Plagiarism is pernicious and pervasive. You can’t seem to get away from it because so many people are getting away with it. As a university teacher I have long been aware of so-called essay-writing services that tout their wares to students who think that by purchasing essays written by someone else and passing them off as their own they can buy their way to learning.
Fools. That’s what universities are for.
I was reminded about the plagiarism business a few weeks back when @mileymithsu started following me on Twitter. Naturally, I checked out her profile and found she was linked (literally) to the web-site of an outfit called ‘Custom Essay Services‘. She has a couple of ‘friends’ who go by @kellydenicolas and @alicetenison, both of whom have similar links to Custom Essay Services. Oddly, this curious threesome often seem to pop up synchronously on Twitter making fairly random tweets, most of which link to the — you guessed it — Custom Essay Services site.
Custom Essay Services presents itself as a company that has nothing but the interests of students at heart. They are passionate about enabling students to achieve their best. They feel the pain that poor students have to endure in the process of learning and are keen to alleviate their suffering. Obstenisbly, their mission is to offer ‘guidance’.
But that guidance is offered in the form of custom-written essays that students can purchase via a pricing scheme that depends on the requisite grade, word limit and deadline. Need 1000 words within 5 days to meet a 2:1 standard? Sixty quid, thankyouverymuch.
Their service is ethical, they say. To buy an essay is not cheating, they say. Essay services are so concerned about the standard of their product that each essay is carefully vetted against plagiarism software. “We do not tolerate plagiarism”, they say.
It is all so… beautiful. Sniff.
However, given their intolerance of plagiarism, I was surprised to find on the Custom Essay Services web-site an icon that is the spitting image of one used by Apple for their Pages word processor and which, I presume, belongs to the American computer company. But perhaps Apple approves of a company that, through its products, facilitates plagiarism? I’ve written to their legal department to find out.
Iconic and Ironic?
But I digress.
Of course, it is easy to see how unscrupulous students could abuse the products offered by Custom Essay Services and cheat. The company’s vetting of essays by plagiarism software has the effect of re-assuring their valued customers that they won’t be found out. This is explained, albeit implicitly, on the company’s web-site. I’m guessing their customers derive a great deal of solace from these reassurances.
Any student who passes off the work of another as their own is a cheat and a fraud — deluding not only their teachers, but themselves as well. It is difficult to know the scale of the problem. My colleague Alice Bell has come across these ‘services’ leafleting outside the doors of my own university, Imperial College. She pointed me to a blog post by a pseudonymous essay writer — Ed Dante — who gave an eye-opening insight into the sordid business of helping students to cheat. Dante sought to justify his work by laying blame at the doors of academia and criticising our inability to properly assess students. There may be a kernel of truth in that, but it by no means exonerates students from the responsibility for their own learning. And Dante, I suspect, will eventually discover that he has made his bed in hell. What kind of life is that — helping the helpless to cheat their way through an ‘education’?
Yesterday Twitter was aflare with the experiences of another academic, Panos Ipeirotis, who had apparently thrown up his hands in despair after discovering that about a fifth of his students were cheating in some way. “Why I will never pursue cheating again” read the title of his disappointed post (which, strangely, is no longer available on Dr Ipeirotis’s blog, but can be found in Google’s cache). The scale of deception was astonishing but, despite his title, Ipeirotis had learned from his bitter experience and sought to develop strategies to reduce the likelihood of plagiarism — and got some astonishingly good work from his students in the process.
So there is hope, but we will have to fight a continuous war of attrition. As academics, it is our duty to have robust procedures for assessment (and to take companies like Custom Essay Services to task). But equally, students must have the integrity and the wit to realise that, in the long run, learning demands commitment, not cash.