By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello
Online sites known as paper mills offer students term papers, reports, or essays – for a fee.
Outsourcing is a dirty little word among many Americans. When companies use cheap labor overseas to make products or perform services it often means those jobs are lost in the United States.
Next up on the outsourcing list? Take a deep breath and read on. America is outsourcing its brains.
According to the Center for Academic Integrity, in the last school year nearly a third of the faculty at its 360 college and high school member institutions reported students downloading term papers, reports or essays written by someone else from online sites known as paper mills.
We counted more than 250 sites selling papers online, so CNN'S Carol Costello went online to buy a term paper from one of them. She asked for a "Premium Quality" paper on Jayson Blair, the former reporter fired by the New York Times for making up stories. Three, double-spaced pages with 5 references (the references added to the cost), totaled $80.97.
The company said it would take a few days.
Watch: Students outsource homework
Costello talked to one writer from an Asian country, who wished to remain anonymous. He says, based on his experience, more than 90% of online term paper buying comes from the United States. "There's a huge demand for academic papers in the United States," he told her. "It's unethical, but you know I come from a Third World country. It's good pay. The temptation was really great."
Much of the time it's an English speaking writer from another country who is writing those term papers. DomainTools tracks Internet traffic to Web sites by nation. Essaywriters.net is one of the most established sites soliciting writers to write these papers. DomainTools says most of the visitors to essaywriters.net are non-Americans.
It breaks down this way:
- Pakistan 28.8%
- India 27.3%
- USA 20.9%
- Philippines 6.5%
- Ukraine 4.2%
- Indonesia 1.8%
While it may seem lucrative for a writer looking for some work, several writers we talked to said essaywriters.net did not pay them for the work they produced. One blog has become a place for writers to read about and exchange information on companies that sell research papers.
Terese Depoy, an Arizona substitute teacher and writer, says she contacted essaywriters.net to make extra cash by doing freelance writing under her pen name, M.J. Joachim. "The big pitch," says Depoy, "was that they...had really strong professional people that needed your services."
But when Depoy received the writing offers, she says she was appalled that it had nothing to do with corporate writing or research. "They're requesting term papers, they're requesting book reports...there were some that had entire course syllabuses for the semester...I was actually embarrassed!" Depoy, who has a daughter in college, chose not to participate. "What it tells me is, we're really dumbing down America. We're lowering the standard of education."
In a statement to CNN, essaywriters.net said "the original writing services that essaywriters.net and affiliates provide are for reference only and are not to be used without properly citing all assistance material. All customers are informed that it is their responsibility to use the reference material responsibly and never claim it as their own work. We hold our customers and writers the highest ethical and academic standards."
There is software designed to catch counterfeit papers. Turnitin is used widely by schools to catch cheating students. Professors who we spoke with said that while Turnitin is pretty good at catching stock term papers sold online, it's not so good at flagging custom papers that paper mills sell to students.
The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) says it caught 600 students cheating in the past year. Most of the students were either copying tests, using crib notes, helping others on tests, or turning in term papers off the Internet. The university is so concerned with the problem that it created a Academic Integrity Office to deal with it.
Tricia Bertram Gallant, the academic integrity coordinator at UCSD, runs a mandatory seminar for the student cheaters. "It's more important to address it when it happens and educate students about why paper mills aren't a good idea for them to use," she says. "It's not just about not getting caught, but it's about not learning how to write."
The paper Costello ordered about Jayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter, came three days later. We decided to run it by American University Journalism Professor John Watson.
Here's the very first sentence in the term paper that we bought:
"The media acting as the eyes of the society ought to practice its role with the highest journalistic ethics possible; feeding the society with information of unquestionable source to perpetuate the credibility and the moral obligation bestowed to it."
Professor Watson's assessment: "The first sentence does not express a coherent thought. Indeed, the entire essay does not show college-level organization or coherency."
The professor's grade for the paper? F (fail)
It may be easier but is it really better to be outsourcing our brains to unknown writers on the Internet?
Originally posted September 4, 2009.
The vast amount of cribbing from classmates and the web - via online coursework banks - has been exposed by new plagiarism detection technology.
Scans of essays against billions of web pages have shown the vast majority of students are submitting some "non-original" work.
And more than one in eight are handing in assignments which are more than 75 per cent the same as material found on the Internet.
But thousands of cases of serious plagiarism are going unpunished as lecturers ignore the results of electronic scanning for fear of becoming mired in red tape or drawing attention to poor teaching, according to experts.
Disciplinary sanctions vary between universities but only a fraction of copycats are ever caught and penalised.
The higher education complaints watchdog warned yesterday that some students can "get away with it" while others are forced to pay for heavily for their cheating with disqualification.
The figures came as a senior academic declared that a "Google generation" of students see nothing wrong with copying other people's work.
Many develop poor habits at secondary school where cutting and pasting directly from the Internet is tolerated or even encouraged.
The warning came yesterday at a conference in Gateshead where university chiefs are meeting to discuss the latest techniques for cracking down on the growing problem of campus plagiarism.
The increasing publication of written work on the Internet including readymade essays has led to fears that copying - either deliberate or inadvertent - is now common.
The trend has prompted universities and colleges across the country to introduce electronic sleuthing services in order to trap determined plagiarists and act as a deterrent.
Most use "Turnitin" software, which checks work against more than 4.5 billion web pages before producing an "originality report" revealing what percentage of a paper matches Internet material.
Results of checks using the software and similar programmes show that almost all student assignments contain some matching text.
It will not be considered cheating if phrases are properly referenced.
However even students with relatively small readings - indicating low plagiarism - may have taken text verbatim without attribution.
One study of 650 first-year students at South Bank University revealed how more than 90 per cent registered on the "non-originality" scale after essays were scanned against a checking system.
Twenty per cent had submitted work which was more than 50 per cent the same as other material.
Meanwhile 13 per cent of 30,000 papers checked using Turnitin over three months last year were found to be 75 per cent the same as archive material.
Jude Carroll, a leading plagiarism expert at Oxford Brookes University, said cases had doubled year-on-year at her institution over the past six years.
But she said copying was still going unpunished at the university and others around the country as some academics "turn a blind eye".
The electronic checking services often required lecturers' own input to determine how much of the copied material was properly attributed.
Many found it easier to downplay the seriousness of the cribbing rather than "blow the whistle" and face a backlash from students.
Between 62 and 73 per cent of lecturers at an unnamed institution were unwilling to report plagiarism, according to a Napier University study.
Similar research from Hertfordshire University reported: "There is anecdotal evidence of staff choosing to ignore cases of misconduct where the time and effort involved exceeds the perceived benefits of operating the prescribed procedure."
Lecturers are desperate to avoid lawsuits or drawing attention to poor teaching practices.
The result is that students may consider plagiarism to be a "small risk", according to a separate research paper from the Open University and Manchester Metropolitan.
Meanwhile Dame Ruth Deech, the higher education complaints adjudicator, warned that universities could be open to legal challenges because penalties for plagiarism varied so widely across the country.
"Some of these differences seem to us quite indefensible."
Professor Sally Brown, pro vice-chancellor at Leeds Metropolitan University, said youngsters brought up in the Internet age "don't necessarily recognise the concepts of authorships or ownerships".
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