The Internet could become the newest battleground in academic fraud
by Michael Connors
ST. JOHN’S, NFLD. (CUP) — Academics who once praised the Internet for giving students more access to information are now worried it is also providing students with easy access to pre-written essays.
Essay writing services are following the lead of large corporations everywhere and using the World Wide Web to market their services to students around the world.
Last June, Kenny Sahr, a Florida journalism student, launched “School Sucks,” a web-site dedicated to collecting and cataloguing college term papers. Professors and students across the U.S. have criticized Sahr for openly encouraging students to cheat.
Sahr denies that this is the purpose of the site.
“Until now we’ve been playing a game of hide-and-no-seek,” he says. “Students get catalogues, pay money for papers and the academic world pretends it’s not there. I’m putting the cards on the table.”
Sahr argues that students won’t use him web site to cheat in school because it is too easy for professors to check what essays are on the site.
In the past two months “School Sucks” has received over 250 term papers from college students, mostly in the U.S., and the site has been visited over 50,000 times.
“Who we’re dealing with now in terms of college students in the U.S., Canada and the rest of the world are adults. So if society prepares us correctly, we shouldn’t have a problem. I think the fact that the students know the professors (have access) is going to be enough to deter them (from cheating),” says Sahr, who proclaims he is completely against plagiarism.
Some professors are sceptical.
“The intention is quite plain. It says ‘Download Your Workload, The Worldwide Library of College Papers.’ It’s a great idea from a commercial standpoint,” Says Danny Vickers, a history professor at Memorial University.
Andrew Draskoy, a systems administrator at Memorial agrees plagiarizing from web sites is risky.
“It is presumably just as easy for the professor to find the paper as it is for thestudent,” Draskoy says.
“If you pass off something wholesale as your own, the thing is it’s still sitting there on the Net. One day somebody else beside you is going to find it, and the chance that somebody is going to notice that it’s exactly the same as your own paper is considerable.”
Web sites like Sahr’s are forcing universities to consider the potential for Internet plagiarism. The ability to run a key word search of the entire web and pull up relevant items, including complete term papers, could tempt any student in a desperate situation to download the essay, print it off and hand it in, some professors say.
“In the short run, it could lead to the possibility of students with appropriate skills not only finding stuff on the Internet, but serving as brokers for other people ‹ writing term papers for other people,” Vickers says.
Assessing exactly how many students upload their papers to the Internet is almost impossible. Understanding why they do is equally difficult.
“There’s absolutely no legal or moral reason why they shouldn’t put them up there,” says Draskoy. “I don’t see any particular reason why they shouldn’t. I also don’t see any particular reason why they should.”
Academics are quick to point out there is no guarantee papers found on the web are any good.
“A lot of the papers are garbage,” Sahr admits. “If the student can’t go to the page and determine what’s good and what’s not worth anything, then I can’t help (them).”
Sahr defends the usefulness of the site, saying it gives examples of how other people write term papers and provides bibliographical sources for students.
Whatever the reason behind Sahr’s site, it is forcing change in the academic world.
“No doubt I’ve opened the Pandora’s box,” he says. “I do understand the concerns professors have. What I really see is a checks and balance system.
“It forces the student to be honest, because you can go to my site but you can’t cheat there. On the professor’s side, a lot of students know what it’s like to bein a class of over 100 people. There’s no way to assess your knowledge and learning in that class, in a big lecture hall. So they give you two papers to write over the semester . . . on some generic topic. This will make it too hard for the mediocre professors to do that.
“I’m hoping to change some of the behaviour in a lot of the academic world, and I think I’ve succeeded in it.”
So how do professors, students and universities need to adapt to this new reality?
“There’s no particular legal or technical solution to what’s on the Net,” said Draskoy. “It has to come down to the students and professors themselves.”
“Really the only solution to it is to make students aware of the issues and consequences of plagiarism and for the professors to be aware that it is going on.”
Vickers sees essay web sites as an opportunity for professors to reconsider the way they approach teaching.
“I am not totally out of sympathy with (Sahr’s) point,” Vickers says.
“In the longer run, it might not be altogether bad, because what it would force professors to do is to design written projects that are closely integrated with, not only the general topic of the course, but the way the course is being run.”
“It might spell the end of the sort of lax, write a paper on any topic you want’ approach. Traditional papers aren’t useless, but anything which forces a professor to rethink their method is good because professors don’t do that enough.”