I think I’m going to be sick…

Someone just followed me on Twitter and their username intrigued me, so I looked at their profile. Absolutely no offence is intended to that person, who I’m sure is delightful and honorable and all the rest. But when I saw the company they worked for, I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve heard of private tutors, of course, and I’m all for that. What I didn’t know (I can be so naive sometimes)  is that there are companies out there who will actually do your homework for you! I don’t mean they’ll help you to understand the subject so that you can do it, I mean that their websites are quite explicit that they’ll do the work and all you have to do is hand it in!

How sick is that? You can buy the answer without actually having to go to the trouble of learning anything; get a good coursework mark without it actually meaning anything. And the companies make it sound like such cheating and deceit is perfectly reasonable.

“Be sure that math assignments completed by our experts will be error-free”

“You can send us assignments related with any subject and we will get it solved by our best tutors.”

“Math, physics and programming homework problems … presuppose usage [sic] of previous course material that may have been forgotten.” Well, duh!

The lunacy of a world in which such a thing exists doesn’t even need discussion. It speaks for itself. We’re doomed. Abandon ship!

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About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

46 Responses to I think I’m going to be sick…

  1. Daniel Mewes says:

    Hi Steve,

    actually got followed by some account named “PaperMoz” after I had tweeted about my Bachelor thesis. They appear to run a similar service. Reported them to Twitter as spamming.
    Doesn’t look good to have such an account being one of only three followers or so, does it?

  2. stevegrand says:

    Didn’t occur to me to report it, but I will. You mean someone will even write your thesis for you??? Oh boy…

    Congrats on submitting yours, btw! 🙂

    • Daniel Mewes says:

      Thanks Steve.

      I checked their site just now (back then I only checked their profile on Twitter) and they even say they can write research papers! Seriously, they promise to write complete papers!
      I wonder how that is supposed to work. If they could write papers or theses in that pace I am sure these people would be really famous in the scientific community by now!

  3. Matt Griffith says:

    Oh my.. As a math tutor, this is quite disgusting. 😦
    But I guess that’s the way of money. There’s always new ways to spend it. Need to be a doctor? Shovel the cash in. 😉

  4. Frank Wood says:

    Well more fool people who use that “service” as surely sooner or later they will have to do exams where they are supervised?

    • stevegrand says:

      Presumably, Frank, yes. Who can blame the kids for availing themselves of the opportunity – I might have done it myself. But the people who provide the service are another matter. As you say, at best it’s a kind of soft drug-pushing that will catch up with the poor suckers eventually. Worse still, it’s just a symptom of a bigger sickness here in the US, I think.

      • Bob Mottram says:

        Although I don’t have much knowledge about what goes on inside educational establishments I’m pretty confident based on what seems like credible information that this sort of cheating isn’t confined to the US, although maybe the market for cheating is bigger there than elsewhere.

        The people providing the cheating service would probably just say that they’ve identified an economic niche which they’re servicing. Quite possibly it’s not actually illegal.

      • stevegrand says:

        I’m sure you’re right, Bob. I think you summed up the real sickness perfectly in your second paragraph, but that’s just my politics showing through!

  5. Bob Mottram says:

    I’ve known about this kind of behavior for a long time, and was probably equally horrified when it first came to my attention. In the early 2000s I frequented a few AI related forums, and a banner ad which featured on one of them caught my attention. It turned out to be exactly such a homework cheating site where students could pay to have essays written for them (including essays about AI, of course).

    I asked a few people inside the education business about this and they admitted that it’s a common practice, and that the various performance targets encourage teachers to collude with students to commit a sort of educational fraud. There’s money in it for everyone, and the teachers benefit because higher marks mean that their institution rises in the “league tables” and gets more funding. One of my sources said that they’d seen this happening within their institution but could never admit that it was going on in public, because if they did they would immediately lose their job.

  6. Terren says:

    I don’t know if this is just a US thing or not, but anecdotally I can tell you that there are lots of kids whose parents do their homework for them. Not help them with it. Do it. Is there any doubt that those kids would have zero moral naggings about paying for someone to do their homework for them?

  7. Don says:

    If the Internet wasn’t already providing all the knowledge at anyone’s fingertips they can now cheat with ease 😦

    Wikipedia and Google translation alone had been depriving the next generation of trawling all the local libraries looking for the books they need for their graphics or history homework and the hours lost staring at their foreign dictionaries trying to find the correct conjugation of a verb. They have it too easy these days ;P

    • Daniel Mewes says:

      Well, in those cases I would say that’s simply an improvement.
      You don’t learn better by looking up things in loads of books in the library instead of looking it up on the Internet, do you? If so, at least it is in no proportion to the amount of time that everyone is saving by using Wikipedia, Google and the like. I am sure the saved time can be spent on doing other things (like doing actual original research and thinking).

      • Don says:

        I do think the process of reading through content does help you absorb it more than a quick Google, and studying a language being more useful than letting a webpage translate text for you.

        However, my point was merely that students today already have it a *lot* easier than when I was at school, before the Internet came to be 😉 and thus shouldn’t need to cheat by buying answers.

        Then again I still find I recall things that I have written down better than notes I have simply typed, and do much prefer books or printed copy to reading from a screen.

  8. Frank Wood says:

    I remember someone telling me that in the US, exams for degrees consisted of a lot of questions with multiple choice answers. Is that correct?

    As regards the Net, it’s great that we don’t have to go to libraries etc.

    Education has been screwed for a long time. Even as a kid I thought it insane that a whole year or a whole six years of your educational would be tested in an exam that lasts two hours. But don’t start me on schools and academe lol.

  9. Danikat says:

    Frank it’s not just in the US. I did a biology degree in the UK a few years ago and part of every exam was a multiple choice questionaire. I thought it was strange, the last time I’d had a multiple choice examn in school I think I was in Year 4.

    Although this was just part of the test, the rest was essay questions and there’s no way you could pass entirely on the multiple choice part. I think it was just a way of covering more material without going over the 3 hour time limit.

    I also vaugely remember hearing about people who offered these kinds of services, although I think I dismissed it as an urban legend at the time (it was very much the “a friend of a friend of my sister’s hairdresser said…”.

    Personally I’ve always wondered how good they’d actually be. Maybe I should submit my terrible idea for a research dissertation and see if they can come up with anything better than I did.

    • Don says:

      When I went on to University it was because I was so eager to learn as much as I could about programming. I wanted to study games development, AI, computer graphics and all the other modules. I had this list of things I needed to know before I graduated and only so much time to learn it all in, so buying solutions to the assignments instead of studying would have been completely pointless.

      I think when you find your passion you really don’t need any other motivation to learn.

      • stevegrand says:

        > I think when you find your passion you really don’t need any other motivation to learn.

        Very true. And part of the sadness is, many people never even get to find their passion, or have it beaten out of them. I’m glad you found yours!

  10. Frank Wood says:

    Interesting Danikat.

    I just wonder that the burgeoning of these services is a reflection on how we educate people? If you have a system of education which does not genuinely educate then people will not have the slightest remorse in cheating.

    If however my dream Penny University type of system came into being then people would have control over their education rather than being passive dummies. And if they had control there would be no point in cheating.

    • Terren says:

      There is always a point to cheating. The bottom line is that this a systemic failure of promoting the right values to kids. That kids themselves are choosing to avail themselves of these services in increasing numbers is the real problem. That such entities can legally make money with this service is a secondary problem.

      The biggest reason for the failure of values education is what Bob identified above: “… the various performance targets encourage teachers to collude with students to commit a sort of educational fraud.”

      If schools don’t hold kids accountable for teaching, they are effectively condoning it. Parents can only be blamed so far, as they often don’t have opportunities to catch their kids cheating.

  11. stevegrand says:

    I trained as a (primary school) teacher in the UK, and I was really quite shocked by what I’ve seen in elementary education in the US. Admittedly I’ve only been in one school here, but what I saw was very formal, very focused on performance and elitism, and heavily into rote learning. I was especially surprised to see children being given sweets as rewards. It’s like the educational revolution of the 1970’s never happened. It seemed like a perfect breeding ground for the kind of “there’s a market and it’s probably not really illegal” capitalism that Bob mentioned. It’s only one school but people tell me it’s fairly typical.

    So what’s your Penny University idea? I’m all for people having control over their education!

  12. Frank Wood says:

    Penny University is where you can design your own course in Uni and build your own modules. The University of Lancaster apparently used to do something like that.

    It seems to me that Universities have so much padding in their courses, you have to jump through hoops that just are not really relevant to what you want.

    I nearly went on an OU course on Web Design but when I saw just how much extraneous crap there was I backed out.

    Heck all I wanted was a course that gave me the means and tools to design websites, not a bloody history and discussions etc.

    • stevegrand says:

      Yes, I never went to university but it seems like things were once much more like you wish for and have got a lot more nannyish in recent years. Maybe it’s the TV generation – TV producers often don’t produce deep, quality programming because they say we unwashed masses don’t have the attention span for it, but *of course* we don’t have the attention span if all we get fed is soundbites. It seems as if universities have started to nanny students because they think they need nannying, which sounds like a dangerously self-fulfilling prophesy.

      I kind of know what you mean about the OU. I shouldn’t criticize because they were kind enough to give me a doctorate and I never even had to take one of their courses! But that’s probably just as well because I doubt I’d have stuck one out anyway. I’m sure designing courses for such a wide variety of ages and backgrounds is a pretty complex issue, though.

      Even so, I think there’s a lot to be said for knowing the history and background of a subject – it seems a lot of programmers these days don’t even really understand how a computer works, and consequently they write bad code.

      I once visited a primary school in the UK where every child was responsible for their own education, from the age of five! They didn’t design their courses, obviously, but they were expected to manage their own day, help younger children, be at the right place at the right time. There were no classrooms and no formal teaching. The teachers were there to serve the children as the children required. It was absolutely brilliant.

  13. Frank Wood says:

    Yes I think it’s necessary to know how a computer works in order to understand programming but there’s an awful lot of stuff that’s just there for sake of academe.

    If I want to learn how to design websites I don’t need a lot of extaneous material. I like the Dummies format, it has extraneous material but they flag it up as extraneous material and I was surprised when an academic told me he actually studied up Dummies maths books cos that was an area he was weak in.

    One of my dreams is to teach maths to adults but in a different way, maybe along the lines of the guy who’s writing a book called Punk Maths and has brilliant podcasts. My idea would be to present maths as a series of building blocks that are heavily hyperlinked a bit like that chess book I think written by Lasky which had all the links to the course both forward and back.

    The major problem with most maths books is that after a while they assume that you can make the inferential jumps.

    Ultimately I want to study Q Connectivity and have bought Atkins book “The Mathematical Structure of Human Affairs” for this ambitious project.

    I need to learn Calculus, Statistics, Algebra and Topology. Very scary stuff!

    Anyway I digress but I use the above as an example cos in order to learn Q Connectivity I have to learn certain aspects of maths not the whole bloody caboodle!

    • stevegrand says:

      Yeah, I see your point. We live in an age of network structures now, and yet curricula are still designed as linear streams – like books instead of the Web. Have you seen James Burke’s Knowledge Web? http://www.k-web.org/ Different thing, I know, but he’s been plugging away with network-based models since the 70’s and you reminded me of it.

    • talkingtostones says:

      I’ve used some of the punk maths in teaching my son and they are really terrific! If you find a way to fulfill your dream of teaching maths differently, you’d likely be very popular. :> Good luck!

    • Dranorter says:

      It seems to me the only way to not have those ‘inferential jumps’ is to actually have a book which has been written at the right level for your needs. It would be nice to have a system which knew your precise level of understanding (through periodic quizzing I guess) and was somehow able to decide how to structure its explanations such that they matched.

      Heavily hyperlinked things can be daunting, for example when I get buried eight tabs or so in a recursive Wikipedia read- especially when I end up in a loop!

  14. Darchen Jurusli says:

    And I thought enough damage had been done to schools by making education a “one size fits all” system.

  15. Dan says:

    I bet that this “service” is following you in order to pluck out choice tidbits for their “products.”

    One positive note though – how about starting a service for teachers – one that aggregates info from the net to search for plagiarism? How about a database of all submitted homework from all schools and universities, against which all assignments are compared?

    • stevegrand says:

      Ha! I was wondering whether anything could be done about it, or indeed should. I think if I were a head teacher I’d come down like a ton of bricks if I found someone cheating like that. But then if I were a teacher I wouldn’t set homework in the first place!

    • Anton Jurisevic says:

      Anti-plagiarism services do exist and are used – The English department at my school apparently uses one. Not sure of exactly its workings, nor the extent it’s successful.

      Though, thinking back on it now, it could just have been the teachers trying to scare us, or maybe they just plugged phrases in to google.

      I suspect students are smart enough to change around words and sentence structures when they plagiarise anyway, so I doubt much of this would be hugely successful without a human vetting everything.

    • stevegrand says:

      It would be a dreadful shame if education became as paranoid as computing, with its obsessive need for antivirus, anti-spam, anti-hacker systems, etc. If anywhere should be a haven for, and incubator of, implicit trust in our fellow creatures, home and school are surely the places.

    • Dranorter says:

      There are definitely such services! Not totally centralized; my school uses at least two of them. turnitin.com is one. I very much worry that since so many teachers assign so many identical essays to so many students each semester, such a system will start to run into false positives.

      Fortunately some teachers specifically avoid assigning easily plagiarized assignments now. Comes a little closer to actually wanting realistic, productive work to be done.

  16. talkingtostones says:

    Well, since a large amount of homework in US schools through high school consists of often-pointless busywork, I suppose we can take some consolation from the fact that the kids probably wouldn’t have learned much, if anything, from doing it themselves anyway. Excepting things like research papers.

    I think it’s correct in part that this service thrives because of standards-based schooling and teacher collusion. However, that’s only part of it. It’s also a product of an overall anti-intellectualism that has been a hallmark — and serious problem — in US schools through undergrad university (and often through graduate school) for decades, and steadily worsening. In addition, the efforts of school systems to ensure that school is as mindless as possible so that there seems to be no value in it to the kids (and there often actually is no value in it) – in this regard, the schooling system brings this on itself.

    In addition, since the 1980s, there’s been a heavy culture, beginning in the top levels of business and spreading down to kids in schools, of cheating being permissible. CEOs embezzle, depriving employees of retirement funds; accounting categories are finessed to make it appear the company is making huge profits while delaying the truth of losses until after a few years of personal profit are made; politicians accept bribes and play with special interest groups (not to mention all their cheating on spouses), and on and on. I run into it in many areas of daily life, too — the attitude that it’s okay to cheat as long as you get away with it — and people are even admired for being clever at it. It’s endemic, and thus hardly surprising that kids are doing it without a second thought.

    On the other hand, when I was a kid going to school in four different countries, there were kids in each place who cheated or who tried to get others to help them cheat. It’s definitely not a new thing, nor only a US thing, but it does seem to have escalated in the US, perhaps because it’s so much easier now and there are new sources, such as this kind of tutor service. Back then, you could cheat only by yourself or via classmates.

    I’m thinking that another aspect that makes this possible is money — kids must have access to much more money than when I was growing up because services like these are not cheap enough to engage in regularly unless you have a steady cash flow to cover it and still some to spend on things you want.

    But, ultimately, cheating is cheating and shouldn’t be excused or condoned. It lessens the value of achievements, of striving, of those who do their own work, and so much more. It has been sort-of condoned in other areas, like business, for quite some time, in the name of profit and free market survival of the fittest, and has thus fostered an environment in which even kids think it’s okay. I am constantly having to fight against this in raising my own child, telling him it’s not okay despite what all the other kids say and think and tease him for not doing. One child, during lower elementary school, punched him for not allowing the kid to copy his answers to classwork. So I personally really hate services like this that lend some sort of respectability to it. Glad you all are finding it sickening as well! I was starting to feel like the lone voice in the wilderness.

    BTW, Steve, I’m pretty sure the US never went through the education revolution of the ’70s you describe — I’m sure that must have been a UK revolution. ’70s education methods in the US were essentially the same as now, they just didn’t have all these tests to gear the subject matter toward. But rote learning was then, and is now, the prime form until later high school (and even then, it remains in some areas & subjects).

    Regarding multiple choice tests in US universities … yes, there are a number of classes in which the exam is multiple choice. And it’s been increasing over time. However, those are most often in the “core” required classes that people all have to take before they can enter into the classes for their major, electives, etc. And there are still many classes in which essays, short written answers, problems, and other forms of exam — or combinations thereof — are given. But, compared to my schooling in Europe, there are a lot more multiple choice exams in the US than in Europe. If it’s any consolation, though, law school exams are still all four-hour essay exams, and, although the bar exam has two days of multiple choice questions for the national portion (yes, so as to cram in all 23 subject areas), most state portions still consist of at least half a day of essays. Essays aren’t completely dead yet (although, if no essays are written in lower-level schooling, they soon won’t be able to require essays in law school either). ;>

    • stevegrand says:

      Beautifully put. And I’m glad you were able to say the things that I daren’t, since I’m a foreigner! You have feet in both camps, so it’s good to see a cosmopolitan perspective.

  17. Anton Jurisevic says:

    In my mind the main problem with schooling is that it is an entirely utilitarian excercise. Modern societies largely consider strong education systems as just a means to pumping out skilled labour, rather than placing any value on the learning or knowledge itself.

    In this atmosphere, it’s little wonder that unhealthy tendencies arise. Tutoring in general seems counter-productive to me, as it points to a failure of the schooling system to achieve its goals. The emphasis here is more on success in a test than on learning for its own sake (which is more valuable in the extreme).

    I think this is a problem inherent in the system, though. As soon as you increase the numbers of people you try to educate, you need to begin to mass-produce the means of education. Success on tests is probably both the best motivator and metric for students in this system – many people are unmotivated by the thirst for knowledge, and some basis of comparison between students is prerequisite. Evidently this encourages “abuse” of the system by outside means. It also means selective schooling for gifted children is never going to work properly in this context.

    If the emphasis were more strongly on the value of knowledge itself, it implies an altogether new pedagogy whose nature is unclear to me. A less competetive one at any rate. I don’t know if it would suit everyone though, and it probably also demands many more teachers per student (i.e. under a 1:10 ratio). Perhaps some compartmentalisation of the education system is necessary.

    tl;dr It’s easy to say cheating is wrong, but in my mind it’s just a consequence of a system designed (poorly) with an industrial revolution mindset. This is a legitimate path to success as defined by the goals in the system, but not the goals of education and learning. Nor of value to the society from a production viewpoint.

    Hopefully you’ll excuse my stream-of-consciousness rambling, but at least the kernel of a point is there.

    • stevegrand says:

      I think you have a very good point about education as a production line. It may help explain why the US system is different from Europe – the production line was invented in the US.

      My main interest is in primary education – that’s when all the really crucial attitudes, concepts and percepts get set up – and the production line approach is especially dangerous then because it fails to distinguish between different learning and thinking styles. Later you can feed knowledge into people, but not if they lack a fundamental understanding of the world.

      Gifted education is another interest. I once gave a speech to the British gifted education Establishment arguing that they don’t really understand the term (it didn’t go down well – I thought the politician who came on after me was going to explode!). It seems to me that most gifted children are to be found in remedial departments, because education has failed them. What they were referring to as gifted children are actually just bright, well-balanced kids. They’re a different thing entirely. The two need different kinds of education. The production line, one-size-fits-all approach badly lets down those who are truly gifted.

  18. Don says:

    My main grudge against the education system is the extreme focus on a given set of academic subjects that leaves children feeling inadequate at an early age if their skills lie outside of that group. Which must carry with them throughout their teens and into adulthood.

    There really should be a more practical range of subjects available early on, applicable to the potential careers out there.

  19. Dranorter says:

    Probably just agreeing with Jurisevic here, but I think the online cheating systems are only able to thrive because of a more deeply flawed system, and therefore are doing a good thing by helping to bring that system to an end. Not good in the short term, since they may encourage students not to study, but there is a real need being answered. As degrees are watered down by cheaters, employers will learn to select employees more intelligently and those who self-educate will become more employable. And a more Internet-based system of self-education centered around more flexible, open methods of storing and sharing knowledge will be made available.

    Enough of my idealism. So anyway what’s wrong with multiple choice? Essays can be tough to grade and aren’t always graded accurately or fairly. Multiple choice may seem a bit dry but if you ask enough questions you can still ascertain a lot about what students know. And people don’t pass them by chance, that would be incredibly unlikely.

    On to some vague impressions of the American education system, if you’re interested (it seemed you might want more info.) To me it did not seem too focussed on rote memorization. I’ve definitely known some teachers to hand out candy but they were sort of considered eccentrics and only once has there been a direct right answer = candy type situation.

    My experience with the Michigan education system has seemed more a mess of different philosophies the state has tried out over the years than a stagnant mire of old thinking. There was the idea quite early on that we had to be taught what patterns were since they’re the basis of thinking. Oh gee whiz we never taught them what patterns were how did we get by these past few thousands of years we’d better start teaching that. And further on there was the big push to learn good analogical and metaphorical thinking. Later on the idea of reasoning based on raw data… you could sort of tell when you came to some part of the curriculum which had been tacked on by a committee somewhere wanting to make a difference and do something innovative.

    I’ve always managed to fair well enough ducking out of homework if I knew the material, the A on the exam balanced out with what homework I did and I usually still got all A’s. But I think I’ve grown to have an unhealthy distaste for doing the things I’m expected to do, since I’m used to those things being busywork. I pour my efforts elsewhere in any such situation. Actually that explains a lot about me.

    You might say I’m all for Internet-based education because that’s the ultimate ‘elsewhere’. Just provide the tools so that those who wish to know things can educate themselves. Those who are really passionate about teaching in the next/current generation may find that they get more accomplished improving Wikipedia articles, blogging, and talking to people on forums than they do in the classroom. And all the assignments can be actually productive work.

    Steve Grand, I learned more about programming because of Creatures 2 than anything else. Well that’s a total overstatement but anyway thanks a lot for getting me into it, and I hope I’m not sullying your blog with fanmail. Oh and I pirated that game like crazy because I wanted all my friends to learn programming and stuff too.

    • stevegrand says:

      Ha! I won’t turn you over to the copyright police for the piracy, cos I wasn’t on a royalty.

      I hope you’re right about the cheating bringing about its own downfall – that seems to be the only way to bring down a number of undesirable things these days. BTW, my candy experiences were in Louisiana, which is probably not very representative of life here on Earth.

      I agree about the power of the Web for education, especially at high level. Just in the past few weeks I’ve sat classes in theoretical physics, psychology and biblical history, all at top universities, all for free and all as components of my own rather unusual curriculum. What I would have given to have been able to do that when I was a kid!!!

  20. Nicholas Lee says:

    The purpose of doing homework assignments is to (indirectly) impart the knowledge and understanding into the your own head. Paying someone to learn something for you is fundamentally a waste of money as the knowledge end up in the wrong head.

    This same alice-in-wonderland business logic has also surfaced in a ‘levelling’ service for players of the computer game world-of-warcraft wherein you can pay people to play the computer game for you so that you don’t have to!

    This all reminds me of Douglas Adam’s “Electric Monk”.
    Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.

  21. Trevor says:

    Dear Nicholas,

    It also reminds me of Douglas’s observation that “a video recorder is a machine that watches TV for you, so that you don’t have to.” 🙂

  22. Cheryl says:

    Most of these sorts of things on twitter are simply spam scams, but LOTS of people fall for them. Twitter should be doing more to stop it, but they’re not. It’s hosted on THEIR server, so no matter what the TOS say, THEY are responsable for protecting their users from such things. There are many people who are not as web savvy as we are and easily get lured in by these things. Chances are most of them are simply money scams designed to get people to pay for the service, and then the service is not delivered. I feel bad for students who are lured in by these cheat scams, they’re putting their futures on the line for it and it’s not worth it.

    ~Cheryl a fellow geek 🙂

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