Assessment: More 'go make it' and Less 'go find it'

 Sharon Flynn presented a lively, interactive workshop on plagiarism at last week'sCELT Conference on teaching and learning.  She started by giving a tour of essay mills and bespoke writing service websites.  There is a preying, vampirish feel to these sites and the 'writers' who live there.  I can't imagine this being an occupation of choice - though we were reminded of the Chronicle of Higher Education profile of just such a ghostwriter who claimed to 'live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created'.  

I was struck by the 'reality distortion field' they create in their communication with prospective student clientele. On the one hand they blatantly offer to do the work of researching and writing the assignment to the exact requirements of the student - right down to the preferred grade and writing style.  On the other hand they advise that their output should not be submitted as finished work and is only intended to support the student's own effort.  


At times, you find yourself almost being convinced that maybe this arrangement is reasonable. It's easy to imagine a young, inexperienced, over-worked student being tempted by these promises of quality work - not realising they are transgressing 'the rules'.  If, in response, we emphasise these rules and regulations of academia to our students - over the meaningful and powerful work of writing well - are we creating another monster? 

A fellow attendee, suggested that a useful approach to counter this effect, might be to build assignments that have a real-world component to them.  Or as Paulo Freire put it: "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it".  I agreed and shared a story of a student in my Database class who recently submitted a project for a deadline.  The following week he submitted another draft, because he had made further improvements, after getting feedback from his workplace colleagues.  There was no credit for this extra work.  It was a heartening display of agency and praxis. How do we create these assessment spaces where students take that kind of pride in their work?

Sharon provided a number of other very useful and practical approaches to designing plagiarism out of the learning process - best summarised by one of her slide post-its which read:

More 'go make it' and Less 'go find it'  

Can we create assessment spaces where students are supported and encouraged to be critically engaged producers - not consumers?  I think we can - and education will all the richer for it.  

The workshop turned into a very lively discussion among attendees - so we got a great variety of perspectives from different disciplines.  Turning a presentation into a discussion is the hallmark of a great presenter.  


Thanks Sharon!

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