Should educators really be shocked at Ed Dante’s stories of widespread cheating? As a current student, and being the youngest of three, none of what Ed Dante said even remotely surprised me. While I cannot speak for school administrators, I hope this article has opened up their eyes. Administrators lecture incoming freshman about the honor code and the severe punishments that will ensue if students are caught cheating, but clearly the students do so anyway under the noses of administrators. While some faculty members are naive and think that simply stopping Ed Dante or similar ghostwriters will solve the problem, the problem is more deeply rooted. Administrators need to look beyond punishing the students and look toward preventing cheating in the first place. Students are lacking the skills they need to succeed, and I believe that schools, especially colleges and universities, should be stepping up to fill this prominent gap.
To tackle this problem, a university would need widespread commitment from every department on campus. Their first order of business should be to improve the writing skills of their students. The article clearly states that there is a serious disconnect between what universities expect from their students and what students are capable of providing. My first idea for university administrations would be to work with current and incoming students in a mandatory writing workshop. In this workshop, students would learn how to make the jump from high school level writing to college writing standards. In high school, many students are not taught or expected to write papers that exceed five pages. Telling a student to write anything longer than that would seem overwhelming. A workshop could be used to teach students how to write lengthier papers with substance and help them avoid some of the initial panic associated with the task. It could also offer clear guidelines detailing how to organize such writing assignments. Another goal of the workshop would be to teach students how to properly cite works as well, in multiple formats that might be required at the institution.
The next order of business would be to work with all of the other departments. Some radical changes can be made to help students regain interest in writing if there is a cooperative effort. First, for all non-English departments I would tell the instructors to place less emphasis on structure. When a student is given a strict template, it undermines ownership of the writing process, 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 students feel a connection to their writing and keep them from dreading long assignments. I would also suggest eliminating mandatory paper lengths. Papers should be graded on how effectively they answer the underlying question. In the real world, most employers are not looking for a mold but for a unique and distinct approach to answering questions or developing ideas, and I think we should foster this way of thinking in our students.
While these reforms may not eradicate all forms of cheating, I think they would make for a positive first step in changing how students view writing tasks. Developing skills, practicing those skills, and having some ownership of the process will make them better writers, and less severe structure will also evoke more interest in their writing. An absolute remedy for cheating will possibly never be found, but clearly new methods need to be tried for students to be able to confidently and effectively complete writing assignments independently, without seeking outside help that actually robs them of much needed skill development.