Instead of wringing our hands about this, let’s do something?

Among the greatest challenges facing educational authorities around the world and teachers (lecturers), today are probably those of academic integrity and student resolve. Now in terms of plagiarism, I genuinely feel that this is a battle we, the educators, cannot win. Whether it is through purchasing an academic project online from an African-based academic ‘mill’ operation or that has been written by a third party in a small, sweaty office in South Asia for a nominal fee, doesn’t really matter. The people who produce this work are very articulate and intelligent, and they are either doing it to survive, or to make money. Either way, they are intensely motivated, and very good at what they do. Trying to discredit such work takes more time, energy and goodwill than you can imagine.
The second form of plagiarism the sector encounters is when students attempt to produce an academic project via ‘cut and paste.’ Today, technology has gone past even plagiarism checkers such as Turnitin, Duplichecker and PlagChecker, to the extent that the technologies of the ‘dark side,’ now even paraphrase prior research and writing, thus eliminating the most effective barriers against plagiarism. It can take many hours of painstaking work to manually check all the content of a project that appears out of sync with a student’s other academic contributions, and for what?
My belief is strongly that in this day and age, with technologies as they are, the deceptive practices so freely and easily available to students, and the fact that academia is not strengthened by academic diligence, but worn down by its need. The education sector must be more expansive in its view of what constitutes academic integrity, and where it starts and ends. What we have at the moment is a process that doesn’t appear to benefit the students in preparation for life after university, doesn’t appear to benefit academic project supervisors who are left frustrated, disappointed, and over-worked, and society, because this element of education rarely contributes positively to communities or society.
So few students will go on to be doing academic research that the practice of requiring all of them to complete graduate student projects is a distraction, rather than a preparation for life beyond university, or higher academic achievement. The percentage of students who will go on to complete research in science, the arts, education, engineering and health is actually miniscule, the topics of graduate project ‘research’ are often facile and meaningless, so where is there ‘value’ for all of the many stakeholders in the process.
Rather than graduate students being required to complete a research project of ten thousand words, why don’t we look instead at a concept with greater community and society value? We could have students write discussion papers of a thousand words about community issues that are relevant to their life experiences. Taking a single aspect of their life that could be improved and discussing/developing/suggesting improvements for it. The topics could be limitless.
Here in Oman for example, the time is right to create a government department that will clearly reflect His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik’s desire to listen to the youth generation, and have a central database of common-format discussion papers by students on matters that concern and affect their communities and societies. These writings could be available to genuine researchers, and government departments through the web, and could be also used by students to demonstrate their capabilities to future employers. It may make them feel heard!
There are lots of issues to discuss, but instead of just complaining, I’m offering the germ of a solution that appears, at least to me, to have a truckload of upsides, and very little in the way of negatives.
And just to finish on a less serious note: I sent my best wishes for International Women’s Day to a young woman who replied with absolute quality. “Thank you so much for the sweet words.
Starting tomorrow you can enjoy the 364 men’s days’’.