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Ghostwritten Essays and the Problem of Cheating

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My father-in-law is a college professor. He teaches English and Drama, and in his many years behind the podium, he's seen -- and caught -- just about every form of cheating you can imagine. Whole papers copy-pasted from the encyclopedia, or more recently, Wikipedia. Papers he remembers, word for word, that had been turned previously in by students in semesters past. His school pays for anti-cheating software that can detect when large chunks of an essay have been copied, unattributed, from another source, but one thing neither software or, often times, a professor, can detect with any regularity is whether a student is paying someone to write their essays for them.

I didn't realize how pervasive this problem was until I read this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. It's written by a fellow, using the pseudonym "Ed Dante," who spent close to a decade as a writer-for-hire, working for a "custom essay company." But, he writes, "I'm planning to retire. I'm tired of making your students look competent."

A custom essay can cost upwards of $2,000 -- more if it's a rush job. What I found really staggering, though, was that his services went way beyond just writing the occasional essay assignment. In his own words:

I have become a master of the admissions essay. I have written these for undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs, some at elite universities. I can explain exactly why you're Brown material, why the Wharton M.B.A. program would benefit from your presence, how certain life experiences have prepared you for the rigors of your chosen course of study.

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

He's also written graduate thesis papers, completed entire courses online and participated in online "class discussions," fabricated emails to teachers and professors, and on and on. (The people he does the most work for? Students completing degrees in education. Yep: the future teachers and professors of America.)

He details at length a 75-page paper on business ethics (seriously) that he wrote for a young woman in business school. He prints some of the panicked emails he received from her during the process, and they are, if nothing else, shocking. Here's a sampling:

"did u get the sorce I send

please where you are now?

Desprit to pass spring projict"

He wrote the 75-page paper for his client in two days. He got this response:

"Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:

"'The hypothesis is interesting but I'd like to see it a bit more focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.'

"What shoudwe say?"

So he becomes a kind of permanent ghostwriter for this student, and crafts emails to the professor, and finally, a 160-page thesis paper based on the original essay. His client's response, finally was this: "thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now".

Personally, I don't quite know what to think about this. Is it a symptom of living in a society that demands a college education of almost all its higher-paid citizens? Proof that college isn't, and shouldn't be, for everyone? Or is it moral bankruptcy and free market economics and busy professors who turn a blind eye? Because how could this professor, who almost certainly had face-to-face meetings with this student, and perhaps exchanged emails with her, not realize that this person was incapable of stringing together a coherent paragraph? Wouldn't a simple oral defense of the thesis have exposed her cheating?

You would think so. But Dante closes with this:

I work hard for a living. I'm nice to people. But I understand that in simple terms, I'm the bad guy. I see where I'm vulnerable to ethical scrutiny. But pointing the finger at me is too easy. Why does my business thrive? Why do so many students prefer to cheat rather than do their own work? Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat.

You know what's never happened? I've never had a client complain that he'd been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken. As far as I know, not one of my customers has ever been caught.

So what to do?

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A Simple Way to Charge Your iPhone in 5 Minutes
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Spotting the “low battery” notification on your phone is usually followed by a frantic search for an outlet and further stress over the fact that you may not have time for a full charge. On iPhones, plugging your device into the wall for five minutes might result in only a modest increase of about three percent or so. But this tip from Business Insider Tech may allow you to squeeze out a little more juice.

The trick? Before charging, put your phone in Airplane Mode so that you reduce the number of energy-sucking tasks (signal searching, fielding incoming communications) your device will try and perform.

Next, take the cover off if you have one (the phone might be generating extra heat as a result). Finally, try to use an iPad adapter, which has demonstrated a faster rate of charging than the adapter that comes with your iPhone.

Do that and you’ll likely double your battery boost, from about three to six percent. It may not sound like much, but that little bit of extra juice might keep you connected until you’re able to plug it in for a full charge.

[h/t Business Insider Tech]

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]

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