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Columbia Missourian

DAVID ROSMAN: Online cheating devalues education

By David Rosman
December 5, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

I am not technophobic!

As we head toward the plethora of winter celebrations, Muharram, Chanukah, winter solstice, Christmas and the western New Year's, I am stuck on stories that seem to have disappeared from our collective radars — the end of the world, student ethics and Internet-based learning.

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OK, the first might seem relatively important, but how much faith do we really have in the Mayan calendar’s last day? Is the world going to end Dec. 21? And if it does, who would be left to care?  Morbid, I know, but true.

It is the education of our future leaders of business and government that causes me to pause and wonder if American exceptionalism has indeed reached its evolutionary downturn. It is my concern that a great part of this loss of being “first in everything” is due to our businesses' and universities' myopic vision of the future — all technology all of the time.

I know that this will put me in a hot seat with the Web-based leaning leaders, but we have forgotten what college is supposed to produce — graduates with superior intellectual and ethical skills. If the companies are happy with the products, they will seek more and the institutions will grow and prosper. Basic college economics.

The end product is the true missions of higher education — not to teach a specific skill, but to teach students how to ask questions, to think and listen critically, to maintain superior interpersonal skills and self-esteem, and loftier ethical judgment. These are not skills that can be taught in a realm where people are encouraged to isolate themselves from the world and handed the means to cheat.

Why is this coming up at the end of the fall term? Because of an email I received.

The opening line seemed pretty straight forward, “We are College Report Source, the Internet’s premier source for tutors.” Unfortunately, they do not conduct tutoring in the true sense of the word. What they do offer is cheating.

College Report Source, along with its brethren, do three things that are at best questionable, at worse the encouragement of cheating. Its “associates” will write an applicant’s college admission paper, a student’s term or research paper, and/or offer to complete one’s online class, all for a hefty fee.

And College Report Source is not the only company offering these services. BoostMyGrades.com, onlineclasshelpers.com, professionalessay.com, and oh so many others.

For how much? I was quoted prices starting at $800 for someone to take a computer class on my behalf. A 30-page paper on “Descartes and Spinoza references to God” will start at $750. The top price for the paper was a bit over $1,100. For the class, $1,500. Not bad if cheating were acceptable.

All of the “services” tell the student that papers would be run through various programs, including Google, TurnItIn.com and WriteCheck.com, to eliminate any possible signs of plagiarism. Some misspellings and grammatical errors will be kept to fool the instructor. There are even guarantees of “advanced” grades.

No matter how it is done, these services of cheating will produce a poor graduate and any advantage American colleges have in the world of education will suffer.

Worse, the colleges and universities are unwittingly encouraging students to cheat by endorsing online programs over in-seat learning, leaving them unsupervised, permitting most improprieties to remain unchecked.

Online cheating services are not the only culprits. Nicholas Carr speculated in the London Telegraph “How the Internet is making us stupid.” In his essay, Carr suggests that a “growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.”

Stanford University’s Gerald Crabtree wrote in the scientific journal Trends in Genetics that evolution may be a cause of making us less than our hunter-gatherer ancestors because we are no longer use our brains to their fullest capacity, to survive day-to-day living.

Want proof? Ask the college kid behind any retail counter to count back your change — without the computer.

When used properly, the Internet and computers are wonderful things. It is unfortunate that our institutes of higher education encourage artificial intelligence to the real thing and cheating to true educational ethics.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.