Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Schoolwork: Ethics of Posting Essays

My heart and mind is with Boston. Huge thanks to @YourAnonNews for providing incredibly fast news free from the major networks' agendas. In this time of trouble, have a calm an bright song to lift your spirits a bit.

Hi! If you haven't noticed by now, there's this Tag called Schoolwork that I sometimes post under. That's where I put the things I do for my classes that I think are worthy or sharing. Mostly, this means the essays I write for my classes. In a lot of ways, I feel like it should be treated no differently than anything else.

But that's not really the case.

Why is it different? Well, because of the essay piracy environment. For those of you who've never dealt with that particular world, here's a rundown:

* Students get assigned a lot of work. It's to be expected.
* Inevitably, students get assigned essays, given a prompt and told to go write (usually with an approximate length).
* Some students either don't feel confident enough in their own writing ability or are too lazy or "busy" to get it done. They turn instead to having it done for them.
* Most people, when asked, will not write a student's essay for them on command. They don't want to put out the extra work. However, the demand for essays means that sometimes people put the essays they've already written onto the internet, providing our "desperate" students with opportunity to cheat.

This doesn't sound like a big scene - I mean, most students write their own work, right? Well, it's bigger than it sounds. Especially here in university, every single class that writes essays gets to have quite the discussion about Academic Integrity, or not cheating. Submission of essays gets run through a program that scans automatically for plagiarism. I don't know, I've never stolen essays, but they certainly make it sound like a major issue.

So that's all fine and all, but what does it have to do with me? Well, let's look at that last step of the list: "sometimes people put the essays they've already written onto the internet, providing our "desperate" students with opportunity to cheat."
That, unfortunately, sounds like me. I put my essays up, and people are free to cheat off of them. Question is: am I myself breaking Academic Integrity by providing the essays that others could cheat off of? I mean, it's not entirely a question of me being so small-scale that it doesn't matter: literally hundreds of people have viewed my essays. If you Google for place-names essay or german peasants war essay, I'm on the front page, and those aren't hyper-specific topics. If you search Giovanni and Lusanna essay, just any essay about one of the most significant Renaissance cases we know about, I'm the very first link, right on top of two essay piracy links, one of which is about BUYING an essay. I think it's safe to assume that there is decent potential for my essays to be pirated. I've done more than my share of worrying about this stuff - more than you'd think.
But I think I have the ethical high ground here.

The key to it is intention. When you submit your essay to one of those essay piracy sites, it's very clear what you're trying to do: give others your essay, or sell your essay to others. I'm doing neither of those things. On all my recent essays, I disclaim that others are not free to use my content, and I'm not just paying lip service to that. Unlike those sites, I don't welcome cheating.

If my intention is not to provide the essay to others, why on earth am I posting them? A few reasons.
1) First is for feedback. Turns out that however good of a grade I get, I'm not a master. I love to receive feedback, whether it be a simple typo correction or a whole new topic that's related. Knowing anything about writing or any of the topics I've written about makes you invaluable to me. Some fella made a comment on the Pir Inayat Khan essay about how Khan started the Universal Sufism movement, which I didn't know about and led me into a really interesting area, and I'd love to see more stuff like that.
2) Second, I post them for the freedom of information. By that I mean, I'm learning all this cool stuff at university (however much it doesn't feel like it at times), and I think that other people could be improved by also knowing cool stuff. I have no interest in actually becoming a teacher, but I still think that I have that educational mindset. I like sharing knowledge - that's why I write the weekly Pixel Art Lessons, and why I go so far into my design mindset on AvW posts. My schoolwork i just as much for you all to learn as it is for me to improve.
3)  Pride. I work hard on these essays (usually just for one night of hard work, but it still counts) and no one ever gets to see them but my professors! So I put it on the internet to kinda show off that I'm not spending a bajillion dollars on a fancy degree for no reason at all.
4) I confess, I kinda post them to fill space when I'm light on content. Not a good reason to post, but a true one.

I genuinely think that while it's certainly possible for people to come along and steal my essays, I'm in the clear for posting my essays. That's not what they're for.

Thanks for listening to me ramble about all this. At least you got a song out of it.
End Recording,

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