The recent plagiarism scandal at Harvard University, and the rise of essay mills, are a reflection of changing attitudes to higher education: if you can buy an education, why not an essay, asks Eric Martin?
The growth of the online education market appears to have spun off another, more surreptitious market – one that goes beyond the paper-writing services long available to less than honest students – and online educators are taking note.
A handful of websites have sprung up recently offering to take a student’s entire online class for them, handling assignments, quizzes, and tests, for a fee.
Students taking free online courses offered by the startup company Coursera have reported dozens of incidents of plagiarism, even though the courses bear no academic credit. This week a professor leading one of the so-called Massive Open Online Courses posted a plea to his 39,000 students to stop plagiarizing, and Coursera's leaders say they will review the issue and consider adding plagiarism-detection software in the future.
When The Chronicle published a confessional essay two years ago by a writer for a student-paper mill who had spent nearly a decade helping college students cheat on their assignments, it provoked anger, astonishment, and weary resignation.
The writer, under the pseudonym Ed Dante, said he had completed scores of papers for students who were too lazy or simply unprepared for their work at the undergraduate, master's, and doctoral levels.
Dave Tomar, who helped students cheat for nearly a decade, is at a loss to say what colleges should do differently. "I think everyone is a co-conspirator," he says.