Whose work is it anyway?

When I started teaching, lo those many years ago, I knew there were some aspects of the job I wouldn’t be fond of: the pay, the occasional whiny student,  and sometimes, the papers I had to correct — especially when these papers piled into mountains by my desk, on my desk, on the chair and on the floor near my desk.

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The pressure to return those papers in a timely fashion added to my stress. Not only did some students nag, I knew students couldn’t improve on their future work without seeing how they had done on their past work. Don’t get me wrong: students should expect papers back in a reasonable amount of time. You, and your parents, are paying good money for my services, and I should provide them. Read that again: I should provide them.

What I discovered from last spring’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education is that some professors (hopefully not at Emerson) don’t have the time or inclination to correct their papers because their classes are too big or they’d rather spend their time on research or with students in the classroom.

Who wouldn’t? That’s the fun stuff. So they’re outsourcing their papers — not to their TAs, because even they can’t handle the workload — but to where most outsourcing goes: to Asia.

If I can’t handle my workload, I can hire Virtual-TA, a subsidiary of EduMetry, Inc., in Virginia to help me. According to its website, the company trains many Masters and PhDs in multiple subjects to correct papers using rubrics — something else I detest. Writing should be original, not written to a rubric. Both websites made me want to puke as a parent and a professor.

As a parent, I assume when my daughter signs up for particular teachers, they’ll be correcting her papers — not someone who doesn’t know what she looks like.

Students select teachers based on reputations they garner from past classes. They want to hear what their professors have to say in front of their class and on their papers.

As a professor, I’m nauseated. I correct my students’ papers. Maybe my students don’t always like what I have to say, and maybe I don’t always like doing it, but it’s part of my job description, and I do it even when I’d rather be doing other work or watching TV with my family. Generally, I enjoy reading those papers when I have the time and the mountains aren’t too high.

It’s not clear that only those who teach large classes are using these resources, but if classes are so big, and instructors are that overwhelmed, maybe colleges and universities should rethink class size so teachers can deliver on what they promised their constituents.

Professors, however, aren’t the only ones who are stressed. Students are too. Part of my responsibility is to model what I consider appropriate behavior. If I started outsourcing my work because I either have too much or I just don’t want to do it, would I then be encouraging you, the students, to outsource your work as well? According to the author of “The Shadow Scholar,” an article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed in November of last year, this kind of outsourcing is also a rising trend.

The author of that article is the one providing the services.  Writing under a pseudonym, he says he’s written thousands of application essays, theses, finished online courses in numerous subjects, and no one would be able to detect his work in a classroom because it’s all original.

Why go to school if you don’t want to take risks, improve, and see what you can learn in a classroom? It’s a colossal waste of time, energy, and money if you don’t put in the effort. Why do it? The only answer I can imagine is that students feel so much pressure these days to excel at everything, that they can’t run the risk of getting less than a perfect grade, let alone fail a class. So some outsource.

I thought the point of college, however, was to experiment, to see what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at, what you like and what you don’t like. I took a history class in college, and trust me, that’s not my subject. I got less than a stellar grade, and I’m not talking a B either. Even at Emerson, where students often don’t have the opportunity to take courses outside their major, you can still experiment within your major or even within a class.

What’s going to happen to students who don’t take risks and choose to outsource their work? What will they do when they graduate? How are they going to explain to their new bosses that they really aren’t as smart as they appear on paper?  “Oh sorry Mr./Ms. Boss, I didn’t really earn that A. My ghostwriter got it for me.”

Regardless of the ethical issues around outsourcing, I’m mainly just sad. I’m sad that higher education is turning into a weird business where overworked teachers would even consider outsourcing, not just to TAs but to people who don’t even work in their schools. And, I’m especially sad some students are so stressed, that they’re not in school for the journey, but just for that glorious A — any way possible.