17 July 2011

Thwarting the Shadow Scholar

Many of the academics I work with are very concerned about issues of plagiarism and academic dishonesty amongst their students. Many of their students speak English as a second or foreign language. These international students often struggle with everyday conversational interaction, let alone the difficulties associated with studying at a tertiary level in a borrowed language. The standard of English required by the institution of foreign students is quite low (an IELTS score of 6.5). Then there are the native speakers who just don’t know how to write, or to argue a case, or are apparently unfamiliar with academic discourse.

My academic colleagues know that at least some of these students submit work that isn't their own. They are concerned about the issue, and struggle - at times - to find a solution.

These academics fear most the paper mills manned by people like the Shadow Scholar, who took the time recently to outline his life and his contribution to higher education. For me, though, he isn’t the biggest threat to higher education. As I see it, the biggest threats are all the factors that prevent committed university teachers from implementing the solutions outlined by Mark Bauerlein – problems like under-funding, a high student:teacher ratio, poor teaching skills amongst university academics, a focus on disciplinary content at the expense of generic skills of communication, argument, synthesis, evaluation, and judgement, lack of institutional recognition of good teaching in the academic promotion game – those kinds of things.

“It’s simple, really,” Bauerlein says, “but laborious.”

Hmm-mm – sounds like good, solid, well-resourced, committed teaching to me. Now, if only there were more respect for that ...

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