Monday, May 14, 2012

University Cheats

One of the rules imposed by the Open University, and most likely by all other universities, is that you don't cheat.  Your submitted work must be your own work, not plagiarised, and definitely not copied from the internet. Some berks on my course, AA100, have been caught selling their essays to the cheat site Essayzone UK.

Essayzone is a website that allows people who are only interested in the result, as opposed to the education, to purchase marked essays so that they can then presumably try to pass off a lesser or greater amount of the essay as their own work.

Now, I don't know about you, but if I was going to cheat and purchase such an essay, I would want that essay to be a top scorer, it would have to be a distinction level piece of work - that's 85% and above here at the OU. Two of the essays for sale are scored 74% for the Michael Faraday essay, and 72% for the Gunn/Flatman poetry essay. So for the purposes of cheating, the study book contains 100% of the information you require for this essay of which the submitter has only managed to glean just less than three-quarters of the meaning.  I just don't get it, if you're going to cheat, then at least cheat well.

This incident does seem to have exposed a difference between some people on the course.  On the one hand, and I place myself firmly in this group, there are those who see the educational and mind broadening aspects of the study as being at least equal in importance to gaining the degree.  In camp two are those who are only focused on the actual attaining of the degree and who tend towards such comments as "Why bother to read more books outside the course work, the course material contains all the stuff you need to pass."

Brick universities are at the moment packed with people in that second camp, teenage kids who wanted to go to university but without any clear idea of what they want to study.  I would say that some of these children have been railroaded by the school system and peer pressure into going to university, it has become the done thing to do, a three year party with a qualification thrown in at the end. Am I being unfair ? Some universities are reporting 1st year drop out rates of up to 20%, 21% of students starting in 2009 will not complete their degree (source - The Times 14 May 2012).

I cannot offer any proof for this, but it seems to me that someone who takes their second or third choice university course just to be able to have the 'university experience' may well be someone who doesn't care enough to put in the effort to make all their work their own.  Drop out rates from the very top universities, where students have to be the very best and presumably get onto their first choice courses, are tiny; Oxford, Cambridge and St. Andrews all have drop out rates of under 1.5%.

Cheating just seems so pointless.  I could have bought an essay here and there, and re-worded it a little to get around the plagiarism checks.  But if I had done so I would not have had the pleasure of researching and understanding the life of  Michael Faraday.  I would not have been able to explore a little known corner of British-African history (little known to me that is) that was the massacre at Benin.  My knowledge of many aspects of Christianity including Luther, the Reformation, the Dissolution, Pugin and church architecture would be much less.

I had twin goals when I began this degree.  I want to have the degree itself, that would be nice, I would like to prove to myself that I can work to the required standard to get a BA(hons). My other goal is more nebulous, I want to be able to answer more questions on University Challenge, I want to be able to listen to the guests on In Our Time and not only understand the flow of the argument but to be able to agree with or argue with the points raised in an informed manner, when an interviewee on The Culture Show starts to waffle about poetics versus hermeneutics I want to understand what they mean.

So I'm not going to cheat and buy an essay because I want to be more broadly educated, and anyway, I have consistently scored higher than the berks who have sold their work, so what can they teach me anyway ?

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