James has always had interesting things to say about the interwebs and its relationship with the Academe. I found a recent blog post of his, posted today, to be rather insightful.
When students turn to the internet for information, and end up using material that isn’t scholarly in their essays, who is to blame? If the students have been given guidance about where to look, and in particular using databases and scholarly sources, then they must shoulder some, even much, of the blame. But I wonder whether those who present their claims as facts around the web, without sources or citations, without evidence, without acknowledgment of opposing views except perhaps to dismiss and mischaracterize them, ever think about the students whose grades they are likely to harm. I certainly hope that students will write to the people behind some of these sites and complain, when they realize they have been duped, and have as a result received a lower grade than they otherwise might have.
A few semesters ago, in one of my classes, a fellow student would copy, verbatim (link and all), straight from wikipedia and paste in a word document, and submit that as their homework. When such an easy ruse was spotted by the professor, she turned to other websites. I recall at one point, during a discussion on the Roman Republic, for one assignment she had copied, paragraphs at a time (with only slight modifications here and there), a paper on the Roman Empire without even recognizing that there was a difference in the content. We all had a good laugh at her misfortune (if you are that incompetent where you can’t even read the cliffnotes version of the assignment to know which period in history is under discussion, you deserve the ridicule). But this expresses the ease with which information is available.
There are websites where, for a relatively small fee, you can find essays, readily written, for the taking. Students, like the one above, are able to buy homework, at clearly without any concern for the content. What does that say about the state of society? Of our school systems? In this instance, the blame does fall mainly on the student who is taking a short cut to avoid having to learn (which makes no sense since they’re paying, in one fashion of another, for the education…what a waste of money!); but doesn’t the blame also rest on the educators? I believe it does.
I also think this is quite relevant to the current discussion we’ve been having over the redefinition of mythicism. With so much data available, the layperson that lacks the background in history will be unable to sift through all the content, will be limited in the way they judge its validity. Especially when there are other forms of media, like certain programs on the History Channel, which hand out ‘expert’ placards like they were giving candy to children on Halloween. How is the average layman able to determine who is really qualified to speak on a subject? (This might also have some relevance to the debate about accreditation that has been ongoing.)
These questions, along with the answers, have some serious implications which need to be evaluated and discussed by educators and students alike.