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09.08.2009 Feature Article

Don’t Hand In Garbage, Corrupt The Professor

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I just found out that my wife of only eight months is cheating, but I feel too henpecked to question her about anything. By Ghanaian standards, I am a veritable Okotobonku or a cuckolded Kwaseapanin for looking on while a real beast of a creature makes the beast with two backs with a woman who still bears my father's surname. There is only so much I can do, because I live in a house almost paid for by a woman, and I drive her car, too. Of course, I make up for it by caring for my step-children with extra care and attention.

Well, it happens that she is not cheating with a man; she is keeping a property that does not belong to her. She signed on to do a degree in information management in a private college here in Canada. She attended lectures for about a week and realised that the course wouldn't change her career fortunes in anyway. So, she quit without informing anybody in the college. Three years later, the college sends her a certificate congratulating her on the successful completion of the three year degree. The certificate has an official college seal embossed on it with painstaking accuracy. She is also invited to attend a congregation later. She has the option to invite two 'unsuspecting' visitors.

The virtuous wife that she is, she posted the certificate back to the college, insisting that she never completed the programme. A day later, she gets a telephone call from somebody pretending to be responsible, apologising for a computer error. Before we would conclude our discussion on how terrible university education had become, we receive yet another mail from the college. Their very generous computer had done it again. The degree had been re-awarded to her. And all she did to deserve such an honour was to attend lectures for a week and withdraw shortly thereafter. The computer, we suspect, had been programmed to issue certificates to those who signed on to take the course. It is an obedient machine that gives you exactly what you put in. So it decided not to short-change anybody, including those who didn't complete their programmes, or didn't even make a physical presence on the campus. This time, she decided to keep it for reference purposes. It is a testament to the insanity of today's computer generated degrees.

The computer has come to make education easy and funny at the same time, rendering an already not-so-good system unabashedly disgraceful. These days, university students, including those in Ivy-League institutions, have a very cool way of fooling old, greying professors. When it is time to submit their course-works and dissertations, they send their lecturers pre-corrupted files that can never be opened. Students are increasingly realising that the old excuse of a relative dying or a computer crashing does not work anymore. Their professors hear those everyday, so they do not take them as good enough reasons for not submitting an assignment on time or pleading for a long extension under extenuating circumstances. So, lazy and sometimes hardworking students are also finding hi-tech ways to bail themselves without the professor's permission.

The trick is simple: The two dreaded words of Finals and Paper ring in the ears of the student as the deadline for the extended submission date looms. He hasn't done the work yet. He doesn't even have an outline of the paper he is supposed to submit. He may have to change his topic at the eleventh hour. That would send him back to his original desperate situation. He is not prepared to carry a deficit into the next year. He might even not graduate without passing that paper. Besides, he needs to spend time with his new girlfriend, or attend the movies or just chill out doing nothing. The best way out is to fool his professor. At www.corrupted-files.com, special files are prepared for this purpose. They sell for as low as $4.00. All the student needs do is buy one of these corrupted files and rename it, using his official name, as in “Mark Kermavor - Final Paper”. By this he stamps his distinguished authorship on a paper he did not write. He then sends it as an attachment to his professor. The email would usually read: “Dear Prof. Here is my assignment.” Those students who remember their junior form lessons on official letter writing, would write: “Dear Sir, Please find attached my assignment for your consideration. You have been a wonderful teacher. Thank you very much.” The old academic is pleased to read that for the first time in a twenty year career, somebody has been grateful enough to appreciate his efforts. He reads it again and nods to himself.

The professor would never be able to open the file. He would leave it and attend to others. Usually, the most dutiful ones who care about the success of their students would call in staff from the computer science department to help in opening the pre-corrupted file. By the time he realises that the file is corrupted and cannot be assessed, the submission date had already elapsed. He would then send the student an email that his assignment could not be opened, so he should submit a new one at a later date, usually a more lenient time frame. By this time, the student would have done some research and composed something for the professor. The clever ones would consult their hardworking colleagues, to read the prof's remarks and recommendations. They are mindful of the remarks when writing theirs. The lazy ones would send another corrupted assignment. This is how professors get their grey hairs and their wacky lifestyles.

The irony is that the professor would come to class the next day to advise students on how to buck-up their files. In the event of a computer crash or a file corruption, the buck-up file would serve as a good replacement, he would urge. At my university in England, there was usually a two hour lecture on how students could protect their assignments and dissertations. This was usually in the final semesters when students were writing their projects. Still, many students had good reasons to accuse the computer of messing up their work. They often forget that their professors were once students, and perhaps did worse things, even at a time when there were no computers to corrupt their files to corrupt their professors. Students should get used to the idea that they are corrupting themselves as they cheat their way through established systems and procedures.

Before the file corruption trick caught on in some American universities, students had many ways of corrupting their lecturers. University education is structured in such a way that it is possible for a lazy student to go through a three year degree programme without sitting down on his bottom to write an assignment. There are students who are natural photocopiers: they are experts in reproducing the assignments of their friends. They change a few words in the introduction and the conclusion, making sure that they have printed their names and their index numbers at the top of the paper. Usually, those lazy ones with such scholarship-repelling behaviours make better grades than those they copied from. Those who have money to spend pay brilliant colleagues to write their assignments and dissertations for a fee. They graduate to become managers of good firms.

It is not clear whether the computer has increased academic dishonesty or improved efficiency. Years ago, copying and plagiarism were the two cardinal sins in our universities. We wrote our assignments on A4 sheets, often in very bad handwriting. But our professors managed to mark them all the same. There were always several thousands of scripts to be marked. Nobody knew how they did it. Well, there were suspicions that our scripts, even though not pre-corrupted, were not marked. When you made a grade B in a course that you think you do well in, then, your suspicions were almost confirmed.

Things work differently in a computer age. A Who is Who survey conducted among 3,210 American High school students found that 80% of students judged cheating in examinations to be rampant among their colleagues. A whooping 76% of them confessed that they have ever cheated in exams. The high figures in this 1997 report make our fathers and grandfathers appear academic saints in their high school days. A national survey of college students in the 1940's found that only 20% admitted to cheating in their high school days. The survey also found that students of today think 'cheating is not a big deal', because everyone does it to satisfy unrealistic academic demands.

From pocket calculators to text messaging, and of course the internet, students of today have limitless access to cheating opportunities. In my High school days, a young Physics and Chemistry teacher received his own version of the transfiguration when he arranged the answers to an objective test to follow a particular pattern, such that the answer to question 1 was A, question 2 was B, in that order. The only brilliant student in the class worked out the clue and whispered it aloud to the class when the invigilator was away. An entire class of 30 students made a very decent 100% in the exam, probably the only time in the history of the school that such a high level of scholarship would be recorded. Students who would foam at the mouth at the mention of Sodium Chloride or even something as simple as Zinc, had made a 100% for the first time, and as it turned out, the only time in their cheating lives. They all had to take the exam again, and the result was very revealing. Folks were forced to swap their 100% for their usual 2 and 3%, as it were.

Today, the brilliant student wouldn't have shouted out the discovery to the class; he would have just sent text messages around to phones that had been programmed to vibrate. The more sophisticated ones would use their blackberries. The invigilator would have been fooled even if he had his eyes very open. And it seems even very fastidious university professors are fooled everyday in their offices. Suddenly, there isn't anything like a difficult coursework anymore. Google and other internet search engines are always ready to vomit sample answers to nearly every question a professor would ask his students. The usual practice is to type the question, or the major words in the question into the search engine. They play around it, changing only a few things to suit their cases.

Well, the computer may have brought us a few problems but it is a very useful companion. It seems it has answers to everything. My wife just forwarded me a mail showing men how to cuddle effectively. Then, she wrote: “Hun, this should do it for us.”

Benjamin Tawiah
Email: [email protected]

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, © 2009

The author has 235 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwesiTawiahBenjamin

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