In a recent post, I gave some resources for teachers to find out if their students are plagiarizing. I’ll be blunt though. Plagiarizing is soooo 20th century! (Yawn.)
Some students make a game of staying one step ahead of “the system”. In the 21st century, the really clever cheaters aren’t plagiarizing, they’re outsourcing their assignments. It’s kind of like getting your Mom, Dad or best friend to do your homework for you, only more sophisticated. Any student with a credit card can do it.
And if you think you’re safe because your students are too young to have credit cards of your own, think again. The pre-paid credit card Aunt Mabel gave to little Johnny last Christmas will work just fine, thanks very much.
So, how do they do it?
There are Internet services out there who sole purpose is to match those who provide freelance or outsourced services with those who need them. (I won’t list them here, as that might be considered unethical for someone who is employed as a part-time university faculty member.) Legitimate small business owners will use such services to find virtual assistants, transcribers, typists, graphic designers, web designer and other providers of easily outsourced work. Such sites post all kinds of disclaimers about what type of work is or isn’t allowed to be offered or solicited. That doesn’t stop people from plainly saying what services they want or will provide.
For someone who lives in a developed country, outsourcing your work to India, the Philippines or other countries where workers get paid much less has become the norm in some businesses. Leaving the ethics and politics of globalization aside, the key message here is that it’s not just companies who are outsourcing work any more. Students are, too.
I recently saw an ad that looked something like this:
“Assignment: Write a 10-page history paper for a 300-level university course on the military strategies employed during the American Civil War. The paper must be ten double-spaced pages, written in Times New Roman, 12-point font with one-inch margins. At least 15 references are needed and citations are required in APA format. Must be written in perfect English, spell-checked and grammar-checked. Due: three weeks from the posting date of this ad.”
Suppliers bid on the project. At the time I saw the ad, bids had come in from a variety of countries and hovered around $30 USD. India seemed to be a popular country for outsourced academic papers, it seems. But suppliers from a variety of other countries were evident, too. Some bidders stated that they had PhDs themselves and would guarantee a well-written paper. It is safe to say that those who bid on such projects are likely highly educated, fluent in academic English and think that $30 USD is worth the effort.
This is all done, of course, using anonymous e-mail addresses that can’t be traced back to the student. The work is all done on line. It’s not plagiarized. Rather, it is custom-written by an outsourced ghost writer thousands of miles away.
The paper is e-mailed to the student by the supplier, making all the plagiarism detectors that I mentioned in the previous post completely irrelevant. Those papers can never be found on the Internet. They haven’t been purchased by a service who has a bank of papers on numerous topics, ready to be shipped out to buyers. Instead, outsourced papers are specifically written according to the exact criteria given by the student (who re-iterates what his or her instructor has told him).
Let’s do the math:
A student works at a local pizza take-out and makes $15 per hour. If we take taxes and other payroll deductions into account, that students would have to work for about three hours – or maximum, four hours – to earn about $30 to pay the outsourced paper writer.
How long would it take him to write his own paper? At least 10 hours, but more likely 12 or 15, if he writes an excellent paper that merits an A grade.
Simple economics shows that the student benefits financially from outsourcing his paper. The supplier to whom the paper is outsourced benefits, as he is making a decent wage in comparison to whatever he or she might earn in a comparable time period in their local currency. Who loses? Well, the student loses out on the opportunity to learn research techniques and skills involved in writing a paper, of course. But mostly, it’s the current academic system and those who work in it who lose. The ideals that they hold regarding ethics, integrity and academic honour are thrown out the window.
Once the student has established a relationship with his outsourced ghost writer, he can contract the same academic-on-demand to write all his papers for the same course, thus ensuring that there is consistency in the tone, writing style and research skills of all his assignments.
My guess is that academic papers will become a thing of the past. Only those who sincerely enjoy research and the process of learning will be encouraged — or perhaps even allowed — to undertake academic research. Rather than demanding that students produce papers for marks, we may reserve the right to teach advanced research skills to those who are willing to commit to and engage in the entire process.
The question isn’t “How do we stop our students from plagiarizing or outsourcing?” but rather, “How do we teach students the value, joy and benefit of learning for themselves?”
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.