Monday, 16 July 2007

Essays and plagiarism

I have often questioned the prejudice a lot of academics have in favor of essays, and against a lot of other means to assess learners. Perhaps this is a matter of how they were taught and assessed themselves. One the other hand I have often thought that this is a matter of a lack of training. After all, most lecturers do not get that much training in how assessment should be done properly. In addition most lecturers don't have much time to spend on the assessment either. The result is an assignment that is easy to develop (although a lot harder to mark). Either way, this prejudice is one of the major barriers to the uptake of e-assessment. It is also a serious cause for concern about the validity of our degrees.

So it was with some curiosity and expectations that I started reading It’s not plagiarism, it’s an easy essay on the Learn Online blog, where an interview was posted with a provider of an online essay writing service. I thought it was rather appalling.

As mentioned, I'm no fan of essays. They are certainly overrated, overused and usually very poorly delivered. However I do not think they are useless. Someone's critical thinking is rather wasted if it isn't combined with the ability to express that thinking. If the learner has any sort of ambition to climb the corporate (or other) ladder, writing reports and proposals will be something they do regularly. So as long as essay assignments are given some sort of relevant subject and format, I think they are a very valid form of assessment.

The limited value of essays however does not validate the existence of services like this however. I don't care how the service providers attempt to rationalize this, as is done in this article. It is just morally wrong to provide a service that is obviously designed to let people cheat. The audacity to claim that the objective here is to transform education baffles me. If you really want to change education, I could think of a million other and better ways of doing it then by making money out of helping people cheat. I have no respect for anyone in this line of business whatsoever.

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