These companies, also called “essay mills,” have been on the rise globally along with a surge in plagiarism cases. As forms of academic misconduct evolve, so must Turnitin's offerings.” While many universities already use plagiarism software like Turnitin, I can’t help but wonder if this rise of essay mills and plagiarism is not due to something entirely related to the way the university has downgraded excellent pedagogy and monetized learning. In the UK, the situation was even graver where in one university I was told that the students shouldn’t write at all and should read no more than twenty pages a week. And the situation in the US is no better with colleagues there reporting similar tactics being used to turn the university into an “experience” as it moves away from its educational mandate. After all, how can any student be expected to learn if he is not asked to read, write or even attend class? As many other academics have chimed in on this problem for some time, it is clear that downgrading learning is the central problem to cheating. Part of the neoliberalization of academia has resulted in incoherent messages to students that will inevitably result in specialist law firms having to settle academic disputes well into the future. Or are they places where the participation in learning will be largely ignored until at one or two points in the semester, students are suddenly expected to produce work while their professor has no clue as to their thought processes or writing styles? Instead of helping Turnitin become the Google of academic “cheating surveillance,” it’s time that we look to the roots of the problem. Students should be expected to be subjects in their educational experience, professors should not be turned into mall cops-camp counsellor, and learning needs to be involve a consistent interaction of students taking in information through independent reading and writing, in-classroom interaction with peers and professors alike.
Last month, 46 university officials in the United Kingdom have written to the UK Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, calling for a ban on companies offering essays for sale. These companies, also called “essay mills,” have been on the rise globally along with a surge in plagiarism cases. Such a ban has already been implemented in New Zealand and Australia, and is currently under consideration by Minister for Education, Richard Bruton. And in the US, even the Department of Homeland Security has weighed in on this problem, forewarning immigrant students as to its dangers.
As someone who comes from academia, I personally crack up when I read the words of Chris Caren, Turnitin’s CEO who earlier this year stated: “Taking on emerging threats to academic integrity like contract cheating is a natural extension of our mission. As forms of academic misconduct evolve, so must Turnitin’s offerings.” While many universities already use plagiarism software like Turnitin, I can’t help but wonder if this rise of essay mills and plagiarism is not due to something entirely related to the way the university has downgraded excellent pedagogy and monetized learning. For those of us who have been in academia, we know quite well why plagiarism and cheating cases have risen, especially for those of us who have been teaching in the humanities.
First, there is the problem of how academic expectations of students have declined. When I started teaching in the university in the early 1990s, my syllabi demanded that students read usually two essays or one book weekly with the expectation that ten times during the semester students would come to class with a “position paper” which essentially responded to any point they chose in relation to that week’s reading or visual artifact. My classes tended to be quite dynamic and fun as students were coming to class prepared, having read the material, and they were almost always coming in with a point of view which the writing assignment pushed them to take. Classes were almost always fun and I had a policy of giving a brief lecture for ten minutes opening up the classroom to discussion and interaction. One of my pedagogical influences was Paolo Friere whose Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) taught me the value of critical pedagogy where students are enabled to question and challenge all forms of domination to include that within the classroom and those ostensibly presented by hierarchies of power. Effectively, Friere’s methodology repositions students from being objects of education to being subjects where learning is active, not passive.
I kept this workload and technique of teaching with modifications here and there for years and I never had a problem with it until the new millennium when one department chair told me that students needed to “read less.” In one Canadian university, I was told that my promotion depended upon student evaluations largely and that I should make the students have fun and not give much work so my evaluations would guarantee my permanency. In the UK, the situation was even graver where in one university I was told that the students shouldn’t write at all and should read no more than twenty pages a…