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  1. #1

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    Custom Essay Companies

    I thought this was in interesting article on cheating. This person runs a custom essay company to help kids cheat their way through school.

    http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/125329/

    From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.

    For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness.
    As for the first two types of students—the ESL and the hopelessly deficient—colleges are utterly failing them.

    He tends to blame education's focus on evaluation rather than education for the rampant cheating problem. Although I'm not quite sure how you can determine that someone has received an education without the evaluation part. Perhaps some teachers here could post their thoughts on his viewpoint.
    "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm -- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves." – T.S. Eliot

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    My comment - where does he work? I'd like to apply for a job there. Seriously, I think I'd be quite good at the type of work he does. But they can't afford me.

    As for his comment that colleges are failing ESL students (his implication is that these are grad students) - yes, they are - by admitting them with insufficient English skills. Likewise for the deficient student at all levels - they are failed by colleges that admit them, perhaps unaware of their lack of ability, and then pass them anyway.

    This author is right re: the ability to prove plagiarism in such a case. It's fairly easy for me to prove plagiarism if a student copies and pastes. It would be so difficult for me to prove it if she hired someone to write her paper that I'm not sure that I could actually do so - and thus I would not bother. I mean, how do I *prove* that? It is the case that many people, when they sit down to do formal writing, with opportunities to edit, to use the writing tutoring center, etc. will write a better paper than they would if I just sat them down and made them write in my presence. So how could I prove that they'd cheated? And I do have to actually prove it - I can't just report them to the uni if I don't have real, documented proof.
    And so, dear Lord, it is with deep sadness that we turn over to you this young woman, whose dream to ride on a giant swan resulted in her death. Maybe it is your way of telling us... to buy American.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GarrAarghHrumph View Post
    My comment - where does he work? I'd like to apply for a job there. Seriously, I think I'd be quite good at the type of work he does. But they can't afford me. .
    I was once contacted by a "scout" from one of these companies. But I don't wanna work for them.

    A while back I posted some "model essays" on a website for Chinese ESL students, and I was once pressured to take them down because I was told some Chinese students were copying my essays verbatim. My answer to them: Well, if they're dumb enough to copy my work verbatim, then they deserve to get caught. And the only way to prove plagiarism is for me to leave my essays on the net.

    .
    As for his comment that colleges are failing ESL students (his implication is that these are grad students) - yes, they are - by admitting them with insufficient English skills. Likewise for the deficient student at all levels - they are failed by colleges that admit them, perhaps unaware of their lack of ability, and then pass them anyway..
    Yup. The scariest bit is that these students are admitted to MA-TESL, and then they graduate and go home to teach English in college. I conducted some interviews with Chinese-speaking MA-TESL students in US and not one of them could have a casual English conversation with me, at least not effortlessly.

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    Part of me thinks this might not be all bad. In the working world, there are lots of people who are perfectly competent in their jobs, but can't write well, and there are others who are very good writers, and thus end up putting together the proposals and reports etc. And, horror of horrors, there are people who make a living just like the man in the article - they are paid to write material that will be passed off as someone else's, whether it's a company or individual.

    Sure, nothing beats learning to articulate original ideas and make a compelling case in your own words. But there's also value in knowing when and how to outsource, and managing those resources with proper briefings, content direction, editing and presentation.

    If a teacher is concerned about this practice, they might consider assigning a paper that comes straight out of discussion and debate in class - in other words something a ghost writer wasn't privy too, unless the student took really great notes, comprehended the material and gave the writer a good briefing. I'd also consider spot writing assignments - as in ones that were assigned, written and handed in in the space of one class (which also happens in the working world all the time, so a valuable learning experience in a realistic scenario). Then, the ones who are otherwise "cheating" would be identified but their sudden inability to write an essay.

    It would also be fun to assign something where you had to get someone else to write it - just to see if they could project manage it.

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    Here in France, it's tolerated for non native speakers to get their essays proof-read, and even entirely re-written/ translated from English.
    I once re-wrote an entire 100 page dissertation for an M-Phil in neuro-linguistics. It had originally been written in English and then translated with bablefish or something.

    My contribution was mentioned in the acknowledgments and the student got questioned about it when she defended the work. She was honest and got a high mark.
    Most foreign PHD students get their work corrected.

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    If it's not an English-language course it's not a big deal to get some help with grammar and such, but when I help others with their papers I often find that the students need help with organizing ideas or even comingup with their own ideas. So to me using custom essays is no different from turning in someone else's Math homework as your own. JMHO.

    In the real world, famous people have ghost writers but we know they don't write their own stuff. Besides, they are not doing it to compete against another speech/biography written by someone else. But when students turn in assignments that they didn't do, the ones who turn in their own writing are at a disadvantage, since the instructor cannot tell apart whose work is whose. JMHO

    I like Jenny's idea re: writing in class

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    Quote Originally Posted by jlai View Post
    But when students turn in assignments that they didn't do, the ones who turn in their own writing are at a disadvantage, since the instructor cannot tell apart whose work is whose.
    It can backfire though - infamously, my English major MIL wrote an essay for my husband when he was in high school and studying a book she loved - she asked if she could as she had loved studying in university so much and wanted to see how she'd do. She got a C.

    The other way to keep a check on things is to have students present the papers orally to the class or teacher. Or, just before they are handed in, the teacher could ask students to write a short summary, by hand, on the top page of the paper, covering the major points of their essay.

    I'm sure the teachers on FSU have their own thoughts on this, and I'd be interested to hear what they actually do. I'm only going by my own experiences as a student, and later as a manager in the workplace.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jlai View Post

    I like Jenny's idea re: writing in class
    Yes; in France, all tests in school and virtually all undergraduate university exams are done in class - often 4/5 hour papers. There's no concept of coursework, it's just taken for granted here that people would cheat if asked to do something at home

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jenny View Post
    It can backfire though - infamously, my English major MIL wrote an essay for my husband when he was in high school and studying a book she loved - she asked if she could as she had loved studying in university so much and wanted to see how she'd do. She got a C.

    The other way to keep a check on things is to have students present the papers orally to the class or teacher. Or, just before they are handed in, the teacher could ask students to write a short summary, by hand, on the top page of the paper, covering the major points of their essay.

    I'm sure the teachers on FSU have their own thoughts on this, and I'd be interested to hear what they actually do. I'm only going by my own experiences as a student, and later as a manager in the workplace.

    I think the reason some parents get so irate over paper grades is because they are writing the papers and are embarrassed when they can't get an A on high school work. I know for a fact that the mother who enlisted her police officer husband to stalk and harass me after her kid didn't pass a paper had written it herself.

    Honestly, the attitude that students should not do their own work is one of the things that drove me out of teaching. I don't have much else to say about it.

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    (Don't judge me, I had to get through college financially somehow) I used to write custom papers for friends, for money. I was cheap- $10 a page plus a $50 research fee.

    I also took online courses for them- $500 for a full semester course.

    Now, this was in the late 90s and early 2000s, so my prices were pretty modest compared to what you could get for this today.

    I benefitted from having lazy friends... Was it unethical? Definitely, and I wouldn't have done it if I knew then what I know now, but hindsight is 20/20...

    The funny thing is, for some of those people, the parents were not only fully aware that this was going on- they also PAID ME THEMSELVES! Talked about screwed up...

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    Quote Originally Posted by mpal2 View Post
    He tends to blame education's focus on evaluation rather than education for the rampant cheating problem. Although I'm not quite sure how you can determine that someone has received an education without the evaluation part.
    Hmm, well, that is the conundrum, but, theoretically at least, writing a paper should be an educational experience and not just an evaluative one.

    I agree that colleges do not do a good job of educating non-native speakers and the hopelessly deficient, but college are not, quite frankly, set up to educate people like that. Colleges are set up to educate people who already have certain proficiencies. For example, grammar is rarely taught at the college level because grammar is considered something that students should know when they come in the door on the first day. Many don't know grammar on that day, but the assumption goes on. And really, it can't NOT work that way unless we add extra class requirements, which is not going to happen, for all kinds of reasons.

    The lazy rich kids--well, I agree there, too, but the system has always rewarded the lazy rich kids. It's not like people paying others to write papers for them is a new business, and the gentleman's C well predates the internet.

    I don't have time to find it right now, but I just read a very interesting article about cheating of a different kind in colleges and how perceptions about cheating have changed; I'll look for it later. But certainly a lot of students feel no remorse whatsoever for cheating and think that it's just part of the system.

    I found the comments that followed the article more interesting than the article. Some of the professors seem to think that this doesn't really happen (ha!) or that it doesn't happen in their classes (snort). I am surprised at how many people think it's easy to prove plagiariasm; it can be easy to identify, but prove? Not so much.

    Since I teach research writing of one kind or another most of the time, I have whole classes that focus on the process of writing research papers. That makes it easier for me to avoid getting papers like this, because the students have to work very hard to use papers they don't write. For most of my classes, the students have to do something like this:

    Submit a research proposal
    Take and pass a plagiarism exam
    Do a library research exercise that is specific to their topics
    Submit an annotated bibliography
    Submit a summary of research and plan for paper
    Submit a rough draft
    Submit final paper with all of the above included in folder as part of a package

    Everything is graded and returned with comments as it comes in, but I still make them turn everything in at the end so I can refer to it as I grade the final paper. I will not take any paper if any step of this process was missed.

    This makes it pretty difficult for anyone to plagiarize, particularly since some of it has to be done in class and there are at least three points during the course where they have to discuss their projects with me one-on-one. OTOH, it's a hell of a lot of work for me and I can't imagine doing all this for other courses in which the focus is on a particular subject and not on research writing in particular. I also can't see how there would be time for individual oral presentations in many classes, especially most gen ed-type classes.

    I just spent three hours in a meeting with research librarians (but it was a GOOD meeting ) and one of the things that came up was instructor burnout. One of the things they see is a lot of professors who just don't care enough to make assignments meaningful. A lot of that, IMO, is because of administrative policies; everything that high school teachers complain about is creeping into higher ed.
    Trolling dates all the way back to 397 B.C. - People began following Plato around and would make fart noises after everything he said.

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    Another dimension to the problem is that while the author of the article may be good at what he does (or at least he says he is), there are plenty of custom essay companies that *aren't* good at what they do. As in just randomly grabbing stuff off the Internet and misquoting/misciting it, or putting it together with really weak arguments or bad structure or bad writing (or all three). The students who buy this stuff are usually too embarrassed to go back and complain, or the company charges them extra to rewrite the paper and they can't afford that, or they don't have time to complain because the paper is due right away. So they hand it in and hope for the best.

    Funny story from my school: one instructor was reading a student paper and parts of it sounded awfully familiar. She Googled some of the suspicious phrases and was to discover that the phrases were plagiarized from an academic paper she herself had written. Even worse than that, the plagiarism was in the context of making an argument that she definitely did not make in the original source. She couldn't believe the student would be so stupid as to plagiarize from the instructor's own work, much less to misquote it, so she called him in. It turned out that the student had bought the paper from a custom essay company and didn't bother to read it before he handed it in, so he didn't even realize that she was quoted in it, much less that she was quoted wrongly...
    Who wants to watch rich people eat pizza? They must have loved that in Bangladesh. - Randy Newman on the 2014 Oscars broadcast

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    Prancer, my senior English students essentially had to do the same steps you listed, minus the plagiarism exam. They met with me one on one once or twice a week rather than only one time to discuss their progress on research papers. It was partially plagiarism prevention and partially to help them through the process. The result of all of this work for me was just parents complaining that it was too much work for their kids and an administrator yelling at me that I was negative because I wasn't making research papers "fun" and I should be utilizing games to teach them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    Since I teach research writing of one kind or another most of the time, I have whole classes that focus on the process of writing research papers. That makes it easier for me to avoid getting papers like this, because the students have to work very hard to use papers they don't write.
    Heh....I'm having my graduate students take a course similar to the one you are teaching. But these are native English speakers. How these kids graduated from high school, let alone college, with such crappy writing skills, I will never understand. (Hmmm....maybe they paid someone to do all their previous written assignments and never had to learn how to write?) Their grammar isn't bad....what is unacceptable is their complete lack of ability to organize their thoughts. Trying to read, comprehend, and essentially rewrite their manuscripts is bad enough, but the thought of having to read entire dissertations written that poorly had me in terror. So I told them to sign up for a writing class.

    With foreign students the problem I usually run into is an inability to paraphrase. Instead, they'll just lift entire sentences, and in some cases paragraphs, from other papers.
    Last edited by susan6; 11-30-2010 at 02:49 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PDilemma View Post
    Prancer, my senior English students essentially had to do the same steps you listed, minus the plagiarism exam. They met with me one on one once or twice a week rather than only one time to discuss their progress on research papers. It was partially plagiarism prevention and partially to help them through the process. The result of all of this work for me was just parents complaining that it was too much work for their kids and an administrator yelling at me that I was negative because I wasn't making research papers "fun" and I should be utilizing games to teach them.
    Well, I don't get that kind of thing, and I am not told what to do with my classes. However, I have been told that I seem to require an awful lot of work and that students today don't really have the focus required to do such long and involved papers. And that it seems that the point could be made with shorter papers and less research. And that I am wrong to operate from a position of preventing plagiarism because I begin by assuming wrongdoing on the students' part.

    But it's not just plagiarism prevention; as you said, part of it is helping them through what is really a complex process that requires a lot of practice. This is particularly true as the quality of research becomes more important; many students are overwhelmed by all the resources available to them now and they need some guidance in working with different materials. In fact, while I talk about plagiarism and do make an issue of it, it's not something that I am deeply concerned about because I don't see a lot of it. I am much more interested in helping them through their research and writing processes than in plagiarism by itself.

    Just as an aside, the reason for my meeting with the research librarians is that *I* am overwhelmed and need help any more. I can't keep up!

    Quote Originally Posted by susan6 View Post
    Heh....I'm having my graduate students take a course similar to the one you are teaching.
    I teach a class like that, actually, and one for people who have been admitted to grad school but whose writing or research skills are considered lacking. Some of them write don't write as well as the average freshman comp student. And yes, they are native English speakers.

    This is the cheating article I was referring to: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/17/cheating

    Way down there, the article says, "Research on plagiarism suggests that cutting down on cheating depends not only on punishing it when it happens, but also on explicitly staking out expectations about academic conduct."

    I find this to be true. There is an assumption that students know what is and is not acceptable, but many of them don't--hence the plagiarism test my students have to take. We do three exercises before they take the test and I have learned from doing this that students have only the vaguest idea what plagiarism really is.
    Trolling dates all the way back to 397 B.C. - People began following Plato around and would make fart noises after everything he said.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jenny View Post
    It can backfire though - infamously, my English major MIL wrote an essay for my husband when he was in high school and studying a book she loved - she asked if she could as she had loved studying in university so much and wanted to see how she'd do. She got a C.

    The other way to keep a check on things is to have students present the papers orally to the class or teacher. Or, just before they are handed in, the teacher could ask students to write a short summary, by hand, on the top page of the paper, covering the major points of their essay.

    I'm sure the teachers on FSU have their own thoughts on this, and I'd be interested to hear what they actually do. I'm only going by my own experiences as a student, and later as a manager in the workplace.
    The new rotation student jokingly asked me to take a test for her (a test she had been studying for several days at that point) since we looked somewhat alike, and I said, "But I'd fail, and that wouldn't benefit either of us!"

    I like the short summary idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    Well, I don't get that kind of thing, and I am not told what to do with my classes. However, I have been told that I seem to require an awful lot of work and that students today don't really have the focus required to do such long and involved papers. And that it seems that the point could be made with shorter papers and less research. And that I am wrong to operate from a position of preventing plagiarism because I begin by assuming wrongdoing on the students' part.

    But it's not just plagiarism prevention; as you said, part of it is helping them through what is really a complex process that requires a lot of practice. This is particularly true as the quality of research becomes more important; many students are overwhelmed by all the resources available to them now and they need some guidance in working with different materials. In fact, while I talk about plagiarism and do make an issue of it, it's not something that I am deeply concerned about because I don't see a lot of it. I am much more interested in helping them through their research and writing processes than in plagiarism by itself.
    When I took design classes at a bona fide art school, what was most interesting to me was that the classes mostly consisted of projects. Three or four was the norm, and you never saw any instructor try to cram in more than six projects in one semester. Each one would typically take a month.

    You went head-first into a self-conceived project and had to bring in your work every week to talk about it. Then you went back home and worked on it some more. It wasn't just lecture and talking about how things should look. It involved WORK, and the classes would mostly teach you to put in the hours. There could be no shortcuts - you had to introduce your stuff every week and besides, everyone in class saw the in-progress drafts. I guess you could conceivably BS your way through the drafts, but since there was only that one project which to judge your progress on, all your efforts went into improving it.

    Eventually, you'd develop an eye through practice. (The only exception to the project classes was the figure drawing class, where we filled up two sketchbooks with copies from master drawings. There, quantity mattered, and the instructor could tell if you were BSing through it. )

    I probably was educated more in what was pretty much a vocational school than all of high school and most parts of college, when everyone worked on the same project and nobody was truly accountable for what was submitted.

    I would think that instead of rote memorization or spewing of class-taught concepts in a paper every week, that putting one's efforts into a few well-accomplished projects would be the way to properly educate a student. After all, real life requires that you work and think well, not be good at regurgitation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    This is the cheating article I was referring to: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/17/cheating

    Way down there, the article says, "Research on plagiarism suggests that cutting down on cheating depends not only on punishing it when it happens, but also on explicitly staking out expectations about academic conduct."

    I find this to be true. There is an assumption that students know what is and is not acceptable, but many of them don't--hence the plagiarism test my students have to take. We do three exercises before they take the test and I have learned from doing this that students have only the vaguest idea what plagiarism really is.
    I also don't think that many students are of the "everyone cheats so there's nothing wrong with it" mentality. They just don't know why plagiarism is wrong, in the world of the Internet and where copying and pasting without citing sources is pretty rampant.

    OTOH, I'm not sure what it says about me that I don't think the example cited in the article was really that bad. Desperate students eager to work will find any remotely related study guides to work from. It wasn't like someone broke into the professor's office and stole a copy of the exam to pass around. They inadvertently cheated, and I do think someone should have at least emailed the professor afterwards if they didn't want to raise the issue during the exam.

    My college chemistry professors readily provided exams from previous semesters to study from, so it's pretty much expected that they'd have to write new ones every time. I also saw old exams that were kept by students from the previous years, so maybe that's why everyone decided to lay it all out since you can't stop students from doing that. It was probably also the culture too, since I guess it would also be possible to recollect the exams after passing the grades out...
    Last edited by Anita18; 11-30-2010 at 03:01 AM.

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    Years ago when I worked in the writing center during my first year of grad school, a student came in with a suspiciously good paper. I asked him what he would like to work on and he actually said, "well, I bought this paper and I need you to help me make it look like it's my original work." I was flabbergasted and I did undergrad and graduate work at institutions with reputations of very entitled students, so I should have been used to it. When I told him that I was not comfortable with that, he actually told me that he was going to have his parents talk to the director of the English program about my attitude

    I run every paper my students submit through Turn It In, that has scared most of them enough to get them to do their own work.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anita18 View Post
    I would think that instead of rote memorization or spewing of class-taught concepts in a paper every week, that putting one's efforts into a few well-accomplished projects would be the way to properly educate a student. After all, real life requires that you work and think well, not be good at regurgitation.
    I agree in general and think lecture is a pretty poor way to teach anything, but projects are not always practical. If you have X amount of material to cover in a class in Y number of hours, sometimes the most efficient way to teach is lecture, simply because of how much you can get done that way.

    Also, projects, particularly individual projects, work best with small classes. If you have a class with hundreds of students, you can't do projects; you lecture and give Scantron exams because anything else would be impractical.

    My classes usually run somewhere between five and 15 students. I get to know them really well. I know who is stressing out and who isn't, and who is on top of the work and who isn't, and who is cutting every corner possible and who isn't, and who is genuinely interested in his project and who isn't. I have a pretty good idea of how each student writes and what issues each struggles with. But that kind of thing isn't possible with big classes or with a really heavy teaching load.

    One of my friends teaches NINE sections of English with 50 students per section every semester. Of course she doesn't do a close reading of the papers or check their sources or spend time helping them develop a research plan. A student can get anything past her and she knows it. She has pointed this out to admin where she teaches and has learned that no one cares if the students are learning anything or not. The goal is to get them out the door with a degree in hand.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anita18 View Post
    OTOH, I'm not sure what it says about me that I don't think the example cited in the article was really that bad.
    I don't, either, at least not the incident itself, and I am kind of sympathetic to the students' arguments. But some of the students' reactions to the university's response is .

    My exams, when I give them, are all open book, open note, work with a partner, whatever you want to do. All of the questions are about the students' individual projects, so they can't copy anyone else, and I don't have the slightest problem with them discussing questions with other students first. Why not? That's part of learning and at my orientation, they told us that we were supposed to design exams that were not just assessment tools but also learning experiences for the students, something I've never forgotten. But again, I can do things like that. It's neither practical nor particularly effective to do that in a lot of classes.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    I agree in general and think lecture is a pretty poor way to teach anything, but projects are not always practical. If you have X amount of material to cover in a class in Y number of hours, sometimes the most efficient way to teach is lecture, simply because of how much you can get done that way.

    Also, projects, particularly individual projects, work best with small classes. If you have a class with hundreds of students, you can't do projects; you lecture and give Scantron exams because anything else would be impractical.

    My classes usually run somewhere between five and 15 students. I get to know them really well. I know who is stressing out and who isn't, and who is on top of the work and who isn't, and who is cutting every corner possible and who isn't, and who is genuinely interested in his project and who isn't. I have a pretty good idea of how each student writes and what issues each struggles with. But that kind of thing isn't possible with big classes or with a really heavy teaching load.

    One of my friends teaches NINE sections of English with 50 students per section every semester. Of course she doesn't do a close reading of the papers or check their sources or spend time helping them develop a research plan. A student can get anything past her and she knows it. She has pointed this out to admin where she teaches and has learned that no one cares if the students are learning anything or not. The goal is to get them out the door with a degree in hand.
    Oh, for sure. Individual, well-thought out projects would be impossible at the intro university level, where there are hundreds of students. Ugh I can't imagine, I'm so glad I went to a small school. My sister went to a large uni, but majored in one of the smaller program where she could form close relationships with her professors.

    I can't imagine how a degree farm like a large uni can truly care about each individual students' education. They can't.

    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    I don't, either, at least not the incident itself, and I am kind of sympathetic to the students' arguments. But some of the students' reactions to the university's response is .
    True, true. The reactions are always and .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anita18 View Post
    I probably was educated more in what was pretty much a vocational school than all of high school and most parts of college, when everyone worked on the same project and nobody was truly accountable for what was submitted.

    I would think that instead of rote memorization or spewing of class-taught concepts in a paper every week, that putting one's efforts into a few well-accomplished projects would be the way to properly educate a student. After all, real life requires that you work and think well, not be good at regurgitation.
    IMHO, universities have over-expanded and over-specialized, and quite a few subjects that shouldn't be taught in the conventional academic model get covered by Univs. In fact, every thing under the sun has a univ program now, and even dance students have to write papers.

    There are times I wish I attended a vocational program at a junior college instead.

    ETA: Even NCATE is calling for a reform to teachers education to make it more clinic-centered (ie less theoretical): http://www.ncate.org/Public/Newsroom...ectations.aspx

    I'm that optimistic about sweeping reforms at univs, but glad to see suggestions for changes coming
    Last edited by jlai; 11-30-2010 at 05:15 AM.

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