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Faculty urged to raise their students' awareness of academic integrity

In addition to promoting plagiarism, homework companies provide poor products
March 26, 2015
Leslie Reid, associate dean (teaching and learning) in the Faculty of Science, decided to find out what online writers-for-hire companies are selling students. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Leslie Reid, associate dean (teaching and learning) in the Faculty of Science, decided to find out what online writers-for-hire companies are selling students. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Online businesses promoting research paper and essay writing services to students are getting bolder. As recently as February, business cards for one such company were found on the seats of the University of Calgary’s larger lecture halls. With claims such as “You will NOT get in trouble” and “You will NOT be caught” — as seen on one website — companies like these target students around times of greater stress like mid-terms and finals.

The University of Calgary Calendar defines plagiarism as “submitting or presenting work as if it were the student’s own work when it is not. Any ideas or materials taken from another source written, electronic, or oral must be fully and formally acknowledged.” Many of these companies imply through their advertising that if their writers-for-hire are not plagiarizing material in the paper or essay product they deliver, neither is the student who hands it in as his or her own work.

Lynn Taylor is the vice-provost (teaching and learning) and her research interests include academic integrity. “Our course outlines include a required statement on plagiarism but the message needs to be reinforced as each assessment is introduced. What students really need to understand is that by purchasing these types of products, they are committing academic misconduct as well as compromising their own integrity and cheating themselves out of the value of that learning experience.”

What one 'student' purchased for $110

If students aren’t getting the message about academic integrity, it can be argued that in addition to committing plagiarism by handing in purchased work, they’re doing it with a poorly written product.

Leslie Reid, associate dean of teaching and learning in the Faculty of Science, decided to investigate one of these companies by placing an order just as a student would. She requested a 1,500-word essay written at a second-year university level. “The essay was for a case study, compare-and-contrast assignment that explored similarities and differences between five innovations presented in a course I’m teaching on inventions. I also sent the company detailed grading rubrics for the essay’s content and ideas as well as its organization and grammar.”

She had to pre-pay $110 for the essay — and it would have earned her a failing grade.

“It was bad,” says Reid, “and clearly written by someone who wasn’t taking the course. If anyone in my class had actually handed this in, red flags would have gone up and I’d be having a conversation with that student.”

A technical writer who reviewed the paper for Reid found 42 instances of incorrect grammar and punctuation and wrong word usage. In addition, the four images provided in the essay weren’t credited and there were no citations for any of the information put forth in the paper.

“The writing was just very poor,” says Reid. “There were several sentences that didn’t make any sense and the arguments the writer made for commonalities and differences between the inventions were superficial at best. I think my favourite section — and not in a good way — was the 65-word run-on sentence that really didn’t say anything.”

Writing support available on campus

Lynn Taylor urges all faculty to discuss the use of these companies and plagiarism with their students. “There are serious consequences to students’ academic careers when they’re caught handing in work that they didn’t create — despite any claims these companies make.”

“It’s also important to remind our students, particularly those struggling with writing assignments and meeting deadlines, what resources they can access on campus,” she adds.

Students can access valuable learning resources provided by University of Calgary librarians. In addition, the Student Success Centre offers writing support to students through one-on-one appointments, drop-in consultations and workshops. The SSC is located on the third floor of the Taylor Family Digital Library.

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