Online Essay Writing Services: Why Are Students Using Them?
Essay writing, traditionally, has been considered an important aspect of a comprehensive liberal arts education. The ability to write an essay coherently and elegantly is thought to be a hallmark of scholarship. If a student cannot write well by the time they graduate, then they are not a good student by many standards. Perhaps as a result of the importance given to writing in curricula, contemporary students are bombarded with essay writing assignments. This prevails from junior high up until the Ph.D. level. Short essays, term papers, and other writing-related tasks can constitute up to 20 to 80 percent of the grade a student receives in an average undergraduate class. As it is, students are under tremendous pressure to churn out several A-grade papers each semester. As the pressure has mounted on students, they have, as always, found innovative ways to get around the problem. Teachers and professors are learning now that more students than they realized are using so-called “essay writing services” to get their work done. These online essay writing services are controversial, and whether they amount to cheating depends on whom you ask.
What Αre Essay Writing Services?
In recent years, online freelancing jobs have skyrocketed. A good majority of these freelancers are writers who offer services on specialty websites like Bid4Papers.com, UnemployedProfessors.com, and PrestoExperts.com. It has come to a point where these sites are reviewed and rated based on different factors to provide users information on which essay writing sites to trust.
Though these services are intended for professionals, like businesses, the affordable service charges have led to many students using them as well. Students hire a freelancer to write an essay for them. The student may provide the classroom material for the freelancer. Other times, the student may submit a draft of the essay that the freelancer perfects for grammar, style, and coherence.
Outsourcing essay writing is cheap and fast. A student can get a reliable essay written as quickly as within 24 hours, which certainly makes last minute cramming easy.
How Students Use Online Essay Writing Services
The reasons that students use these services can vary. It’s possible that the student simply has too much work and hopes to outsource some of the work. Students who are not good writers increasingly turn to these services. Some international students whose native language is not English may also seek these services. The relative ease when it comes to hiring a freelance writer may motivate students only to hire one every time they just don't feel like writing.
Freelance writing services are also popular among undergraduates in the STEM field. Imagine for a second that you are an engineering undergrad who has to write a 5,000-word term paper on Hemingway for English 101. How seriously would you take this task? If you don’t turn in the essay, you will fail the class and ruin your GPA. On the other hand, you simply don’t care enough about Hemingway to write 5,000 words about him. It’s not a lesson that directly relates to your major. So what’s the harm in hiring an essay writer for the task?
There are specific groups of students that are more likely to hire outsiders to do their writing work for them. They include students who don't take their writing assignments seriously, don't think the writing tasks are relevant to them, or aren’t confident about their writing skills.
Are They All That Bad?
Most teachers and professors would say that getting others to do one’s writing is cheating. Some students may not always see it that way. Most essay writers simply make first drafts look nicer for a better grade.
Obviously, online essay writing services can cause some problems in the classroom. First, the students are not doing their writing and never get the chance to improve. They are also presenting someone else's work as their own, which in blunt academic terms means cheating. It's also important to note that the abilities of the freelancers also vary. Some students may rely on freelance writers who can barely write better than them.
But do these reasons call for a blanket ban on freelance writing services? Most likely not. Students can always get around the prohibition for one. On the other hand, disallowing essay writing services may simply be a way of overlooking the real problem — students who cannot or don’t want to write.
Tackling The “Problem”
It’s worth considering whether the problem is the essay writing services or how modern curricula are formed. What makes syllabuses so overwhelming that students end up paying anonymous people on the internet to get their homework done?
Serious academics are measured largely by the writing they do. No one takes a research paper seriously if it's poorly written. Good writing, obviously, is important for certain fields like language and history. However, it's worthwhile reconsidering whether chemists and software engineers need the ability to write like Nabokov to advance in their fields.
Professors and teachers should also consider the standards and the amount of writing work they demand from students in class. The fact that the ability to write is important should be communicated well to the students. This is especially important for the STEM students who don't think it's at all important. If a student is struggling to write, they should be perhaps given extra time to get their work done or provided additional assistance.
Clearly, learning how to write is important for a liberal arts education. Students should not be in a predicament where they need things like online essay writing services. Educators should first address the problems that drive students to essay writing services. When that happens, these services may no longer be sought after by students.
Recently a friend sent me a link to a website called UnemployedProfessors.com. I have written about services like this in an earlier blog post. This site is a regular paper mill, with a twist.
They mock the entire educational system. Here’s a screen shot from their “About Us” page:
In case you can’t read that, the juicy bits say that education is…
“a scam, a charade. Professors can only stay in business if they force students to write essays, within their disciplines, that will do nothing to contribute to their own education or edification… the system spit the professor out the same way it will spit out any student who cannot write his or her own paper on the symbolic significance of baboon mating within the confines of Gramsci’s theory of the sub-altern, or any other mundane matter you might be asked to write about. That’s the endgame – that’s why we’re here.”
That got me thinking, why dowe have students write essays? Is it really because that’s how the system “spit us out” and now we are doing the same to our students? Well, for some instructors, there may be an element of truth there. Some academics and teachers think that things should be done the way they have always been done because that it the tradition.
But really, that’s not good enough.
To me, we don’t ask students to write papers because that’s part of the “scam” of the system, or because our students have to go through what we went through in order to be initiated into the hallowed halls of the university.
We ask students to write papers so they can learn how to write. The topic and content areas are secondary. Knowing how to write cogently and construct a written report that has elements like an introduction, a body and a conclusion is a useful skill to know. It is also useful to know how to construct sentences, form an argument and persuade a reader.
Why? Because when you leave school and get a real job, you may have to write something. A report. A letter. A policy. Whatever. You may need to convince someone that you actually know what you are talking about. You may need to show someone (your boss, for example?) you can string together ideas with some semblance of logic and coherency.
I did a post a while back on the International Adult Literacy Skills Survey that showed that 2% of Canadian-born university graduates scored at the lowest levels of prose literacy. In other words, 2% of folks who are born in this country and who make it through University can barely identify or decode words and numbers. Most seven-year olds can do that. (Check out this post on what the literacy levels of IALSS are.)
If we are focussing on having students write on a particular subject, we are missing the mark. (Pardon the pun). Not only is it more about learning to write well than it is about expounding on any given subject, it is also about learning to take pride in your own work and creation. It is about going through the entire process of creating a piece of research writing from beginning to end.
It’s also not about a grade. If the focus is just on getting a good grade and not on learning, heck, why wouldn’t students use these services?
What would happen if we said to our students, “OK, folks, your grade is based on learning, not just on production, or on completing an inane assignment. Show me what you’ve learned, how you’ve learned and it and why you think it has any relevance at all to the real world.”
How would that change what we do as teachers?
How would it change our students’ view of their assignments?
We don’t make our students write papers so they can learn about “the symbolic significance of baboon mating within the confines of Gramsci’s theory of the sub-altern”. We have students write papers so they can learn the art and craft of writing and more importantly, to “learn about learning” and to learn about themselves as students and human beings. Hopefully they grow and expand their own minds in the process.
If students’ minds aren’t expanding, we are not doing our job.
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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 at 4:30 pm and is filed under education, teaching, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.