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Re: [xmca] FW: The Shadow Scholar - He writes your students' papers.

Oddly, this xmca email from Greg hit my inbox at the same time as a notification that Textbureau Strauß is now following me on Twitter. Among the services this German organization provides is assistance with the planning and execution of a doctoral dissertation. (http://www.textbureaustrauss.eu/ )

On Jan 10, 2011, at 9:25 AM, Greg Mcverry wrote:

I have to agree with Jenna wholeheartedly. While blatant cheating as
described by the "Shadow Scholar" does cross some ethical boundaries,
students are ill-prepared for academic writing. Jenna gave a wonderful
account of these issues in higher education. The line, "But we do our
students a deep and lasting injustice by placing the blame solely on their shoulders," really resonated. The probelm, however, starts much earlier in

We, as educators, simply do not do justice when it comes to teaching
students to use multiple sources in primary and secondary school.

I hear it all the time when providing professional development to teachers in the US. When I start talking about student combining ideas from online
sources a teacher (usually high school) shouts out, "The middle school
doesn't teach students to cite sources." To me that is the crux of the
problem. Educators equate a complex intertextual process of constructing new ideas from old with the act of putting a comma in the right place using APA
or MLA.

Instead of addressing the issue teachers look to software such as TurnitIn.
While the courts and I disagree I have issue with students having to
unwillingly give up copyright of their work to TurnitIn which then owns the rights to that paper, makes a profit off the work, and offers the original author no credit. It seems like a business model built on plagiarism to catch plagiarism. I have to agree with those that comment taking a sentence
(find the one with the semicolon) and throwing it into Google.

I think though, instead of trying to catch plagiarism we need to teach
students to use multiple sources and introduce academic discourses much
earlier in education. It is the only way to stop the cycle of Colleges
claiming high schools are to blame and high schools laying the blame at the
doors of middle schools.


On Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 9:02 AM, Jenna McWilliams <jennamcjenna@gmail.com >wrote:

I have loved reading this thread over the last several days. It's an issue that interests me enormously, and one that I've thought about a lot. So
pardon the lengthy ramblings below....

A few iterations of myself ago, I was a college composition and literature instructor. Anyone who’s taught this particular category of courses knows that cheating is an enormous issue: take the ramped-up pressure on young people to set themselves apart from their peers in an era that has seen the highest rate of college enrollment in the history of America; add to that the increasingly fuzzy borders around what counts as ‘plagiarism’ in this mixed up, multimodal, shareable world; and toss in a generation of students who have received little guidance, if any, from adults on navigating issues of plagiarism, copyright, appropriation and sharing of ideas and content.

What you get: students who either don’t know or don’t care about why
universities care so much about the ethics of plagiarism.

But we do our students a deep and lasting injustice by placing the blame solely on their shoulders. One reason students plagiarize is that it’s easy: Writing instructors often distribute the same essay assignments semester after semester; they use essay prompts that are so worn, and so widely used, that even students who honestly intend to just find supporting resources for their essays online may end up having their entire papers mapped out for them. (cf. Is Willy Loman a tragic hero?; Take a position on gay marriage.)
If we want our students to leave our classes and universities as
independent, creative thinkers, then we need to offer them opportunities to think and write about things other than the stuff that every student in the
history of college has already had to slog through.

Here’s the two-pronged approach I started to implement right before I left teaching in favor of gainful employment and health insurance (I lived in Massachusetts at the time, was an adjunct instructor and therefore not offered health insurance, and could not afford to purchase state- mandated insurance on an annual income that stayed safely below $20,000–even with the
part-time job I worked on top of teaching a full course load every
semester.): I developed writing assignments that a.) required students to draft original writing and b.) offered a way in to conversations about the difference between ethical appropriation and plagiarism. Here’s one thing I tried: I asked students to draft a creative rewrite of a source text–they could write a prequel, add a scene into the text, or rewrite or extend the ending. Then they were required to analyze how their rewrite changed the story, and in so doing, to demonstrate an understanding of the themes and characters of the text. I only had time to try this once, but if I were to
do it again I would also have students think and write about the
appropriation / plagiarism issue as it relates to this assignment. I don’t
think it’s a perfect assignment by any means, and students who were
determined to cheat could still find a way to succeed, but it’s certainly better–and more interesting–than the hackneyed old prompts that end up being
so easy to lift from teh Google.

Being more creative instructors doesn’t solve the cheating issue, but it’s certainly better than the strange alternative of simply adding more policing to our learning environments. Did you see that NYTimes article about Caveon, a security program that detects cheating by comparing students’ responses on
standardized tests (
Apparently, lots of students are using their phones to give each other the answers to test questions. Caveon also mines the internet for sites where
students discuss their answers on high-stakes tests like the LSAT.
Presumably, it notifies the makers of the test, who then remove the flagged
items from the next version.

As you can imagine, this is a lucrative endeavor: "As tests are
increasingly important in education — used to determine graduation, graduate
school admission and, the latest, merit pay and tenure for teachers —
business has been good for Caveon, a company that uses “data forensics” to catch cheats, billing itself as the only independent test security outfit in
the country."

Well, at least students find out early what it’s like to live in a country
that generally believes that the best defense is a good offense: That
catching and punishing wrongdoers will deter others from going down the wrong path. Never let the facts get in the way of a good theory: We’ll keep passing ridiculously harsh drug laws even though they don’t deter people from buying, selling, and using illegal drugs. Our politicians, supported by right-wing pundits, will resist extending unemployment benefits in the worst economic recession we’ve seen since the Great Depression. Why? Because they’ve decided, in direct contradiction of the evidence, that America’s 15 million unemployed adults are lazy bums who just need a swift kick in the

That’s the world our students are headed for, so they might as well learn the lesson early that it’s a world that prefers punishment over dialogue, short-term fixes instead of enduring solutions, and using bandaids to fix
gaping wounds.

Look: students cheat on standardized tests because they know that the
stakes are really effing high. They cheat because they don’t see any reason
not to–because it’s not clear why ‘authentic’ achievement on a
multiple-choice exam is even worth striving for. They cheat because they don’t see any connection between the contents of those tests and the subject areas that matter to them as human beings. They cheat because the tests are
stupid but the scores are important.

So instead of fixing a broken system with an overreliance on standardized tests, we just add more cops–this time, in the form of computer programs. Sure, that should work just fine. Just like it worked to add more proctors to testing locations. Just like it worked to collect students’ cellphones before they began the exam. Just like it worked to guard test questions like
they were matters of national security.

The low road is easier to walk, but it doesn’t offer much opportunity for scaling mountains. In the coming decade, I would like to see us take the
higher road a little more frequently.


Jenna McWilliams
Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University


On Jan 10, 2011, at 8:50 AM, Larry Purss wrote:

I don't want to take a position on this topic, but was curious about what
seems a contradiction between issues of "control and trust" in a manner similar to Engstrom's article on the use of technology in middle schools
putting computers in the hallway. I wonder if the concepts "control" and "trust" are primary or basic constructs when discussing institutional structures or containers. I was wondering when reading Engstrom's article if the terms control and trust were explanatory terms within 2nd person actor narratives or if Engstrom abstracted these terms as explanatory 3rd person narratives of what he observed in the middle school environment.
others see a contradiction or tension in the discussion of plagarism or is
it a clear case of civic virtue?


On Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 12:40 AM, Rod Parker-Rees <
R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk> wrote:

And I can also confirm that this extends to submissions to peer reviewed
journals, too. I have had the experience of receiving a paper which was noticeably more lucid than the email which accompanied it, a quick bit of
googling revealed that the paper was the work of a student at a UK
university where the submitter had been working as a visiting academic.


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J. Gregory McVerry
Neag Fellow
University of Connecticut
New Literacies Research Lab
twitter: jgmac1106

" [Champions] have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be
stronger than the skill." -Ali
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