Sunday, October 16, 2005

Free Student Papers -- For Teachers

We all know that there are plenty of term paper sites out there. You practically trip over them. The first impulse is to warn students against using them and to worry that they will use them. When I'm teaching, I find a more useful impulse is to use them for my own ends.

If you go, for example, to Schoolsucks.com, you'll find plenty of student papers. Here are two ways to use a site like this:
  1. See if the paper topic you want to assign is heavily represented. If it is, you might consider changing it. For example, there are plenty of papers on King Lear, most of them fairly traditional: loyalty in; role of the fool; evolution of drama. Now those may all be important things for a writer to consider, but are there other ways to get your students to consider them without going the traditional route? Compare loyalty in Lear to something contemporary; perhaps there's a recent op. ed. on loyalty in the Bush administration you can assign your students to read?

  2. The papers in schoolsucks are usually typical student writing -- average at best and often not even that good. As such, they provide writing which can be used for any number of purposes: tutor training in a writing center; Writing Across the Curriculum workshops; instructor training on how to respond to writing for those new to teaching; and my favorite, coaching students on being peer reviewers for one another.
If you're going to use these papers to lead your students to being more confident peer reviewers, here's one way to go about it.
  1. Find an essay that you want to work from, one which, based on your knowledge of your students, matches or falls a bit below the writing you're seeing.
  2. Take a portion of the essay and share it. In a face-to-face class, I like to print the essay on blank transparency sheet so I can project it on a whiteboard. In an online class, I post the portion to a discussion board or distribute it via email or might use a blog.
  3. Tell students that the writing comes from a student, but not anyone in the class. Don't say where it's from yet. A simple, "here's some student writing from another class, what do you notice about it?" will usually begin to elicit a range of comments. Some will be on grammar and punctuation of course, but many will be about how something in the writing is or is not working. Students will point out where writing became vague or confusing or hard to follow.
  4. You'll be surprised --and your students will be pleasantly surprised-- by how astute their insights can be. Make note of the good comments coming in from the students, how well they can describe a piece of writing's strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Ask the students to revise the piece for the larger order concerns the class has identified -- what would you do differently. In a F2F this is where the white board is useful. Students can come up to the front and line edit --crosswords out, insert new sentences between the lines, write on the side. Or they can be asked to make suggestions.
After steps 1 - 5, let students know where you found the paper. Show them where you found the paper -- take a screenshot of the paper as it appeared to you in the term paper mill site. Or, if you're online, link to it. The point is not to show students the way to a term paper mill site -- they'll know how to find those just as you did. You're not teaching them about these things. Instead, you're showing them that you know about those sites.

You also show your students that the writing at those sites isn't very good.

But mainly, you can point out to your students that they are good readers, and that they know how to analyze writing and how to recommend useful changes for a writer or how to make them directly (for their own writing). Students often don't know they have these abilities, just as they don't often think that you have the ability to find scammed papers. You get a lot of useful lessons taught from going to a term paper mill first and turning these sites into something that you can use.

6 Comments:

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Ryan Jerving said...

Probably the greatest irony here is that using the School Sucks papers in the pedagogically sound way that you suggest would, in itself, tread on this paper mill's intellectual property rights.

You'll notice an announcement at the bottom of their page that reads: "Copyright 1996 - 2005 School Sucks. All Rights Reserved." And its clear that this is meant to protect more than the design/content of the site. At the bottom of the results page when you do a paper search (here's mine for the topic of "intellectual property"), you'll see the following announcement:

"ALL REPORTS ARE *OWNED* BY THE PAPER STORE ENTERPRISES, INC AND MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT PROPER ATTRIBUTION TO T.P.S. AS THE ORIGINAL SOURCE."

This claim to copyright makes a neat trick. It covers T.P.S. in relation to plagiarism charges--and you can tell your students that not only would they be breaking university policy, but federal law as well in this case if they plagiarized.

But it also makes what strikes me as a very odd assertion of exlusionary ownership over what otherwise purports to be an open source, peer-to-peer network, "gift" economy database of work by and for students. The student who submits a paper to School Sucks may think they are selflessly contributing to a kind of public domain, but in reality they are making a royalty-free donation to a for-profit company. If the student were to try to use that paper later--to publish it themselves, for example--they could be sued. (Granted, this is how academic publishing works, too, so at least they're learning something from us!)

With respect to using School Sucks papers in face-to-face or online teaching, I probably overstated my paranoid case above. You'd/we'd likely be safe under the terms of fair use and the educational exemption, and this is probably even true for online courses (under the recent TEACH Act), though it may make your administrators nervous (notice how the educational exemption section gets down to five very anxious sub-levels of arcane detail on distance learning).

In any case, I thought your strategy of recognizing the existence of paper mills, and then responding to them in ways that engaged the students as scholars, peers, and writers was an excellent way to go.

 
At 9:42 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Ryan,

I wondered a bit this --not too hard, but I wondered. I think since one of the things Schoolsucks.com says about their papers is that they are for "study," then this kind of use is consistent with the permission implied in what they claim to be the papers to be for.

So they reserve all rights, but then give some back in their mission statement.

But the fun thing is using them in a kind of pedagogical judo, shifting the weight of their reason for being and using it against them.

Glad you liked that idea.

 
At 2:36 PM, Anonymous ryan jerving said...

Exactly right. And take that self-reflexivity to the next level by showing the results for School Sucks essays on "plagiarism." For example, "Acts of Plagiarism and How to Avoid Them" offers a three page discussion "[e]mphasizing the ease in which plagiarism can occur in the presence of electronic sources such as those available on the World Wide Web," in which "the author stresses the societal retributions which are in place for plagiarism and offers advice on how to avoid such ethical breaches."

Anyone else feeling dizzy?

 
At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a ninth grader at a small public high school, and I am very shocked to see some of the people I know use schoolsucks.com for their papers.

My question is, how do these people live with themselves? They portray a message to kids and everyone that plagiarism is cool and fun instead of being stupid and illegal.

There is instructions on the page and at the end, it says: "Most Importantly- DON'T GET CAUGHT"

I do not know how these people SLEEP at night knowing they are helping people everywhere to commit crimes and even make it sound like it is a GOOD thing.

These people make me sick...

 
At 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course plagiarism is cool! Nobody cares about school anyway! People should just plagiarize, or do a perfunctory job on school and homework, and then go about their lives and be happy. Students don't have a conscience about those kinds of things, because they are just trying to pass a boring assignment from a straight-laced old bitch or bastard of a teacher who can't relate to the generation of youth and will do so any way they see fit. And besides, plagiarism could be a compulsion. Have some compassion for those who struggle with it! Personally, I am glad to see kids plagiarize. I wish computers were around when I was in school. Then I wouldn't have had to do all the work of plagiarizing from library books! Thank God I'm no longer in school! I hated my teachers and continue to hate and disrespect them, as well as modern teachers with horrible attitudes directed at students. I hate cynical, bitchy, ageist teachers. Students don't CARE if they are being dishonest when it comes to school, and why this is should come to no surprise. This doesn't imply that students are GENERALLY dishonest. Most will not plagiarize in the practical world. I am fortunate to have been born of wealth. Like myself, many well-to-do individuals have never even graduated high school! I just couldn't endure it and couldn't wait to leave, and so I did so prematurely. I sincerely hope to set a decent example for high schoolers everywhere who are subject to ridiculous propaganda, including this and against something as benign as substance "abuse." Drugs are a different rant altogether. Don't even get me started.

 
At 2:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok. One= guys settle down. We all know kids are going to cheat. And so are adults. Everyone always cheats. And don't freak out and say that these kids are setting a bad example. You are not going to see these kids robbing banks any time soon. It is their choice to cheat. If they wanna cheat their selves out of it fine. Let them. And you guys seriously spent this long looking up stuff to rant on this website?! Just leave them alone!

 

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