' - inspiring the learner). A good part of the set-up for a college class is getting a 'buy in'; getting it for teamwork is especially tricky. It requires completely reworking terms and conditions; students need to learn to assert themselves, to listen well, to negotiate, to understand (and respect) different communication styles, and to do self-assessments that incorporate team perspectives. These are invaluable life skills - at least as important as writing a paper.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:22 AM on June 26, 2011


How exactly you avoid this dynamic in college classes where the "team members" likely as not will never be in the same class together again, I have no idea.

Step one, I'd suggest, is to assume that college students are adults and less likely to bail on their group. Although, I did have a group project in university where one guy (ironically, the oldest guy in the group), bailed on me and the other person in the group.

She and I were forced to pick up the slack when he decided to go work on the oil rigs for a week to pick up some extra cash. The worst part was, he had done the research for his part of the project but didn't bother to send it to us before he left (nor did he tell us where the hell he was going until he got back), so we had to duplicate all of his research at the last minute.
posted by asnider at 11:22 AM on June 26, 2011


Academic research is not learning for learning's sake - it trains one in specific and very useful skills, including writing essays.

As for the fact that tertiary teachers have less teaching training, that's very true. However, that is because it expected that tertiary education is at a sufficiently advanced level that the student is prepared to teach themselves more than they could at lower levels, and that they will benefit from learning directly from practioners regardless of their lower teaching skill. If the students need to be coddled into the material, the student is not ready for tertiary education.

As for the current wave of plagiarism being due to a lack of quality teaching - there is absolutely no evidence for this. Indeed, emphasis on teaching skills and techniques has increased substantially over the 20th century in universities.

Now I hate when people talk about the entitlement of the young - bc I find baby boomers far more entitled in general - but the problems with plagiarism isn't teaching - it's students who feel entitled to a degree they have not earned.
posted by jb at 11:27 AM on June 26, 2011


JB, we are talking about different things. I agree that plagiarism is a problem, and that students see college as a 'degree-producing device'. I just don't agree with your 'solution.' Doing the same thing with more verve (better policing of cheating) will not change anything -- except intensify the instructors' disgust of their students. (Of course, I could change my mind if you had evidence that it did.)

This 'entitled generation' did not evolve in a vacuum. They have been immersed in information -- at their fingertips - from birth. If they only want to 'learn from practitioners' they know that college is just one venue; the internet changed everything. The university has been very slow in adjusting to this. This whole discussion dovetails with the one about whether college is even justifiable today.

The university cannot merely be a place to 'impart information' or as the only place that one can learn skills, or can get 'certified'. Until the university is seen as something more, it will just be a place to learn short cuts and work-arounds. And this will continue to plague the instructors who think appealing to threat, ethics and reasoning makes the lie about the process okay.

Redesigning learning to incorporate skills in learning how to learn is not 'coddling' students. Designing learning environments that require personal responsibilty is not 'coddling'. I believe these are essential to creative thought and critical thinking -- experiential learning that one cannot get out of a book or on youtube. These are essential to our society. And ... teaching them will be essential to the future of institutions of higher learning in the long run.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:56 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Short form:

JB: mop things up better
Surfurrus: fix the leaky spigot
posted by Surfurrus at 1:01 PM on June 26, 2011


Step one, I'd suggest, is to assume that college students are adults and less likely to bail on their group.

Well, yeah. I'd also assume that college students are adults and less likely to cheat on their work, but apparently that's a problem, so, are we there?
posted by furiousthought at 1:16 PM on June 26, 2011


Step one, I'd suggest, is to assume that college students are adults and less likely to bail on their group.

So in college I double majored in chemistry and math, and there were basically two scenarios in which I had to do some sort of group project.

The first is the one you expect: chemistry lab classes, where there were lab partners. These went well for the most part; these were mostly classes taken by chemistry majors, so my partners and I actually all tried pretty hard. (These were the same people that I worked on homework with in the lecture classes.) The only problem was that since this was a three-course sequence, there was the inevitable angst caused by people changing majors or deciding to not take the courses in consecutive semesters. Oh, and the fact that at one point we were groups of three and my two partners were, um, partners. But even that wasn't too awkward.

The second was the first time that they ran the Project Lab in Mathematics. This was basically a toy version of mathematical research -- you're handed an open-ended question (which the instructors knew something about, so they knew it was a reasonable thing to ask, but they didn't tell you much), and you play around with the problem and make conjectures and prove theorems and at the end write up something resembling a mathematical paper. Groups of three. I had some friends in the class but they were not my group-mates. One member of my group dropped the class, and we were left with two. This other guy didn't give a shit, and he didn't know anything. (At least, he had nowhere near the level of mathematical knowledge you'd expect from a junior majoring in mathematics.) I remember once the day before the project was due, the campus e-mail was down, and I had his phone number but he turned out to be unreachable by phone. And the stuff he sent me for his part of the reports was essentially unreadable.

Since it was the first time the course was run, we were given an anonymous questionnaire at mid-semester asking how the course was going. I used it to complain about my partner. But we were the only group of two, and something I said in my answer made it clear that we were the group of two. So the professor called me into his office, told me that he was aware of the problem, gave me a little pep talk. Eventually he wrote me a recommendation for grad school, so I suppose that worked out well.

Later on I mentioned this to the friends of mine who were in the class and working together. They told me that they knew my partner and they knew this would happen and had tried very hard not to get stuck with him, and regretted that it had been me who ended up working with him.

Now I teach. I've thought about assigning some sort of group work but I keep thinking back to that class and I shudder.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:02 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


no, I would not "mop up better".

I would flunk minor plagiarists and expel people who buy essays - and increase the requirements for original research on essays such that both the coursework and plagiarism was much more difficult. A 5-10 page essay getting a B should take a bright student at least 30-50 hours, or the assignment is just too easy. And to get a B or A, a student should show a certain level of original thought and critical thinking, not just regurgitate the material.

Whereas your solution is more like ripping the plumbing out of the building. Sure, the leak is gone, but so is the running water -- because learning how to write essays, lots of them, is the heart of a humanities education. And universities who require non-humanities majors to take a humanities course have done so because their decree means that you have a certain breadth of education -- just like humanities majors must take some science and social science courses.

And getting rid of essays from humanities courses would be like making mathematics optional in an engineering or science course.
posted by jb at 4:41 PM on June 26, 2011


I would flunk minor plagiarists and expel people who buy essays ... A 5-10 page essay getting a B should take a bright student at least 30-50 hours, or the assignment is just too easy.

Right. Lets us know how this approach works for you.

BTW. I never said 'do away with essays' - I just don't see them as the best evaluative measure of good scholarship. The reason most instructors still cling to them as the be-all of assessment is that most instructors have no idea of how to assess other modes of scholarship --- visual/film/presentation/art projects ... even though these are more a part of daily academic life (and real life) than writing.

And, writing essays is something anyone can learn in a few good tutoring lessons ... providing they really want to learn. I don't see anything in what you said that would inspire students to want to work hard to turn in a good paper to you. I suspect they would just get better at fooling you.
posted by Surfurrus at 5:56 PM on June 26, 2011


No, one instructor cannot improve the standards in a university; one instructor cannot even maintain the stated standards when others let them lapse.

But full-time faculty can, if they work together as departments and as faculties/schools. And they need to - standards are becoming shockingly lax at even the most elite of universities.

As for whether higher standards reduce plagiarism -- in my own, limited experience, they do. The only time when I had plagiarism - 3 out of 17 essays - was when I graded for a class which was widely known to be a "gut" or "bird" course. It had 1/2 the reading and 1/4 the amount of writing that other courses had, with 30-70 pages per week and a five-page paper at the end of the semester. Most of the other courses in the same department had 80-150 pages of reading per week, and 20 pages of writing per semester -- and the students produced better quality essays overall with the higher expectations.
posted by jb at 6:29 PM on June 26, 2011


was when I graded for a class which was widely known to be a "gut" or "bird" course.

how do students know this? I can't think of any classes I took where I went in knowing this. (There were some classes that turned out to be easy, but I didn't know this ahead of time.)

Then again, I was never really the sort to go out seeking such information.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:30 PM on June 26, 2011


madcaptenor -- the syllabus with all required reading and the description of all assignments was available online before the course began - but word of mouth also was at work. the class was expected to be 80 students, 150-200 showed up to the first few classes, and about 350
ended up taking the course. I had a student in my section who had been my very best student the previous semester (bright, diligent), and even he didn't take the course seriously - he didn't do the very short readings either.

I hadn't really realised it until this discussion, but lowering the expectations for the students really did result in them being even less willing to do the work than in more demanding courses. Perhaps it reflected a certain disrespect they had for the lower requirements.
posted by jb at 6:42 PM on June 26, 2011


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