The Death of the Term Paper

A Washington Post article suggests that “the term paper is dead”. (Link via Slashdot.) The author basically suggests that plagiarism is rampant and there’s nothing educators can do about it, so we should switch to in-class methods of evaluation.

I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I can’t help but agree that in-class writing would reduce plagiarism. On the other hand, at-home paper writing is one of the few times in a classroom experience that students can really cut loose and write about (practically) whatever they want. If it weren’t for open-ended term papers, I wouldn’t have been able to write about comic books in my undergraduate courses. Knowing that I could get away with doing things that actually interest me in academia is what convinced me to continue on this career path.

Is there a way to make a curriculum cheater-resistant but also stimulating for motivated students?

2 thoughts on “The Death of the Term Paper

  1. I wonder how the digital ago has affected our ability to detect plagarism… In other words, is it possible that part of the marked increase in plagarism is due to our enhanced ability to detect it automatically? (e.g. by Googling). Clearly plagarism is “easy” when you can download reports online… But if someone wanted to plagarize 20 years ago (for a term paper), all they had to do was transcribe sections from some textbook that the teacher would never ever find.

    Anyways, to answert your question about cheater-resistance… Maybe the “take-home projects” should be tied to in-class presentations or interviews? Or maybe students should be given in-class examinations based on the content of their term papers?

  2. I think this article is incredibly short sighted idea that isn’t even very well defended. I think plagiarism is more rampant because of these ease of copying materials from the internets, but plagiarism runs a spectrum from students who download their work from apaper mill to sutdents who are not citing apropriately. Teachers need to adjust what types of way they evaluate student work and consider how they assign papers. I recall a Japanese History class in which I was asked to respond to a very specific questions comparing components of two texts, I went to the internet to find additional resources in preparation for my pare, but the first 10 pages of the were paper mills advertising for that specific assignment as it was clearly a very generic assignment concept used by many schools/classes. I think focus on in class evaluation is extremely shot sight both because I think in class evaluation methods fail; to provide necessary depth, and for failing to prepare students for the reality that writing papers is the backbone of academia.

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