The Dog Corrupted My Homework

June 5, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Inside Higher Ed today reports on a company that sells corrupted files for students to submit in lieu of the paper they haven’t finished. “It will take your professor several hours if not days to notice your file is 'unfortunately' corrupted. Use the time this website just bought you wisely and finish that paper!!!”

A few readers at Ed (Inside Higher Ed and I are on a last name basis) offered ways to defeat such tactics.

I have several reactions..
  • Formal rationality and substantive rationality: If you set up a bureaucratized, McDonaldized version of “education,” where forms are more important than substance, you should expect this cat-and-mouse game of students trying not to learn, and teachers trying to catch them.

  • A day in the life. promises students “several hours.” Maybe even a day or two. Will that time really make a difference in quality? Probably not. But students may have complicated lives, and my course is only one of its elements. And suppose that the extra day or two would make a difference in quality . . . .

  • Do you want it Wednesday or do you want it good? It’s a standard line among sitcom writers. TV has to run on schedule, so the answer is usually Wednesday. Which is why TV is so often not good. But my course is not a sitcom (or is it?), and I would much rather have the work be good.

  • WTF? RTF. I ask students to submit papers as Rich Text Format (.rtf) documents. I don’t know if this reduces the possibility for corruption. It does make the paper readable in other formats (like my beloved WordPerfect). And I once heard that a virus can be embedded in a Word document but not in a .rtf document.*

*And please no PowerPoint. As Lord Acton said of the effect of presentation software on thinking, “PowerPoint tends to corrupt. Absolute PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”

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