Academic Ethics of Editing for Students

Academic Ethics of Editing for Students

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This is a discussion on Academic Ethics of Editing for Students within the Education & Career Talk forums, part of the Topics of Interest category; Do you think a professional editor editing a high school or college student's essay is consistent with academic ethics, particularly ...

  1. #1

    Academic Ethics of Editing for Students

    Do you think a professional editor editing a high school or college student's essay is consistent with academic ethics, particularly given a student who is a very poor writer (and will most likely receive a much higher grade because of the editing)?

    I don't mean just giving the student advice, but actually correcting errors in spelling, grammar, diction, word usage, etc. (without changing the ideas expressed in the essay).

    Does the type of class for which the essay was written make a difference?



  2. #2

    Yeah, that's cheating for sure. The only thing the student learns is to get other people to make their problems go away.

    If it was a tutor helping them by explaining why certain changes need to be made, that's different. The student is (theoretically) learning in that case if the tutor is doing a good job. But if the "tutor" just does the student's work, there's no way that should fly.

    Most importantly of all, though, is the question of the teacher's role in this. In a perfect world (which, I understand, this is not), the teacher would be willing to spend extra time with the struggling student, who would be willing to listen and learn. Over here in the real world, though, the teacher is already overworked and underpaid, the student just wants to play on their phone, and the parents are prepared to go fight the teacher when the bad grade report comes back (yes, even for college students in some cases...). C'est la vie, I guess.

  3. #3

    I think it would be up to each teacher and professor to decide, but in general, I would say no, it's probably not going to be in keeping with academic ethics.

    On one hand, many students do get help from their parents, siblings, and/or friends, and that's sort of "cheating" in a way when compared to the work coming from kids who don't have parents who can help or large/collaborative sibling or friend groups. It's never perfectly fair to begin with. At the same time, paying a third party professional to edit a paper - assuming that the student is not sitting down with the edited paper and trying to learn from the edits - actively subverts the goal of the assignment as part of curriculum. Since the endgoal of schooling as a whole is for the student to learn, not simply to produce high-quality finished assignments, I would tend to categorize third-party edits as an ethical breach.

    When I was a student tutor employed by my university, our rules were that students had to sit down with us - we would not edit and hand back - and that we were to allow the student to lead the session. We were facilitators, essentially. We would provide references, and information when asked, and we would help brainstorm, but we wouldn't simply provide content or structure - the goal was to extract it from the writer themself. Our mission was to improve the writer, not the written work, though the sessions typically focused on a single written work, which was often academic in nature. So the student would often leave with a much "cleaner" paper - however, we would also always send a note to the professor with a short summary of what we worked on in the session. We were transparent about what we worked on and we demonstrated that the student took an active role in the learning process.
    Last edited by angelfish; 04-20-2017 at 09:38 PM.

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  5. #4

    Quote Originally Posted by angelfish View Post
    Since the endgoal of schooling as a whole is for the student to learn, not simply to produce high-quality finished assignments, I would tend to categorize third-party edits as an ethical breach.
    Take history classes for example. The primary goal is for students to learn history. The goal isn't really for the students to learn grammar, diction, or word usage. This is the same for every class that requires written assignments (except language classes). That's what I think is slightly fuzzy about this situation: the copyeditor would be correcting things that aren't a primary part of the curriculum.

  6. #5

    But looking at schooling as a whole rather than course by course is a good way to settle the question.

    How about theses and dissertations? College juniors/seniors and grad students surely should have already sufficiently learned writing skills, but missing mistakes in long manuscripts is easy to do.

  7. #6

    Quote Originally Posted by DownWithWhitey View Post
    Take history classes for example. The primary goal is for students to learn history. The goal isn't really for the students to learn grammar, diction, or word usage. This is the same for every class that requires written assignments (except language classes). That's what I think is slightly fuzzy about this situation: the copyeditor would be correcting things that aren't a primary part of the curriculum.
    I do understand the distinction you're making and I've done similar edits on friends'/family members' papers before with few moral qualms. That said, I know the people I'm doing it for, and I know what they're working on, and I can make an informed judgment about whether I think I'll really be hindering their learning or if I'm just getting a rote task out of the way for them.

    The paid copyeditor on the other hand has little way of knowing that information and probably isn't particularly invested in ensuring the longterm academic wellbeing of the student writer.

    So, I mean, I don't think it's really immoral, but I don't think it's really in keeping with the spirit of academics, either.

    Quote Originally Posted by DownWithWhitey View Post
    But looking at schooling as a whole rather than course by course is a good way to settle the question.

    How about theses and dissertations? College juniors/seniors and grad students surely should have already sufficiently learned writing skills, but missing mistakes in long manuscripts is easy to do.
    Sure. Typically students working on substantial written academic works, particularly theses and dissertations, are working closely with an advisor who is responsible for reviewing the work and would likely catch a pattern of grammatical mistakes on early drafts, much less months or years later when the paper is being prepared for its final stages. But, speaking of the final stages - at that point, I think it would make sense to contract a 3rd party editor - I would say the same about a college or job application.

  8. #7

    Quote Originally Posted by DownWithWhitey View Post
    But looking at schooling as a whole rather than course by course is a good way to settle the question.

    How about theses and dissertations? College juniors/seniors and grad students surely should have already sufficiently learned writing skills, but missing mistakes in long manuscripts is easy to do.
    Perhaps I'm reading too deeply here, but it sounds like you may be trying to justify something that you already know is wrong, and you're hoping strangers on the internet will assist you in that building that justification. Forgive me if that's not the case.

    Writing is a core skill that everyone should have, just like reading and mathematics. Would you, as a responsible instructor, allow a student to pass an advanced calculus class if you knew that the student's parents or friends were doing the supposedly easy, mundane integrals and derivatives that the student just never quite got right before? I know I wouldn't.

    Likewise, advanced writing is built upon the foundations of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. With a weak foundation, anything built on top is likely to crumble. A great thought can be ruined by a misspelled word or a misapplied semicolon.

    As you suggested, let's look at school as a whole. The purpose of school is to make the student more likely to be successful in life. With that in mind: does it really benefit a student, from a success-in-life perspective, to use someone else to accomplish work that was assigned to them? Do I benefit if someone else does my work for me? The point of school is for the student to become the expert at their chosen field, not to have someone who is already an expert do the work for them.

    People are judged based on their writing skills, whether you like it or not. Writing skills are a good, quick indicator of one's intelligence. A school would do its students a huge disservice to condone use of external editing services. Those students, when they graduate, will not always (in fact, will almost never) have someone else to proofread their emails, CVs, reports, letters, etc. in the real world. It's better to learn writing in school, when all that's at stake is a grade, than in the real world, where it could cost promotions or even an entire job.


     

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