Written work and essay mills


Sir, – I agree with Colum Kenny’s assessment that legislation is unlikely to be of any great value in tackling the problem of plagiarism but I do not agree that only written exams can stop the problem (“Written exams would stump internet cheats”, Opinion & Analysis, May 19th). 

I’ve taught corporate responsibility to master’s-level students for over 13 years in various institutions. Plagiarism is, in my experience, far from endemic but it is a problem among a small percentage of students and has the potential to undermine the value of an educational institution’s awards. As Colum Kenny says, it damages the fundamental concept of fairness in assessment.

I have found automated plagiarism detection systems to be merely a tool to aid diagnosis; it still requires hyper-vigilance in the teacher to detect offending assignments. Knowing your students well is useful as it can be clear when a piece of work does not match the “voice” of the student, but with increased class sizes at third level, this may not be practical.

There are other approaches to assessment that can help ensure that students are learning rather than just copying and pasting. Assessment by presentation, including questioning by the lecturer, offers good insights into the research done by a student and their understanding of the material. That takes time to schedule and attend, but takes a lot less time than trying to track if something is copied and then arranging meetings to discuss potential plagiarism with a student.

It is also still important that students can produce a good piece of written work, so we cannot afford to get rid of this form of assessment. Setting assignments that ask for discussion of a particular problem or that ask for the application of research to a specific situation are less likely to have appropriate sources available on the internet to be copied.

Exams have their uses but it is possible to design other forms of assessment that can help us deal with this issue and ensure we are delivering high-quality education. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.