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Education

Is The Term Paper Dead? 444

Posted by kdawson
from the drop-and-give-me-5,000-words dept.
Reader gyges writes in to tell us that the Washington Post has picked up a piece he wrote about cut-and-paste plagiarism: "Plagiarism today is heavily invested with morality surrounding intellectual honesty. That is laudable. But truly distinguishing plagiarism is a matter of intent. Did I mean to copy, was it accidental (a trick of memory), was it polygenesis[?] ... Young people today are simply too far ahead of anything schools might do to curb their recycling efforts. Beyond simply selling used term papers online, Web sites such as StudentofFortune.com allow students to post specific questions and pay for answers." The author argues that in the era we're entering, schools need to rely far less on term papers in assessing students.
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Is The Term Paper Dead?

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  • by zappepcs (820751) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:44AM (#18599879) Journal
    My step daughter is taking a class in biology. The first quiz is a bit of a doozy when tasked against my own knowledge, but it did bring out an aspect of this story. Today's kids are tasked with finding answers in what equates to an ocean of information compared to what was available when I was in school. Plagiarism is not good, but in this 'ocean of information' it is difficult to know what that really is. When studying, an answer from wikipedia is as good as one from another paper available on the Internet.

    I think it leads to lax standards as to where the answer came from when the point is to find the answer. Term papers and those efforts required of students that require actual personal thought and effort are not dead, they simply need to be pressed with more effort. Finding information is no longer the problem that it used to be. Expressing your own thoughts on the question at hand is a skill that many people never learn, never mind figure out how to express when they are 18-ish.

    It is problematic to discuss things in a black and white manner as this story seems to. The issue is not plagiarism or term papers, it is expression of thought, and that is what is endangered most by the 'ocean of information' that is now available to us all.

    • by Riktov (632) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:03AM (#18600029) Journal
      I know what you mean.

      My step daughter is taking a class in biology. The first quiz is a bit of a doozy when tasked against my own knowledge, but it did bring out an aspect of this story. Today's kids are tasked with finding answers in what equates to an ocean of information compared to what was available when I was in school. Plagiarism is not good, but in this 'ocean of information' it is difficult to know what that really is. When studying, an answer from wikipedia is as good as one from another paper available on the Internet.

      I think it leads to lax standards as to where the answer came from when the point is to find the answer. Term papers and those efforts required of students that require actual personal thought and effort are not dead, they simply need to be pressed with more effort. Finding information is no longer the problem that it used to be. Expressing your own thoughts on the question at hand is a skill that many people never learn, never mind figure out how to express when they are 18-ish.

      It is problematic to discuss things in a black and white manner as this story seems to. The issue is not plagiarism or term papers, it is expression of thought, and that is what is endangered most by the 'ocean of information' that is now available to us all.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by EvanED (569694)
        I know this joke has been used a few times here... but I laughed. If I didn't want to post in the topic, I would mod you funny.

        (That's the problem with the mod system here; the topics I read enough to moderate I also want to post on. I think I've only used up all my points once...)
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by zappepcs (820751)
          I took me reading it twice, but you are right, that's fucking funny!!
        • by mr_mischief (456295) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @10:14AM (#18604395) Journal

          Plagiarism, of course, is a matter of degree. A quote or a few quotes is not plagiarism. Properly credited quotes can be supporting evidence for a position, although it's often better to write one's own explanation of something with a footnote (or endnote, internal reference, etc) to where the fact was found. It shows much better understanding, and makes a piece of prose flow better since it's written by one author and not assembled like Frankenstein's monster. Quotes should be left to actual speech, firsthand witness reporting, or examples reinforcing a point made in the author's own words as well.

          One good way to mitigate the problems of term papers is to require fewer multiple choice and more essay answer tests throughout the term, so the students have a sample of their writing on record already.

          A good way to measure student ability without a term paper at all is to have academic projects instead. Students learn much more about a topic from interviewing people on camera or on audio recorder than by searching the web or reading an encyclopedia entry. Interviewing scientific researchers makes science seem much more interesting than reading science-for-laypeople magazines. Interviewing military vets is a very educational experience, too. Science projects are a good idea. Civics projects, in which students for example write letters to government officials or help (maybe even start) nonprofit groups and document their unique experience, are very educational too. History projects for periods with no living survivors are a bit more difficult, as having a whole class approach a handful of historians at the local universities and museums could be overwhelming, especially if the same topic is required of all students. Projects in lieu of papers altogether may not be a solution, but they'd make a nice addition for the students and for those concerned about plagiarism.

          Plagiarism is much like any other negative activity, or indeed any activity at all (leaving morality ad ethics out of it for now). If the rewards outweigh the risks, many people are going to choose the rewards. Rewards for plagiarizing a term paper are high: good grade, less time invested, and the paper often makes up an inordinate amount of the grade. The risks are pretty low if there's no time to evaluate someone's writing. Despite what many people think, it's very difficult to determine a person's writing style from his or her speaking style, too. Only a sample of earlier writings really makes it difficult to rip off another's writing. Sifting through millions or billions of other written works to find a match is much less likely to work than to simply find a mismatch between that student's earlier writing and the current project. Making the term paper less important in the overall grade structure creates a smaller incentive to cheat. Evaluating students in a balanced way across papers, projects, quizzes, and large tests make it much more difficult to game the system, and less rewarding to do so.

          When I mod, I purposely look for topics interesting enough to read but about which I can resist commenting. That way, not only do i use all my mod points (most times), but I find I'm much more objective. When your first instinct is to rip into some idiot with a post, it's hard not to find a virtual "-1, pinhead" in the moderations list. Likewise, it's far too easy to up-mod a post with which I just want to agree.

          I find that with this method, I sometimes mod a post up because the author really did make an insightful post with a good point even if I disagree with their conclusion. I also sometimes mod posts down when I agree with the conclusion but find the argument faulty or trolling. If I'm overwhelmingly drawn to post, I don't think I can be so impartial in my moderation.
          • by tgibbs (83782) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @05:08PM (#18611853)

            Plagiarism, of course, is a matter of degree. A quote or a few quotes is not plagiarism. Properly credited quotes can be supporting evidence for a position, although it's often better to write one's own explanation of something with a footnote (or endnote, internal reference, etc) to where the fact was found.


            A properly credited quote is never plagiarism. The essence of plagiarism is fraud; misrepresenting somebody else's work or ideas as your own. It is not not a matter of degree, but of intent. But the more you do it, the more likely it is that you will be caught. It tends to be a slippery slope--the more you rely upon other people's words, the less practice you get at saying things in your own words, and the more you feel the need to steal.

            Overuse of quotations may be lazy writing or bad writing, and will not necessarily net you a good grade on an essay, but it is never plagiarism.
    • by value_added (719364) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:19AM (#18600161)
      Today's kids are tasked with finding answers in what equates to an ocean of information compared to what was available when I was in school. Plagiarism is not good, but in this 'ocean of information' it is difficult to know what that really is. When studying, an answer from wikipedia is as good as one from another paper available on the Internet.

      I think the article concerns itself with the writing itself, and not so much the information per se, which, admittedly, is somewhat akin to flotsam and jetsam.

      On the one hand, he writes:

      My transfer from education to the world of business has reminded me just how important it is to be able to synthesize content from multiple sources, put structure around it and edit it into a coherent, single-voiced whole. Students who are able to create convincing amalgamations have gained a valuable business skill.


      All well and good, right? You take information, construct a thesis, then fashion it into a coherent form. But then he goes on to dismiss the above by saying:

      So let's declare "The paper is dead" before the database makes the declaration for us.


      and cites rampant plagiarism as his rationale. Frankly, I don't get it. I'm not sure it even makes sense.

      His other argument about students not being able to write another original statement on the subject of Jane Eyre because so many have already done so is somehow supposed to support the assertion that the problem of plagiarism is unsurmountable and we should declare defeat and run away, but I see it as misleading. People write new melodies for pop songs every day. Are we supposed to believe that someday soon we'll be out of new melodies and that pop music as we know it is really dead?

      Anyone who has stood in front of a classroom knows that students often surprise you with their ideas and can offer up new ways of looking at things. Some of those same students grow up and write books or do research on subjects that have may already been written about or researched to death, the Brontes or [insert favourite dead person] included.

      Plagiarism is a problem. And originality is hard, and possibly increasingly rare. Declaring the term paper "dead" is a solution in search of some other problem.
      • by Admiral Ag (829695) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:48AM (#18600317)
        I'm a professor, and student cheating in papers is pretty easy to get around. You simply keep the general knowledge of the subject questions for the in class tests, and you make sure the papers are on some particularly obscure part of the text, and require a hefty amount of the student's own argument.

        Papers are supposed to test the research and argumentation skills of the students. What better way to do this than make them write ten pages on some obscure argument from Aristotle or some random lines from Milton? If I, as an expert in the field, know that it is something obscure, the students aren't going to be able to find anything to copy on the internet.

        The problem here is often lazy professors who set the same paper topics every year. Then again, universities are currently set up to pass as many students as possible, rather than work them hard so that their future employers benefit.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Fred_A (10934)
          Or you could get them to do something that hasn't been done before. That way they can't copy it from elsewhere.

          "Ok class, for your term papers, you have 3 months to turn in a working design for a (select which one applies to your students) working FTL drive, self replicating nanomachine, self-aware AI, generic cancer cure, flying car, functional economy. Now get to work."
        • by jimicus (737525) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @04:34AM (#18600921)
          Then again, universities are currently set up to pass as many students as possible, rather than work them hard so that their future employers benefit.

          Students who drop out don't tend to contribute much to the university's coffers.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DDLKermit007 (911046)
          Or another way is to do what my flipped out History teacher did. She made us do creative writing. Was quite the curve ball personally, but certainly set the tone for the class. Damn I never enjoyed history so much since then.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Gablar (971731)

          The problem here is often lazy professors who set the same paper topics every year. Then again, universities are currently set up to pass as many students as possible, rather than work them hard so that their future employers benefit.

          I agree that in many cases it's true that the professors are lazy, but sometimes the problem is much worse than that. The problem sometimes is that the professors or teachers simply don't have the internet searching skills that the students have. Also most undergraduate leve

    • by KyoMamoru (985449) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:26AM (#18600217)
      Well, I thought I'd chime in one this. My mother is a High School English teacher, and she isn't quiet up on the technology behind cheating. Often times if I'm visiting, I'll help her grade her English Papers, like any good son should. During my mom's first year of teaching at a new High School, the students evidently thought that they could fool the new teacher on a paper about the Crucible. I caught 90% of the students plagiarizing. Most of them were word for word, others were modifications of adjectives, but the prior work shined through.

      I suppose you're thinking that the children would have been suspended, or failed for the whole term? Unfortunately, they were all given a slap on the wrist, and my mom was only allowed to give them F's for that single paper. There were no write ups, no detention, no community service, nothing. The schools just refused to buckle down on it, which sickened me. Now, anytime my mother has papers to grade, I make sure she sends me a fax of any suspicious writing, and I do research on it.

      More often than not, I catch five percent of her class plagiarizing per paper. This is after she extensively tells them that she had caught her countless before. Some children even have the gall to copy and paste Wikipedia articles word for word. It's sad times that we live in, and the United States government simply isn't proving a means to deal with it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        OTOH I recall failing a class a few years back for so-called plagiarizing of works.

        Turns out I had taken a document, re-written it for my own words and submitted it to a friend for review. The friend suggested that I make it sound more technical than it did, so I proceeded to take my re-write and re-write it. Unfortunately my vocabulary at the time meant that I re-wrote it to sound almost identical to the original source, which in my case was a genuine mistake.

        Perhaps I'm just a part of the nth percentile
        • Use more than one source and you won't have that problem.
          • by sumdumass (711423)
            This does bring up valid question. There are a finite amount of ways you can assemble words to make a sentence and have the same meaning, Seemingly there are the similar way you can express an idea in a paragraph. Of course increasing the sources would increase the amount of possibilities but if the root information is the same, then they cannot be too much different.

            So lets say the term paper was on the American civil war. and this is high school. With 30 kids per class and say two classes per school with
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by packeteer (566398)
              good teacher would have a working history of what the student is capable.

              That's why a good cheater knows to STFU in class. Might as well sleep through class.
        • by Dibblah (645750)
          And this is the problem with some students today. "rewriting it in your own words" does NOT mean taking every fourth word and plugging it into a thesaurus.
          Read and understand a paragraph. Or sentence at a bare minimum. Now, without looking at the original text, write the bare meaning of the section, without any fluff around it.
          Repeat this for all of the text. Now, again, without referring back and edit it to make a cohesive whole.
          It's not an easy skill to learn, but it is one that will stand you in good
        • by cunina (986893) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @04:45AM (#18601015)
          Turns out I had taken a document, re-written it for my own words and submitted it to a friend for review.

          That is generally considered to be plagiarism. It's not just words but ideas that can be plagiarized. If you didn't cite the source of the ideas (the document you paraphrased), then you are effectively claiming its ideas and information as your original work.
        • by hahiss (696716) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @08:07AM (#18602481) Homepage
          Plagiarism isn't just about using the the same words, it is presenting the work of others as your own. Even if you paraphrase, you must cite your sources. (This is pretty standard in university academic honesty policies.)

          Granted, this is tricky to master---and the details of the case make all the difference. If a student tries to slide by a sophisticated bit of reasoning from the secondary literature, that's going to cause more problems than failing to cite the source for what appears to be (but isn't) a more commonly believed datum.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by DudeTheMath (522264)

            Mod parent up!

            My wife is an English professor and has to deal with this all the time. "But I didn't mean to!" doesn't cut it: she takes class time to explain plagiarism, and then she quizzes them on it, and then keeps the quiz as evidence that the student understands what constitutes plagiarism.

            There is always some ding-a-ling who thinks he (and it's usually, although not always, "he") can fool her by pulling pieces from random web sources and vaguely stitching them together. C'mon, she's a literature p

      • by king-manic (409855) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @04:05AM (#18600763)
        Heres a story. When I was in university I had a group of casual friends that I took classes with. 4 out of these 5 guys cheated their asses off. Copying from each other, from internet sources, buying papers, etc.. Myself and one of the other guys refused to do that and went it our own way. Myself and the other guy got okay marks couldn't find a good job and ended up in sales and tech support. The 4 others got good marks and each have a job with a major company (3 of them work for big blue). My anecdotal story high lights that I should teach my children to cheat their asses off because honesty doesn't pay.
        • by oddman (204968) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @07:52AM (#18602325)
          No, the moral of the story is that you need to be an active member of your ethical community, not just a passive observer of immoral agents. You knew that your friends were acting immorally and breaking the rules of the university, and you chose to do nothing about it. The cheaters prospered because they cheated, but they cheated successfully because you allowed them to. You let them harm you by allowing them to gain an unfair advantage over you. Who's fault is that?

          When you know someone is acting against the interests of the group in order to gain an unfair advantage and you do nothing about it, you shouldn't complain about the results.

          You know the line about evil needing nothing to succeed but that good men do nothing? It applies to people like you in situations like this.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cowscows (103644)
            When I was in school, we had a class where the exams were basically the professor giving us all a copy of the test, then telling us to drop them off to him in his office (in a different building) in an hour or so. He then left the building and went to his office to read the newspaper or whatever and wait. As you can probably imagine, there was much cheating, apparently a large portion of the class left the building, went to the park, and all sat under a tree and figured out the test together. This apparentl
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Teancum (67324)
      Being older (I'm 40+) and having taken a freshman biology course in the past 10 years, I hardly think this is necessarily a fair assessment of the situation.

      I will admit that particularly in terms of biology, that there have been huge gains and leaps of knowledge. In the past, biology was largely an empirical science, with an attempt to build up knowledge through examples. That is why many biology research libraries have (especially older ones) huge catalogs of specimens of creatures, especially things li
  • Countermeasures (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The One and Only (691315) <[ten.hclewlihp] [ta] [lihp]> on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:44AM (#18599883) Homepage

    Yes, students have ways to cheat on term papers. Professors have ways to catch cheaters though. If you assign lots of small writing assignments along with a term paper, for instance, you can pick up on your students' writing styles enough to catch a term paper that was clearly not written by them. This of course assumes your TAs can spare the time to analyze writing styles, or are capable of easily recognizing a writing style...

    By the way, are the bottom-of-page MOTD's getting most and more surreal or what? Right now I'm getting "Did YOU find a DIGITAL WATCH in YOUR box of VELVEETA?". Didn't Slashdot use to have Knuth quotes and shit down there?

    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:49AM (#18599935)
      If a kid is motivated to be learning, then grades should be the least of their worries because cheating does not improve learning.

      Anyone who cheats to get good grades is being very inefficient. It is far easier to just use Photoshop/Gimp to make yourself a diploma.

      • Well, suppose you want to be a physicist but have to take a class in art history or something to satisfy university requirements. You probably don't care about actually learning any art history, so you cheat and focus on your physics instead.
        • by grcumb (781340) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:53AM (#18600351) Homepage Journal

          Well, suppose you want to be a physicist but have to take a class in art history or something to satisfy university requirements. You probably don't care about actually learning any art history, so you cheat and focus on your physics instead.

          Well, no offense, but that's bloody stupid. The student who thinks that art history and physics don't have any relation to one another, and that there's nothing to be learned outside the immediate confines of one's field of study... well, suffice it to say that they need to adjust their logic.

          I have a fairly good reason for saying this, as someone who did a double degree in Theatre and English Lit, but ended up working as an application developer and systems integrator. If it weren't for the fact that I'm omnivorous when it comes to learning, I'd have never made the leap. And don't for a second think that there's no application for what I learned in Theatre in the world of computers, or vice versa.

          Incidentally, one of my Theatre term papers was a study of the interaction of Ernst Mach and his contemporary scientists with the Dadaist art movement. And for those of you who don't see the point of such a study, consider that Einstein, Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tzara (who founded the Dada movement) all lived within spitting distance of one another at one point in time.

          Summary: The greatest cost of cheating is borne by the cheater.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by hazem (472289)
            And for those of you who don't see the point of such a study, consider that Einstein, Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tzara (who founded the Dada movement) all lived within spitting distance of one another at one point in time.

            Leonard Shlain wrote an interesting book called Art & Physics. In it, he relates some of the great breakthroughs in science to similar breakthroughs in art. That somehow, the new way of seeing the world in a growing art movement helped inspire scientific thinking.

            From the website
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            While I partially agree with your point, I think you are missing the parent's point. Even students who are in it for the learning and not the grades might be motivated to cheat if part of the requirements of learning what they want to learn are to get good grades in something they don't want to learn.

            And I would certainly argue that an art history class generally pertains less to physics than a physics class does. And even if we grant them equality, there are certainly some basket-weaving classes that wou
          • Summary: The greatest cost of cheating is borne by the cheater.

            In general, I could not agree more.

            Unfortunately, society's expectations towards its members do not care about such notions. Society expects its members to efficiently adjust to their tasks of getting jobs, lest their chances of earning their living will be diminished. It's not simply laziness or some blameworthy inclination to take the path of least resistance, it's also society's vital requirements which coerce competing students to resort to methods which are bound to contradict what we might wish to

      • Damn, now everybody knows how I got a master degree in nuclear computer nanobiology.
    • by tsm_sf (545316)
      By the way, are the bottom-of-page MOTD's getting most and more surreal or what? Right now I'm getting "Did YOU find a DIGITAL WATCH in YOUR box of VELVEETA?". Didn't Slashdot use to have Knuth quotes and shit down there?

      I think those are Zippy the Pinhead quotes? I'm pretty sure /. uses old motd files for that spot, so it's probably vintage 70's surrealia.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dahamma (304068)
      students have ways to cheat on term papers. Professors have ways to catch cheaters though. If you assign lots of small writing assignments along with a term paper, for instance, you can pick up on your students' writing styles enough to catch a term paper that was clearly not written by them.

      Exactly! I was just about to say almost the same thing...

      My aunt teaches geology and last year was telling me about an experience she had with a couple of students in her class. She gave an extra credit paper assignme
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        She turned in something way beyond anything she had written before and received a 0/10 because it was completely obvious someone else wrote her paper.

        Which, in another light, could mean you're punishing her for doing too well. I understand it probably seemed obvious, and you're probably right, but it might've been a good idea to pull her in and see if she knows what she's talking about.

        One trick: Get them to read their own paper. If they are tripping over spelling and pronunciation -- and indeed, don't ac

  • by thealsir (927362) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:44AM (#18599887) Homepage
    Really, I like writing. I think a term paper provides a convenient package by which to express what one has learned over the course of a semester.

    Anyone plagiarizing should not be in class anyway.
    • by tinkertim (918832) *

      Really, I like writing. I think a term paper provides a convenient package by which to express what one has learned over the course of a semester.

      I don't disagree, and writing is in no danger of becoming a lost art. Teaching, however must become an art again and teachers themselves must stop preaching regurgitated curriculums.

      Stop asking students to ingest and regurgitate information in favor of actually helping them to understand the given topic and it would not be such an issue.

      Anyone plagiarizing should

  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:44AM (#18599891)
    and. grammer
  • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:45AM (#18599895)
    On the things I've marked (some time back) there are many times when the students copied in an answer to something barely related to the question - and then three or four of their friends copied that from them. It was good to mark one, staple them all together, and divide the mark among the number of students with the same answers.

    If people are too lazy to work out the answer they will often be too lazy to work out whether the thing they have copied is correct or not.

  • by RuBLed (995686) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:46AM (#18599901)
    "Reader gyges writes in to tell us that the Washington Post has picked up a piece he wrote about cut-and-pate plagiarism:..."

    Define:pate in google comes up with this = "liver or meat or fowl finely minced or ground and variously seasoned"

    Ahhh... I'm not so sure if Chefs could plagiarize this though...
  • by cgoody (832534)
    As student in computer engineering I have never been asked to write a paper. I feel that this is the way it should be because someone can talk about a topic all they want and appear to have knowledge on it. However, if they are required to demonstrate the concept, most people will fail. This is probably why all of my classes are based on exams and programming and/or demonstration assignments. Anyone can fake a paper via plagiarism . It is much harder to fake a programming assignment short of copying s
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by EvanED (569694)
      As student in computer engineering...

      What you say is highly subject-sensitive though. For instance, I had to write a paper (a literature survey) in my computer architecture course on superpipelining. Others in that class did superscalar processors, VLIW/EPIC, etc. Each of these papers went much more in depth in the given topic than anything we did in class. So if not the paper, what should we have done? In any of these cases anything demonstration-line I can think of would have been well beyond the scope of
    • by Brandybuck (704397) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:03AM (#18600031) Homepage Journal
      As student in computer engineering I have never been asked to write a paper.

      What!?!? No reading and composition classes? No literature, history or philosophy? No humanity courses at all? No science classes where you have to write reports? What a shallow education you are getting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by putaro (235078)
      Definitely an emphasis on being able to actually do things is important. However, once you're out in the real world you'll find that being able to clearly communicate is as important as being able to do things. When I was in high school I wrote lots and lots of papers and my teachers (in history and English) would continually tell me how important it was to do this since I would be writing lots of papers in college. When I got to college, studying CS, my experience was similar to yours - I wrote very few
  • One possible idea... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EvanED (569694) <evaned.gmail@com> on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:47AM (#18599917)
    I don't think dropping the paper is a good idea, as it's the project-type things that are really the best indicators barring this sort of cheating.

    But maybe you could do something like spend 15 minutes with everyone (this would take a while, I know) and ask them questions about what they wrote, or have them give a presentation on the topic. That way even if they cheated on the paper itself, at least you know it wasn't a case of just downloading it and handing it in, and that they actually know the material.

    I've thought about this in the context of, say, an intro CS class. I think that a good way to do the evaluations would be to let people work in groups, but then for each assignment randomly choose 5 or 10 people who you ask about their design and implementation, "if the question changed in this way, how would that affect your solution", etc.

    But if you drop the paper, what's left? Tests? They aren't really a good indication. Heck, I had a semester-long class in high school that only met formally a few times and effectively had one assigment: write and present a paper.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hazem (472289)
      In one class I had that had a large term paper, the teacher required that we turn in 2 drafts throughout the term before we turned in the final version. The drafts were reviewed by her, as well as read and marked up by a fellow student.

      When we turned in our final, we also had to submit the drafts with the markups. This was ostensibly to see our progress in editing and revising our papers, but I imagine it also served as a good foil against plagiarism.
    • by jimicus (737525) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @04:41AM (#18600969)
      But maybe you could do something like spend 15 minutes with everyone (this would take a while, I know) and ask them questions about what they wrote, or have them give a presentation on the topic. That way even if they cheated on the paper itself, at least you know it wasn't a case of just downloading it and handing it in, and that they actually know the material.

      What a good idea. We've been using it in the UK for years, it's called a viva though it's generally reserved for your final, major project in University.

      It's not intimidating at all if you've done the work - just a 15 minute or so face to face chat about your work with a lecturer. I imagine cheating would probably be fairly obvious within the first 2 minutes to any lecturer who's even vaguely awake.
  • I See This Already (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CWRUisTakingMyMoney (939585) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:00AM (#18600009)
    Where I go to college, one of my professors (in a social science) has a standing bet with all his students: if we ever have to write a term paper for our job in the real world (i.e., not academia), he'll donate $25 to the charity of our choice. He's been teaching since the 1970s and has never had to pay up. Whatever papers he writes, he insists on being done in a memorandum format, with no cover pages or in-text cites, and MAYBE something akin to a references page on the end. The focus is much more about getting facts on paper from whatever sources we deem suitable, not doing elaborate research to look impressive.

    Another benefit of the memo style over a term paper is that we can't be long-winded. We're given a maximum page length, not a minimum (usually around four to five pages), into which we have to cram 15 or so term-paper-pages' worth of material. It's surprisingly difficult, but (according to him; I'm not yet in the real world full-time) that kind of skill is vastly important and not taught enough. Real-world types: does this sound accurate (and/or wise)?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by JanneM (7445)
      Well, it's social science after all - a post-graduation food-service career doesn't require a lot of writing.

    • by Schlemphfer (556732) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:17AM (#18600137) Homepage
      >Where I go to college, one of my professors (in a social science) has a standing bet with all his students:
      >if we ever have to write a term paper for our job in the real world (i.e., not academia), he'll donate $25 to
      >the charity of our choice. He's been teaching since the 1970s and has >never had to pay up.

      Of course he never has to pay up. But the underlying point he's trying to make is idiotic. There's no such thing as a term paper in business or government. But there are tons of important tasks that draw on exactly that skill set. Should we hire a team of people to redesign our packaging; does the potential added sales justify the expense? What mistakes did we make in our last government bid, and how can they be avoided next time? Why does Sally deserve to get the ax for her abrasive attitude towards people who report to her?

      These are all things often handled with the very same writing structure that you learn writing term papers. Much of your potential to reach leadership positions within industry depends on how effectively you can explain, and how persuasively you can argue. Nothing in academia develops these skills like a good, old fashioned, term paper. It's really galling to see somebody within academia who is seemingly oblivious to how important these skills are. The fact is most college students can't write for shit, and if they could, they would be better decision-makers, they would carry greater influence at work, and they would go further in life.

      Plus, being able to express yourself clearly is just cool regardless of how it affects your career potential.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Talgrath (1061686)
        Bullshit. That's exactly what a paper is full of, bullshit; 90% of the papers I wrote in college were bullshit. You quote some of the book, you do some research and quote them, and you basically regurgitate what you've read/discussed in class and add in what looks to be an opinion or position if necessary. The only papers I wrote without bullshitting were papers in fields I was actually interested in, philosophy, computer science and history; all the paper teaches you is the skill (yes it is a skill) of
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Coryoth (254751)

      Where I go to college, one of my professors (in a social science) has a standing bet with all his students: if we ever have to write a term paper for our job in the real world (i.e., not academia), he'll donate $25 to the charity of our choice. He's been teaching since the 1970s and has never had to pay up...

      Well I've certainly had jobs outside of academia that involved writing research papers. Then again those were research positions, just within private industry and government as opposed to academia.

      We're given a maximum page length, not a minimum (usually around four to five pages), into which we have to cram 15 or so term-paper-pages' worth of material. It's surprisingly difficult, but (according to him; I'm not yet in the real world full-time) that kind of skill is vastly important and not taught enough. Real-world types: does this sound accurate (and/or wise)?

      I can certainly say that being able to condense, rather than bloat, material is a vital skill. When writing papers outside of academia what mattered was managing to sell whatever research you've just done -- the aim is to get the project moved out of research and into production, the other option being you watch

      • by jez9999 (618189)
        I think it's called an 'executive summary', isn't it? Perhaps they should have courses in how to write those.
    • He'd lose that bet if I'd been one of his students.

      I get to do Usability Assessments and User Interface Recommendations for big complicated Intranet/Extranet Applications for companies that do things like Medical Document Processing and Financial Aid Processing. Each of my deliverables for these projects is like a Term Paper. They are 30 to 40 pages long with additional appendices of examples, conceptual illustrations, technology prototypes and have a reference section with links to online sources and full
    • Depends on what field you're in. In most business roles, I can see the point of what he's saying. (However, I still think that there's value in learning to cite sources; even in relatively informal communications, I do it all the time, usually with mock footnotes [1], and over the years have done well by it.) But I heartily agree with his assessment about the ability to summarize information being much more important than the ability to fill pages.

      Banging out six or seven pages on some crummy topic is triv
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Where I go to college, one of my professors (in a social science) has a standing bet with all his students: if we ever have to write a term paper for our job in the real world (i.e., not academia), he'll donate $25 to the charity of our choice. He's been teaching since the 1970s and has never had to pay up.

      Then he's probably defining the term 'term paper' in some nonstandard or unusual way. Virtually every serious professional I know writes at least one, and in some cases many more, research reports of on

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Universites are the new daycare, for young adults. The cost of appropriating/distibuting Information is approaching zero. If an expert can organize the material and the student is willing to read it, then the middle man university is becoming less important much like the MPAA/RIAA, and work experience more important. It will take much longer for universities, however, to change as employers will need new ways to test knowledge and skill. Universities will only be useful in that they generate peer discus
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zappepcs (820751)
      I am with you. Original thought requires that we think, speak, be opinionated. Not many want to risk that when they have $120k debt riding on getting the right answers. I was lucky, I'm in a CS type field, but when I should have gone to college the information that was available has LONG since been lost or deprecated. I know the same or more than college grads now, and I use the Internet as much of my resource. In fact, with experience I know more than college graduates.

      There was a time when you had to go t
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Coryoth (254751)

      If an expert can organize the material and the student is willing to read it, then the middle man university is becoming less important much like the MPAA/RIAA, and work experience more important. It will take much longer for universities, however, to change as employers will need new ways to test knowledge and skill. Universities will only be useful in that they generate peer discussion, which doesn't happen as much for drunken undergraduate students anyways.

      In theory universities always were useful as a place to generate peer discussion -- that was their primary purpose. Somewhere along the line, however, people have gotten universities confused with trade schools (and indeed, the universities themselves perpetuate this confusion), and view university as a place to get career training and a degree as nothing more than a ticket to a job. Certainly this function of universities is likely to slowly dry up over the next few decades. Hopefully then universities ca

    • The internet is for appropriating/distributing information. Universities are for archiving, dissiminating, and perhaps most importantly *generating* knowledge. Information and knowledge are fundamentally different things, too. As for drunken undergraduates, I've known many whose insights and genius have been far greater than mine, requiring only that they learn to focus and make trained use of their potential.

      Let's not misrepresent what papers are either. Term papers are not tests in disguise; they are ex

    • by feyhunde (700477)
      It's called white papers.

      Now most applied technical papers end up being short form condensed, same as short scientific articles.

      But white papers go on and on and on and on and on.....

  • When a person writes about a topic in isolation from reference material there is absolutely no way that their writing will correlate with that of some other person. OTOH when you write about a topic with your references open-book style in front of you, then you are guaranteed to replicate them if not in word choice then in organization of thoughts and order of presentation.

    That being said it's not the students who are making mistakes... it's the teachers and school curriculum boards. I'm certain that the am
  • Abolish Grades (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyoder (857358) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:05AM (#18600047) Homepage Journal

    Get rid of grading altogether. Education shouldn't be some stupid game where students quite legitimately ask, 'Is this going to be on the exam?', because if you're going for high score you don't want to waste a lot of time on stuff that won't score you points. The only exams should be at the start of term to determine if a student possesses the prerequisite knowledge to handle the course material. Fail prereq exams, don't get necessary courses, don't graduate. Anyone who graduates has to have known enough to do so. Beyond that, place emphasis on the aquisition of knowledge -- wouldn't that be revolutionary? Education that emphasized the aquisition of knowledge? What a concept.

    As long as it's just a game I really can't get that upset about students gaming the game. As is, it's just bullshit anyway. Get through it any way you can.

    • Same difference (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The Amazing Fish Boy (863897) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:39AM (#18600265) Homepage Journal

      The only exams should be at the start of term to determine if a student possesses the prerequisite knowledge to handle the course material.
      Is that really any different than what we have now? We have exams at the end of courses, to verify we learned what we need to know. Passing those courses is a prerequisite for attending other courses. And even under your proposed system, we would still have the question, "Is this going to be on next year's exam?"

      The only real change I see your system adding is a free-ride for the last year of your education, since you won't be graded for doing any work. Unless your statement that "anyone who graduates has to have known enough to do so" means final exams in your last year. Which is still flawed, because someone might drop out without passing, but still have the "1 year university experience" on their resume.
    • This is a good summary of how score based grades are a system to be gamed.

      A Term Paper however isn't about the grade, it's about demonstrating knowledge. You are supposed to get a grade based on how well you demonstrate said knowledge and the grade is relative to your peers (on a curve), thereby placing you in convenient context with the intellect around you. If you grade poorly or average compared to those around you, you should be asking them to help you out. If you are graded highest in your class you sh
    • by Medgur (172679)
      Having prerequisite exams only incurs the effect of pushing final exams back two to three weeks.

      Generally courses have other courses as prerequisites, and those courses have final exams.
    • Re:Abolish Grades (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Teancum (67324) <{ten.orezten} {ta} {gninroh_trebor}> on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @03:01AM (#18600391) Homepage Journal
      This is presuming that the purpose of a college education (especially a "liberal arts" education) is to acquire knowledge and critical thinking skills. And to discover a diversity of viewpoints.

      While these are all laudable goals, it is so far from the truth about what higher education is all about that if you really believe any of these points above... see a local psychiatrist, or at least a competent educational counselor.

      The real truth of the matter is that a college degree (particularly the B.S., but the grad degrees as well) are really a form of the classic "guild certification" or "union card", but applied to professional occupations. Some professions require things like a Juris Doctorate or some other specialized degree, but a bachelor's degree is pretty typical... especially for things like engineers.

      And of course you need the PhD if you want to be involved with teaching at a university.

      While it is a good idea to try and pick up some knowledge while you are going through the meat grinder of a college education, you should keep foremost that the knowledge is not the point. The real point is to "punch the ticket", build up credits in required courses, and get the best grades you can. How you can talk the instructors into getting those grades is of course a matter of style and attitude, with demonstration of knowledge being but one of the ways you can do that.

      And keep in mind that most university programs are not designed to give you knowledge either. If they were, they wouldn't be having Computer Science instructors with accents so thick that they might as well be speaking a foreign language. Or in some cases they are, but somehow got past the dean of the college and got hired anyway and speak a dialect of Klingon, with Esperanto as their second language.

      The purpose of most university programs is to control the rate of entry for people entering a given profession. The American Medical Association is very blunt and obvious about this, by only certifying select schools and controlling the number of graduates that are produced. If one million students with the same skills (or better!) as the last recipient of the Nobel prize in Medicine applied to med school, the number of students actually graduating would still be largely the same. The standards for graduation would merely be raised to nearly impossible standards to control the rate of graduation. And if there is a shortfall in the number of doctors, those standards will be lowered to permit more to graduate. There may be problems with specific specialities, but the over all number of medical doctors will be maintained.

      The same could be said about lawyers (and the bar exam) as well as other professions. Many of the classes are designed explicitly to scare the heck out of you to ever enter into a given profession and consider an alternative path in life, and certainly act as a way to "weed" students out who don't have views of society that meshes with those of the faculty. If you stick up like a rusty nail in a board, prepare to get wacked and beaten down. And never, ever, try to show that you know more about the subject than your instructor. While it is fun to be cocky and show off that you've been a Linux hacker since you were 12 and have contributed over 40,000 lines into the Linux kernel by the time you graduated from High School, don't you ever dare let your professor know that was the case. You will be surely marked for heresy and doomed to drop out of college. They will make it a point to see you get flushed out in one way or another.

      Oh, there are some professors and a few (very few) college/universty environments that actually do care about their students and go against this orthodoxy, but I am telling you and anybody else reading this that this is a rare exception and not the general rule. Some colleges even brag about a 30% graduation rate.... to show just how successful they are at telling students where to go and scare them out of trying to finish the programs.

      Of cour
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jellomizer (103300) *
      Education is no longer education it is more of a certification. The better grade you get the more stars on your certification. I just started Grad School this year but I had an interview before I could get accepted it seemed that while my GPA was good enough I had a huge variance in my grades A Lot of A's Some C's and Mostly B's. She was mostly wondering about the C Grades. And I told her the classes I got a C in were the ones I learned the most in, and actually worked harder for. The Classes I got an A in
  • Now, only if I can find the paper about plagiarism I wrote about in my English 101 class. Back in a while, looking.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Antony-Kyre (807195)
      Never mind. I don't think I turned what I said into a paper. I did find what I wrote about though. To summarize it though, and I don't claim the following as my own ideas for obvious reason...

      There is a grey area with plagiarism. The grey area involves the concept of borrowing ideas. We're bombarded with information on television and other media, whether such information is public knowledge enough brings with it the issue of whether it's cheating to use the information without citing the source because it h
  • And presumably, in the process of doing the research, a person will learn information that can be much more rich in detail and diversity than what a person can discover in class. At undergrad level, of course everybody is going to copy somebody else's content, but the point is not so much to produce original content, but to show the ability to present the content obtained from a variety of authoritative sources (all appropriately cited, of course) in a relevant and useful way, illustrating that this very
    • by Wiseleo (15092)
      Oh come on!

      I believe that arbitrary papers are useless. They do not generate excitement. No excitement means more drudgery. I would wager that students would take on more courses at the same time if they didn't have this much drudgery to endure.

      I also believe that learning to cite research materials should be a dedicated class. Spread it over a semester if you must, but it's a short course that should be delivered via a webinar series.

      Every time I talk to someone currently enrolled in any higher education i
  • Well, plagiarism today is heavily invested with morality surrounding intellectual honesty. That is laudable. But truly distinguishing plagiarism is a matter of intent. Did I mean to copy, was it accidental (a trick of memory), was it polygenesis[?] ... Young people today are simply too far ahead of anything schools might do to curb their recycling efforts. Beyond simply selling used term papers online, Web sites such as StudentofFortune.com allow students to post specific questions and pay for answers.

    That'
  • Not dead yet. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AndOne (815855) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:23AM (#18600195)
    The term paper as such doesn't need to be done away with. What needs to be happening is that over the course of the 3 or 4 weeks the students are writing the paper and researching the paper they should also be giving a series of presentations and/or meeting with the professor at least 1 or 2 times to discuss their progress. Sure, it may sound like babying the student, but status reports are a fact of life. Hell I meet with my adviser(grad school) at least once a week just to touch base and let him know what's happening. Since this is /. as an example when I was taking computer architecture we had to do a paper on some given facet of the field or a specific architecture. Really whatever most interested us at the time. We had to provide references and brief status reports, and give a presentation on the paper at the end. You might be able to fake a paper you turn in but it's much harder to fake the presentation and the status reports if you don't actually know the material. Of course this all presumes the professor cares/has the energy to deal with this level of effort.
  • by xeno (2667) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @03:09AM (#18600443)
    Bullshit. Bull. Shit. Just because there's a growing ocean of (mis)information and lots of tools to search through the disorganized mess doesn't mean that being lazy is ok, or that taxonomy has lost its usefulness. The same goes for txt-ing fools and 1337-speak d00dz; just because you can doesn't mean you should. (Or that your misapplied, sloppy comunicashunz skilz are worthy of respect.)

    I lead teams of consultants giving advice about information to big organizations (big whoop, but it's usually the personal kind, like medical or financial data that might be personally damaging or hurtful if disclosed). Half the time this work takes the form of technology advice, but just as often it's process and governance advising that borders on legal advice. If I or any of these guys crib an opinion from the Intarwebs, we will be busted. If citations are not properly given, we will be busted. If we don't express a complete chain of reasoning that supports each and every considered opinion, we will be busted. You get the idea. Anything less is disrespectful to the people who pay us good money for finding information, considering it, and making decisions about it. It's exactly the kind of thing for which a term paper is good practice.

    The same goes for presentations, articles, books, proposals, sales agreements, and even resumes. If you want to establish a fact, convince someone of a position, or persuade someone else to help you, you *must* be able to express a structured, supported opinion, and know the difference between verbatim quotes, derived ideas, and the rare original thought.

    Writing is as important as it ever has been.
    Research is as important as it ever has been.
    And reasoning is even more important.

    I'm sure as hell teaching *my* kids how to do term papers, because I do one for every client every couple of weeks. Some of it may be formulaic drivel, but some of it is really enjoyable stuff worthy of some professional pride. If the unwashed masses don't want to practice for nice jobs in the real world, then fine. Ditch the term papers. And have fun sorting my mail down in the mailroom aspiring to a first-level helpdesk gig, or painting my garage.

    J
  • First because grading is subjective on these papers a bad professor could equal a bad grade rather than pure merit. Second, a good writer with a vague understanding of the material can always write a good sounding paper and get a good grade. Third, nobody can verify all the citations and references of hundreds of students. Many people just make them up or use something that sounds like it supports their point and then grab choice quotes out of context.

    These papers and insane amounts of reading are part of w
  • I've done many exams where the profs didn't care what you brought with you, "so long as it's not breathing". All the books and notes in the world won't help you if you don't understand the material.

    Is undergraduate fine arts such a joke now that the profs can't be bothered to determine if the students are providing genuine insight into the material, or are just regurgitating crap? I did History of Warfare courses as my fine arts component - even there, the prof didn't want to mark papers. He'd tell you to r
  • There isn't much point with average GPA's going up 0.1/year in HS and colleges, everyone has to be given an A or they will sue the school. A single "B" can mean having to goto community college since everyone else has a 4.0 and there is a 137-way tie for valedictorian. Just write your name on the paper and get your A.

    Does it matter if all the jobs you need a 3rd grade education for are all going to Asia? Probably not. And since many of those jobs are in copying/counterfeiting copying that term paper is just
    • by Hadlock (143607)
      I had a 3.2 GPA in my graduating class of 1200. Fortunately, 3 days before grade freeze, one kid dropped out/moved/died and I made it in to the top 75% of my class. This was way back in 2002.
  • in the sense that of our "lets boost the confidence of the children at any cost" mentality, but what about oral exams?

    When you see the average American these days being interviewed on television, they simply have no rhetorical skills whatsoever. They may not have a room temperature IQ, but they sure sound like it most of the time. Yah I know some people fear public speaking more than death itself, but public speaking is arguably more important than being able to write clear essays in real world situations.

    A
  • Six years ago I left the software development world for the world of University teaching. I encountered a fair amount of plagiarism in the first year, but very little since. Catch a few and the word gets around.

    The biggest problem, by the way, hasn't been the Internet. It has been copying directly out of the textbook on take home and open book exams. The real world me says that such exams are a good thing because we almost always have the ability to look things up when our boss asks us to research somet
  • I do not see what is new here. Cheating has been going on for centuries in Europe and thousands of years in China (this is probably why Chinese people are better at it). Plagiarism and services to supply papers to students who do not want to do their work have always existed.

    The only problem is that teachers are less Net savvy than their students. A google search of random sentences in a paper would allow to the teacher to check if the student composed the paper from documents on the Web or plagiari

  • My experience as a student as well as having Taed philosophy and currently Taking math gives me a fair bit of insight into this problem. Here are some points that I think the article doesn't address properly. 1) Cheating is a problem for every sort of assignment be it in class or out of class. If you want to look at how difficult it is to stop cheating look at the art form it has been turned into in some countries. In class assessments are far from a cure to the cheating issue. In fact exactly because

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