Jamie-wheeler posted an article on the eNotes blog about a writer who works for a custom essay service. His "confessions" are incredible. Have you caught a student using this kind of service? Plagiarism software such as Turnitin wouldn't be effective in such a case because the writing is "original."
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I've never caught anyone....I really don't think that any of my students would be doing this exact thing because I don't think any of them could really afford to do it.
I think you would have a horrible time trying to prove this beyond a doubt and so it would end up being an issue of how much your administration would support you when you tried to say that the work was beyond what the student was capable of.
I really wonder about the viability of out of class essays in the Internet age....
I've found that if your essay topic is specific enough, and if the teacher provides quality, one-on-one help to each student, then it drastically reduces the amount of plagiarism or cheating. I always break their formal writing assignments down into baby steps that I check off at each point; that way, I know if they are on the right track, and then if their final product is different, I know they went "elsewhere" for their writing. Granted, this process is more laborious and time-consuming, but it helps the students break it down into less overwhelming steps, and reduces the sense of desperation that often drives them to cheat.
I agree with pohnpei in that, at the high school level at least, I think that most students don't have the funds to pay for custom essays. I do get requests, through other websites, however, from many, many college students to write complete and total essays, and they are willing to pay. Those students often are ESL students, just as the confessor in the blog listed. I have yet to accept one of those requests; to me, it is unethical. The confessor in the blog had interesting justifications for writing student essays, and I can see where he is coming from, but that's a choice that I am not comfortable making.
I do know that a lot of students in college are frustrated with the indifference and inaccessiblity of their professors and the lack of specificity on assignments. I just got done helping a good friend write an essay outline for a paper for which the professor offered no help, no direction, no specific criteria, and hadn't responded to her numerous attempts to contact him to ask questions. I know that there are many, many awesome college professers that do a good job; it is in the case where they aren't that I feel students will turn to plagiarism more often.
My students are more likely to use something like "4 Free Essays" than pay for a service. They simply will not shell out that kind of money. Besides, I assign so many essays that if they used this kind of service as often as they would need to in order to make a difference in their grades, it would bankrupt them and their parents.
But plagiarism can be a problem. Turnitin.com helps some. It serves as a deterrent, especially for younger students. Older students find ways of getting around it. For me, the most difficult kind of cheating to catch are the out-of-class essays that receive a little too much help from home. Parents can be the worst offenders!
I try to combat such temptations with frequent in-class essays, frequent informal writings, such as journals and reading responses, and required drafts for the more polished essays. I have not seen much plagiarism lately. Either my students are getting better at it, or I'm getting worse at spotting it, or my reputation has deterred some from trying it, or my assignments are better at eliminating it. Who knows?
I had a recent case of plagiarism that notched the level of daring and cunning and down-right cheekiness up one level. The student in question for a report on the guillotine and its use in Tale of Two Cities found a French site and then used Google to translate it and then submitted it. Fortunately, Google Translator is not very good at translating and so the quality of English was absolutely terrible :-). What a shame.
I try to tailor my writing assignments to be so specific that it would be difficult to find a ready-made essay. Because I teach AP English, I also have my students complete a ton of in-class writing.
For high school students, besides the custom essays not be cost effective, many of mine procrastinate so much or lose their essay description sheets that they don't have time to "order" a custom essay.
I did have a student turn in a short story one year as his own which I later found out he paid for online. While it did meet the specifics of my assignment, the writing style was completely uncharacteristic of that particular student, and he couldn't even tell me what some of the words meant that were in "his" story. However, with professors having so many students, I imagine that it is quite difficult to know the writing styles of all of their students.
Unfortunately, few plagiarism cases are as easy to spot as my student's story. My most significant problem is with unintentional plagiarism, often the result of laziness, and with cheating on tests and quizzes.
I can see that students would attempt this with the right teachers. There might be many of them out there. I can count about 5 out of 20 on my staff of language arts teachers in a high school.
If we do timed writing as suggested above, this problem is completely avoided. I do much of this for this purpose. It also (I think) closer simulates workplace writing. We are all thinking on our feet when we write at our jobs or for enotes!
If not a timed writing, I often set in place 3-4 editing techniques that I expect to see illustrated to me in their final drafts after I have assisted in their in-class rough drafts. The color coding helps me determine if they understood the concept, grade quickly, and ensure that they did not cheat.
I haven't caught a student using a custom writing service, per se, though I am sure there are some who have other students/girlfriends/parents write assignments for them. Usually, it is pretty easy to spot given that I have students for either 18 or 36 weeks and sometimes longer, so I tend to know their writing ability and style pretty well. Essays with suddenly improved vocabulary are usually obvious ones. I tend to call them up and give them a quick vocab quiz as a test. I think you would find more of this kind of service being used in college.
When I was in college, my friends and I all did this for a part-time job. We did make more than enough to pay for college then later graduate school, though our contracts with the company at the time stated that we had written them "for research purposes only." We all knew that some would just put their name on them, but our papers had been everywhere in every discipline and we had never kept it a secret when we wrote them.
As if being the one who has to grade tons of writing is not enough, we now have adults who are helping kids cheat. Great. Plagiarism is a potential problem and we understand it going in and do our best to make it difficult for them--for their own good, of course. I do think there is something to having a reputation for "catching" such cheaters; I don't really have much concern with it after the fact. In one of my college classes, though, I did have an issue. A student wrote an original essay for me; she then gave it to a classmate to use in another composition class. Both were busted and expelled for breaking the college code of conduct. Good for the university to follow through and send a message.
I have had many students submit papers that clearly are not their own as evidenced by vocabulary usage that is definitely not theirs; at times it has been parents who help (though we have very minimal parental involvement at our campus), but mostly the Internet has been the downfall of my students, who do go to sites like megaessays or other free essay sites.
To the greatest extent possible, I have students write essays and paper in class. When completing research papers, students are required to attach all research, along with their annotations on the research, in order to help reduce the amount of plagiarism that can occur (this is in addition to turning in a copy to turnitin.com).
I haven't caught students using this service, but I have caught them trying to turn in other people's papers on the same topic. Because I was teaching Freshman Comp. at the time it was easy to catch the difference. Even with 90 students each one has his or her own "voice" and makes unique mistakes. When both those disappear, all I had to do was ask the student to "explain" what this particular passage meant because I was a bit "unclear" about it.
Most students who cheat haven't even read the assignment, so this is the easiest trap.
If it's not your work, you get an F. Also, I demand all notes and revisions, so a jump from a C to an A will stand out.
Ask more about the book where the quote came from, if it's an outside source. See if the library even has it. Ask where the student got it. Traps abound.
When doing papers with my students, I try to complete every step with them. We brainstorm topics or I give out a list to choose from. We do the pre-write together, then we go to the library together. Books have been pulled pertaining to their subject for them to use, and they collect info. from the texts as well as from the Internet. (They are required to use a certain number of sources, and a certain number of each kind: for example, the paper cannot be based on a preponderance of Internet articles.)
Students then write their draft in class, and type the final during class. I spend my time checking their work over their shoulders and answering questions.
We peer edit; we work on the Works Cited together as a class. This is no guarantee, but after a while, you get a sense of what sounds familiar or right (from other kids using the same book), or if the "voice" in the paper sounds like the student's writing. It is also easier to tell if the writing is authentic, especially in that they must turn in all their work with the paper.
It takes a lot of class time, but it is a skill they will use over and over again through high school and college. And honestly, I find a surprising number of kids who would rather take the "F" (which boggles my mind) than do the work, and cheating is tough with this unit format. And sometimes I think my kids are too lazy to even try to cheat.
With all the time we invest during class, I am always hopeful that students will do better "this year." But like anything in school, some students will do what needs to be done, while others will choose to fail. *sigh*..and sad face.
I am in a similar position as those in earlier postings: there are very few students who have both the pre-planning and the money to pay for custom essays. I see it more of a college issue than high school.
It is hard to isolate the keen parent/average student combined attempt, but our system means their interference is confined to the note-taking stage. We are supposed to have all work completed in class, but I know other schools in my area (privately funded) which claim not to have the resources to allow students to type up work in class so they can take it home! I find that this lack of a level playing field is disheartening, more than the students trying to cheat, the schools which turn a blind eye are worse..
Oh, I am sure that students are doing all kinds of things we would cringe at. It's not always the ones we'd expect either. Sometimes the ones we trust, the ones we'd never expect to cheat, and the best at it. That's why we'd never suspect them. Have them do work in class, and get to know their voice. You'll know when they're cheating.
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