Tuesday, December 14, 2010

College students "outsource" their work to ghost writers; has plagiarism become socially acceptable?

ABC “World News Tonight” and then “Nightline” reported on ghostwriters who make a “living” by writing themes and term papers for college students, and even to write admission essays. “Ed” says he made over $60000 a year and wrote a 175 accounting term paper and did part of the research for a sociology Ph D.

Students are “outsourcing” work. When a student doesn’t get a good grade, a ghostwriter hears from parents!

Use of plagiarism software (like “Turn it in”) doesn’t catch this. Five papers at Hofstra University were asked to identify an “outsourced” paper and only one professor got it right. The professor said you have to get to know your students.

“Ed” says that he develops the content of his papers entirely from Google.

I recall that in 1963, a George Washington University English professor required students to return their term papers after grading so they wouldn't wind up in "fraternity files."  How times have changed.

Another risk is that bloggers sometimes find their posts have been plagiarized for themes. I am aware of two or three times that this has happened with me, and also friends.  (And sometimes "spam blogs" are built by robots that "plagiarize" parts of legitimate blogs.) Of course, this is related to “copyright infringement” in the Internet world as we have been examining here (as with copyright trolls). Kids are growing up with the idea that content is free.

In another area, writers and usually most musicians (especially classical, as on my “drama blog”) are fiercely proud of the originality of their published work. In “modern music” with atonality it may be easier to guarantee; how many times does a “good composer” (the drama blog again) have to wonder if, with a theme he or she uses, “have I heard that before”? (This year, it seems like so many themes by Robert Schumann pop into my head.) A car radio with Sirius can make much obscure music stick in your mind.

When I went to college, many schools had honor codes. Academic integrity was a core moral value. There was a different spin on it in those days: people were deferred from the military draft based on academic performance (during the Vietnam era), so “cheating” could be a way to save your life, or that’s how it was sometimes perceived. I caught one student copying on an exam when I was teaching algebra at the University of Kansas in 1966 and gave him an automatic "F" in the course, and he came to my dorm room at McCollum Hall and pleaded, over the draft!  In my days, you were regarded as "qualified for life" if you had earned your academic credentials honestly! (Of course, student deferments became a tremendous moral issue, leading to a lotttery before the draft ended.)

There is a website called "Custom Papers" ("Professional research and writing service for students") that presents itself as a totally legitimate business, with privacy policies!  And once you have "paid for" the paper, you own the intellectual property rights to it (just like Righthaven -- how about that!)

"Outsourcing" of academic work, perceived as a moral issue, might bring up other similar issues of "outsourcing" duties. Back during the War Between the States, in New York people could buy their way out of the draft. We could reach a point where we look at eldercare (or child rearing) that way. The "money economy" isn't everything; for some things in life, you have to "pay your dues" with labor.

1 comment:

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