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August 2004, Week 5


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Paul Ward <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 30 Aug 2004 13:39:21 +0100
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A few points on this thread:
I can certainly sympathise with anyone who has had to deal with plagiarism (whether online or from elsewhere, real or merely suspected). I imagine that most people reading this have had their cases/suspicions at one time or another. I also think that anyone caught knowingly plagiarising should be dealt with severely, and it is VERY frustrating to find a clear case of plagiarism, mark up the offending essay and print-outs of the sources, pass it on to the relevant academic board, and for the offender to be treated leniently (despite noises about zero tolerance etc).
But all this nonsense about 'liberal elites' is off the point (though I will come back to it below!). The fact is, we SHOULD have a RANGE of ways of assessing whether (and how much) people have learned. Any course that is 100% essays/coursework is not really testing people across a range of abilities or requiring a range of skills - but then neither is one that is 100% exam-based. Yes, there were shifts in approaches to pedagogy and assessment in the (gasp!) 1960s, but to talk about these changes as if they were across-the-board a bad thing is a grotesque misrepresentation. Good courses should have some exams, some coursework, some oral presentations, some group work, a combination of written work and (where appropriate) practical work . . . . 
If anything, it is how these 'liberal' changes in educational practice have been distorted in the singleminded service of the 'market' that is the root of the problem. People come to university to get a degree to get themselves a good job, they are paying a lot of money to do so and God help us if we do anything (like ask for academic rigour, or ask people to please not copy off the internet) to get in the way of this relentless 'progress'. Leo's seemingly automatic falling back on instrumentalist ways of talking about a qualification ("the employment market that is buying that qualification . . . .") betrays a rather blinkered view of all this (though I'm sure he'll reply that he is merely being "realistic"). The fact is, yes, people can learn stuff on a degree course (or any other course, for that matter) that will help them to do a job of work later in life. But the simplistic and instumentalist link that courses should therefore ONLY offer what 'helps' people to do whatever job it is they are thinking of doing, is pernicious and very damaging. As I say above, I think this is a contributing factor in plagiarism cases - people who see obtaining a degree as the route to a job, but do not want the inconvenience of actually studying to get the degree. If they were at university because they actually wanted to study first and foremost, with the specific job-hunting coming later, then we would have less issues with plagiarism.
I don't know the University of Teesside, where Leo is based, so cannot comment on whether an Oxbridge degree is "tougher", but I somehow doubt that this statement can be rigorously tested and proved. Is Leo seriously suggesting that someone who graduates with a First from Cambridge is somehow 'cleverer' or 'better qualified' than someone who graduates with a First from Teesside? (or Luton? or Brunel?) Regardless of the backgrounds of the students at Oxford and Cambridge, I am sure that they have smaller tutor groups, more one-to-one attention, much better-stocked libraries etc etc than any number of (all?) other universities. (And this is something we CAN empirically measure, unlike the relative 'toughness' of a degree.) Whether he wants to admit this or not, these things make life 'easier' for a student (which is to say: they make it easier for them to, well, study). His rhetorical question about why alumni from Oxbridge do so much better in terms of earning power than those from his university is, I'm afraid, just daft. It is not because the degrees are tougher but simply because the graduates are far far far far more likely to be (at least reasonably) well connected in social terms (and even if they weren't before they attended Oxbridge, they probably will be afterwards). Unless Leo has figures that directly compare the performance in the job market of people from *comparable* backgrounds - on graduating from Oxbridge and some 'lesser' university - then all he is doing is mouthing 'commonsense' beliefs about Oxbridge (i.e. that they are somehow inherently 'better' simply *because* they are Oxbridge - something which rather stacks the deck in their favour, wouldn't you say? Mind you, some might argue that such stacking of the deck is what it's all about . . . )
A few questions in closing:
1. If Prince William (or perhaps he goes by 'William Windsor' on the class-lists?) were studying Art History at Bolton Insitute rather than St Andrews University would it have an adverse effect on his job prospects?
2. Why is it that a majority [last I heard, it was 50%-plus, which is statistically of enormous significance] of Members of Parliament are graduates of Oxbridge? (Someone else answer this one, as Leo no doubt believes it's because Oxbridge have the 'best' degrees . . . )
3. Can we please drop the 'liberal' from 'liberal elite'? The idea that, say, Tony Blair is anything but a member of a crusty old establishment is pure drivel. He is a member of an elite (pure and simple). He's from an upper middle class background, attended one of the most exclusive public schools in Scotland and went to St John's College, the richest of all the colleges in Oxford University. And yet, despite all these disadvantages, he still somehow struggled his way to the very top, to become the Prime Minister! It's admirable that Leo has worked his balls off to get where he is, but a shame that he cannot see that it is iniquitous that others can get far far more by having to do far far less, because they have a head start of some kind on the basis of their background. That annoys a lot of people, and their annoyance is not simple envy or 'liberal' whinging, it's a recognition that something is not right in the structure of society. This brings us back to how we might address this, and to the first three-and-a-half lines of Leo's reply to Lou's post - three-and-a-half lines with which I wholeheartedly agree, I might add. Shame about the rest of it.
Paul Ward
Film and Television Studies
Brunel University

	-----Original Message----- 
	From: Film and TV Studies Discussion List on behalf of Leo Enticknap 
	Sent: Sun 29/08/2004 7:46 PM 
	To: [log in to unmask] 
	Subject: [SCREEN-L] Reply: Cheating and Student Papers

	Lou Thompson writes:
	>Yeah, and if we could just keep women and those nasty poor people out of
	>school like in the good old days, we wouldn't have to worry about
	>accusations that tests discriminate against them!
	That's not what I was arguing.  If we could shift the emphasis from
	lowering the standard for students from 'disadvantaged' (however you care
	to define it) backgrounds to providing the support for enabling them to
	reach a higher one, then everybody is a winner: from the students who would
	have proper degrees as distinct from mickey mouse ones to employers who
	would know that graduates can offer genuinely marketable skills.
	If the liberal elite is right, then why is it that alumni from Oxbridge
	typically end up earning three times more than those from the institution
	where I teach within two years of graduating?  The answer is that they're
	wrong and that, frankly, earning an Oxbridge degree is a hell of a lot
	tougher.  I passionately believe that as one of those 'nasty poor people'
	who took myself from comprehensive school leaver to PhD by working 100 hour
	weeks, anyone should be able to do the same thing.  But they have to have
	what it takes, and they have to be prepared to put in those 100 hour
	weeks.  And as for the women issue, feminist educationalists I've read
	argue that exams shouldn't be used because they put women at a
	psychological disadvantage.  As I said, the same research reveals that
	continually assessed coursework inflicts an equivalent disadvantage on
	men.  But female academics seem to have no problem whatsoever in teaching
	100% coursework modules in the light of this research, whereas anyone who
	proposes a 100% exam assessment process is instinctively branded a
	sexist.  Double standards or what?
	If you get to a situation whereby someone is allowed to gain a
	qualification through less attainment than someone else because they are
	perceived to have come from a less advantaged background, then the
	employment market which is buying that qualification will start to distrust
	it.  As an employer, I woudn't care whether someone grew up in a council
	house or Hampton Court Palace ; whether they're male, female or
	hermaphrodite; black, white or purple; gay, straight or like shagging
	goats.  What matters is what they, as a graduate, can and can't do relative
	to a school leaver.
	That's why zero tolerance on plagiarism - through a combination of
	assessment techniques that inhibit it, detection tools and an 'academic
	death penalty' for those who are found to have knowingly done it - is about
	the only way we have of defeating this problem.
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