The hidden advantage of breaking paper assignments into stages.

16 11 2010

If you read the same blogs that I do, you’ve undoubtedly already seen this story about the guy who writes students’ papers – heck, even their MA theses – for them. They were handing out paper copies of the Chronicle at the shared governance conference I was at over the weekend so I actually saw it there first. Unlike any other post I’ve seen, the part I want to highlight is the scare language from the beginning:

You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.

I’ll buy every part of that paragraph except “can’t defend against.” If you read the whole article, you’ll see that the overwhelming number of stories he tells are of students who need papers almost immediately. In other words, like plagiarism, buying your work online looks like a last resort rather than a first one. A good remedy to that is therefore to require work on the paper before it’s done.

Despite the extra work it creates, I’m a huge fan of requiring drafts as I both get better papers that way and fewer complaints afterwards as students with bad grades can already see it coming. And as I wrote last week, I’ve gotten to the point where the bigger the assignment the more steps I require. This seems particularly important if your assignment is at all open-ended, since that’s practically an invitation to buy your paper off the Internet these days.

The last time I brought this subject up, my post got described as “smug” in the comments. Certainly, reading that article is more than a little humbling. I’m sure that in thirteen years of teaching in the Internet era, somebody has managed to get by in my class with a paper from a paper mill. I will never catch everything. Nevertheless, I’m glad that my defense also has the added advantage of being good pedagogy.


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