Ed Dante’s revelation about the widespread cheating at colleges doesn’t surprise me all that much. As a student and the youngest of three kids, my siblings have told me plenty of stories of people cheating. However, to school administrators this news was either a bombshell that completely shook up their world or possibly confirmed their worst fears. Administrators sit and lecture at incoming freshman about the honor code and the severe punishments that will ensue if students are caught but clearly the students are now outsmarting the administration. They have found an undetectable way to cheat due to the fact that the work is completely original it’s just someone else’s.
If I were a school administrator I would probably call a faculty meeting first with the English department and then every other subsequent department. My first order of business would not be trying to catch the cheaters but on improving the writing skills of the students. The article clearly states that there is a disconnect between what we expect out of our students and what they are capable of providing. My first idea would be to work with current and incoming students in some sort of writing workshop. In this workshop, students would learn how to make the jump from high school level writing to rigors of college. The longest paper many high school students have ever wrote is five pages long and that’s double-spaced. Telling a student to write anything longer than that will probably cause them to panic. I would use the workshop to teach students how to write these longer papers and help them avoid some of the panic. Another goal of the workshop would be to teach students how to properly cite works as well.
After working with English department specifically I would broaden my approach to the rest of the departments. If I were a person with considerable power in the University I would suggest a radical change. First, for all non-English departments I would tell the teachers put less focus on structure. When a student is given a template it makes them loathe writing and their work often suffers. If students are simply given a prompt and told to write, they will likely provide better, more creative and more interesting work. This will help keep students from dreading these long assignments. I would also get rid of mandatory paper lengths and papers should be graded on how effectively they answer the underlying question. In the real world, most jobs are not looking for a mold but for a unique distinct answer and I think we should foster these values in our students.
While these ideas are different they are not completely unique and they won’t completely fix the problem but it is my hope they change the way students view writing. Making it more interesting will make them more interested, more eager to learn and in the end they would be better writers, more prepared for whatever their future holds.