Monday, November 17, 2008

Don't Outsource Your Education

This is from a conversation I had with my father on Sunday. I mentioned a book I was reading that included a story about a student who "outsourced" his college writing assignment. Some man in India took him up on the offer and was paid 60 pounds to write the paper. The Indian said it took him about three hours to research and write the paper. I'm sure the student was thrilled to avoid the work, but I pointed out to my father that this Indian was basically paid to learn.

And we wonder why other countries are doing better than the United States in test scores.

If I could say one thing to young people everywhere - it would be this: Never outsource your learning and always take advantage of learning opportunities wherever you can find them, especially on the job. (Okay, that was two things.)

I love to learn new things. First, I'm just curious and enjoy immensely discovering the "why" of life. Secondly, new knowledge expands my horizons and allows me to interact with people who'd otherwise would be inaccessible. And thirdly - it adds to my creative capital. I'm a much more valuable employee if I have a wide and deep skill set than if I only knew a little about not much.

Case in point: When I was in my mid-twenties, I decided to enroll in the infamous "Connecticut School of Broadcasting." I learned how to edit tape, how to interview people, and how to quickly turn around a story into a manageable sound bites. My intent at that time was to eventually become a radio news host. However, once I found out I'd probably have to move to some small rural town and hold down three different jobs while I worked at their radio station, I suddenly didn't want it that badly. I liked my hometown and didn't want to sacrifice that much in order to make it in radio news.

But, I thought, someday I felt my experience would come in handy. I wasn't sure how, but I had complete confidence it would come into play. Fast forward twenty years later and here I am, fooling around with podcasting and soundtracks in my new job. I get to learn more as I've have an Apple Mac at work, my first time working with one. My boss has bought books for me to learn not only the Mac programs, but also WordPress since that's our blog provider. I feel very blessed because like the Indian who wrote a student's paper, I am getting paid to learn. Who knows how that knowledge will be used in the future?

It stunned me when a year ago, I read an article that said some U.S. companies were outsourcing their R&D. Outrageous! I can understand outsourcing maintenance, but a company's research and development of the product or service? It's just plain shameful. If a company doesn't have the commitment to figure out on their own what they're going to provide the public, then they have no business being in business. Business is a transaction of trust. I trust a company to figure out my problems and provide an efficient and economical solution. They are building a relationship with me and if all goes well, they'll have a customer for life.

But if they really don't care enough to take the temperature of their market on their own, then they don't need my business. I work hard enough for my money and the older I get, the less I enjoy being used.

So, that's my two cents on learning, and ignorant business ideas. Nothing Catholic about it but I bet St. Benedict would agree with me.


Janny said...

Unfortunately, there's a large cottage industry that consists of people writing research papers for other people. I actually took part in one of these companies for a short time, because I really, REALLY needed money and they claimed the papers were used as educational "templates" or "samples." Most of the papers were being written, it seemed, for foreign students who could do their own research, etc., but who just couldn't write to university standards in comfortable American English yet. When you think about it, the obvious answer to that one is, "Well, then, WAIT UNTIL YOU CAN WRITE IT YOURSELF, and then your doctorate will mean something." :-) But, like I said, when they told me these were "sample" papers, I had less of a conflict of conscience about it. In my heart of hearts, I knew kids were simply buying papers...especially when I saw the way some of the requests were phrased. It was clear they were not using these as samples or templates; they were going to copy and paste the entire body of the work and pass it off under their own names. (When they said dead-giveaway things like, "Put this name and this heading at the top of each page," even the dimmest among us could figure that out. :-D)

Then I had one student/client in particular who hated an essay I had put together for him, and complained to the bosses in charge. The essay was one of those "read this story and answer these questions" sorts of things...something I can do with my eyes shut (except it's hard to type that way!). So I did it...only to have the student claim that I hadn't answered the questions involved. I HAD, in fact, answered every single one, in perfectly specific detail. But in order to clarify to this person that I had, in fact, covered the questions...I actually dumbed down the essay a bit, made it LESS subtle, made the words simpler, etc., so he could see the direct connection question to answer.

That second attempt, however, also didn't work. He wrote to the company a SECOND time complaining about the paper not being what was asked for.

At that point, I was completely flummoxed (a word this kid probably wouldn't have understood). I honestly didn't know what else I could do, I explained it to the supervisor...but I never heard back as to what the disposition was. I believe I was paid for the paper anyway; but the thing I found distressing was that this person literally could not tell that the essay I wrote was answering every single one of his questions--yet his complaint was in adequate enough English that, clearly, the language was not the problem. So I couldn't for the life of me figure out what in the world he DID want. I still don't know what the complaint was. But it actually felt as if the paper I wrote was so far beyond his comprehension, he literally didn't know he was getting A-level work. And that's a scary thought in itself.

Fortunately, I decided the work I was being asked to do for that company was not paying worth the time I was putting into it, and I stopped participating in what amounts to fraud. But every once in awhile, on a freelance job board or two, I see ads for things like this that are clearly term-paper mills...and the thing I find absolutely depressing is that we have a whole generation of kids to whom, apparently, putting their name on top of someone else's work, for a price, isn't even morally questionable, much less just plain wrong.

Your advice is a breath of fresh air, especially when put the way it is. Too bad the kids--even grownup kids, from the sound of it--have so many temptations to cut the corners and pay someone else to do what is supposed to be THEIR work.



Kevin Gleeson said...

but the thing I found distressing was that this person literally could not tell that the essay I wrote was answering every single one of his questions

He simply didn't want to pay for the service.

Rachel Gray said...

Very interesting, Janny, I didn't know all that!