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The real answer to this, IMHO, is the use of traditional unseen exams as a
key part of the assessment process, for the simple reason that they're
plagiarism-proof.

This has become more and more politically incorrect over the years, as the
leftie/liberal elite sign up to arguments such as it being unfair to
inflict any stress on the little darlings, that women tend to underperform
in exams (the same studies show that men tend to underperform in assessed
coursework, but the lefties and feminists don't seem to be at all concerned
about that) and that exams are inherently biased in favour of candidates
from privileged, middle-class backgrounds.  As someone who was bought up in
a single parent family without even a TV in the home until I was 12, and
who has always performed better in exams than in any sort of assessed
coursework, I think I can safely say that the latter contention at least is
loony left bullshit, pure and simple.

The ability to gain knowledge, apply it appropriately, form an argument and
think on your feet under high pressure are skills which employers have a
right to expect from any graduate coming off a general purpose humanities
degree and which are simply not tested by assessed coursework.  The
plagiarism issue, bought to a head by the emergence of Internet sites such
as the one Jeremy cites, forms yet another argument in favour of abandoning
flawed 1960s liberal educational ideology and returning to a system of
assessment which is truly capable of distinguishing the men from the boys
and the women from the girls.

In the institution where I teach, my colleagues in other departments (e.g.
law) which still use exams as a core element in their assessment strategy
simply do not have this problem.  They also use software which picks up
cases in which a student's exam performance is significantly lower than
their coursework performance, so that the lecturers know which pieces of
work to examine carefully for plagiarism.  You simply can't rip off essays
from the Internet if you don't have a computer in the exam hall - end of
problem.

There is another issue in which our hands are tied behind our back, in that
the consequences for students who are found to have plagiarised simply
aren't significant.  In nine cases out of 10, they are simply referred for
the module in question.  This means that if they plagiarise in years 1 or
2, the consequences cannot realistically affect their final degree
classification.  Even if they do it in their final year and are found out,
the penalty is unlikely to be serious.  This is in stark contrast to when I
was an undergrad (1992-95).  I remember the induction lecture from the
school's Dean: she said that the institution was a very liberal place in
which everyone got a second chance at almost anything.  There were two
exceptions, however; offences you could get you kicked out with no debate
or right of appeal.  One was buggering the chaplain, and the other was
(proven) plagiarism in assessed coursework.  A decade later and in my first
University teaching job, the rules say that we can't kick anyone out for
plagiarism because the students are all feepayers and, to paraphrase
Michael Howard's excellent recent speech, 'they have their rights'.  The
liberal elite simply dosen't realise that this approach devalues the
standard, and that everyone in the real world knows that graduating simply
doesn't indicate the same level of achievement as it did only a decade
ago.  Sad.

Leo

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University of Alabama: http://www.tcf.ua.edu