I saw a small blub in The Week about outsourcing homework to India, Pakistan and Egypt. This is aligned with a conversation going on in education about the redefinition of “cheating” which is often called management or collaboration in the business world. After searching on the web, I found a similar story that may be the source, Australia’s Current Week (Australian students outsourcing homework to India for $2 – BTW The Week references the London Sunday Telegraph, but their website didn’t cough up an article).
When I think about the skills needed in the business world, managing outsourcing may be more important than what is being taught in the classroom. We have time-starved students looking for new ways to leverage technology and globalization. And that is very entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurialism is not a breadth requirement, but it should be. This proves that students, as they have always been, will use the tools at their disposal to “work through the system.” I don’t condone plagiarism because at the extreme, it isn’t a learning process. But when you read through academic papers, many are little more than new analysis wrapped around research conducted and published by others. This cryptic practice is one of the reasons that research papers are so hard to read.
With academic publications, the researcher (or more likely his or her grad students) went through the process of cobbling together the paper. Outsourcing to grad students seems to be acceptable practice when one wins grant money, but for entrepreneurial undergrads spending a few dollars to have others put together a paper is tagged as unseemly by those same professors (or high school teachers) who either were grad students at some point, or employ them regularly.
We should not think of this outsourcing as cheating, but as collaborative, entrepreneurial learning—and rather than frown on it, we should include it in freshman seminars, along with a discussion of its moral dichotomies and what can be learned by conducting outsourcing.
Matt Barrie, the founder of freelancer.com sees these homework requests regularly. For him, they are small businesses connecting with small businesses. With the high cost of higher education, our children really are small businesses. We support them with tutors and tuition, why not with other tools like outsourcing. They can learn how to manage, how to evaluate the work of others and how to use that work as a jumping off point for their own analysis. The lazy ones will, as always, not learn as much, but you can’t create a specification without some level of engagement. For those who are really engaged, they will take this outsourced work and enhance it with their own ideas, much as research professors enhance the work of their grad students. Regardless of the ultimate destination of the student, be it the academy or business, this new capability brought about by globalization and technology isn’t cheating, its just good time management and an auxiliary learning opportunity that will pay bigger dividends in their future than some of the work that may be required by educational institutions.