Irish Technology Essay

You have an avalanche of assessments, a flurry of essay deadlines and your exams are just around the corner.

So, when you see an advert for a company offering to write your essays for you, it sounds like an easy way out.

Google banned these adverts several years ago amid claims they were threatening the integrity of university degrees. Facebook, however, doesn’t seem to have followed suit, and adverts on the social-media site regularly tempt students with the lure of paid-for assignments.

What happens when you sign up for their services? We decided to try, one of the services that advertises regularly on Facebook.

It works on a bidding system, whereby writers bid on projects, with some of the more experienced writers asking for more on account of their experience.

It sounds simple: upload your essay title, choose the writer, and your payment is held by the site until the essay is written by the winning bidder. When completed, it is reviewed by both parties and the writer is paid.

We posted an advert for a 2,500-word sociology essay to be completed within a week. The title? “Critically discuss the contribution that the internet can make to the ‘public sphere’. Does the internet promote or threaten open, rational and democratic discussion in civil society?”

Within minutes we had numerous offers ranging from $20 to $80, with a few offering an impressive 24-hour turnaround.

We selected “KennyKitchens”. To date, he claims to have completed 355 works, with 243 positive reviews and one negative one. He says his subject matters range from political science, business and marketing to English and literature.

So, we forked out $70 for his services (although it came to only $60 because of the $10 discount offered for first-time users).

KennyKitchens soon set to work and, hey presto, three days later a completed essay was available for review.

But, more importantly, was it any good? The effort was – to put it diplomatically – mixed.

Structurally, it seemed okay: it had an introduction, a middle and an end. But it read like a machine. The piece lacked any real coherence. It was riddled with grammatical errors. All in all, it read like a weirdly vacuous piece of work. Still, maybe it was passable?

Rigorous testing

Would this essay be red-flagged for plagiarism? Colleges nowadays have access to a range of computer programmes, such as Turnitin and Safeassign, that test whether articles have been copied from other academic texts.

However, these programmes only work if they detect parts of the essay that exist elsewhere; they might not flag plagiarised content if they are custom-written pieces.

To test the essay, we put it through Safeassign and it came back clean.

But it’s not just the plagiarism-detection programmes: it has to get past the beady eye of a lecturer. We presented the essay to a number of lecturers in communications and media without telling them about its origins.

Dr Eddie Brennan, media sociologist at DIT, described the end product as “profoundly wrong”.

“The way it’s written it seems like someone got an algorithm, scanned related texts and wrote around it,” said Dr Brennan, adding that the paper’s structure was correct but the writing and content was “bonkers”.

Dr Ken Murphy, a lecturer in DIT’s school of media, said the essay “goes against everything I’ve taught” and is “factually inaccurate”.

Both lecturers said the essay would fail if it was handed in.

It’s difficult to say how commonly these services are being used, but colleges are increasingly aware of plagiarism on campus.

There have been about 1,000 cases of students in Ireland being disciplined for plagiarism since 2010, and the numbers are on the rise (see panel).

In the UK, some academics have warned that essay-writing services are behind an “epidemic” of plagiarism.

Dr Mark Glynn of DCU’s teaching enhancement unit said most detected plagiarism tends to involve students simply cutting and pasting in a section and putting inverted commas around it.

“Students don’t realise that this is plagiarism, but these [essay-writing] services are blatant plagiarism,” he says.

Trinity College Dublin’s education officer, Molly Kenny, said these services were difficult to detect, adding that it was ridiculous that Facebook would advertise such services to students. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

DIT’s vice-president for education, Gareth Walker-Ayers, says any student using such a service was doing themselves a disservice.

“It’s dangerous for students to use something like this, because if it’s stolen or reproduced elsewhere and you’re caught out in the assignment, there is no defence. Students would be just leaving themselves vulnerable,” he says.

Essay-writing services, however, insist they have a legitimate role in supporting students.

An Irish service

An Irish example of these services is a website called Write My Assignments. It describes itself as “an online education development company offering support to private individuals and businesses by qualified writers and researchers.”

Louise Foley, who runs the site, says it offers “a broad range of services to private individuals including educational support, from one-to-one grinds to notes and sample papers.

“Our work always belongs to us and all clients are expected to use and reference it as they would any other online source,” she says. In the terms and conditions of the website they state they do not condone plagiarism.

Foley says the site and demands for their services continue to grow. They give out about 400 quotes a year and complete roughly 350 projects.

Foley would not say which universities and institutes give them the most work.

She confirmed that the majority of work was at BA and MA level and the disciplines that were most requested included nursing, business and early-learning years.

In some countries there has been an effort to reduce the impact of these services. It is now illegal in New Zealand for someone to offer a service that would include completing assignments, providing answers to exams or sitting an exam for other students.

The penalty for breaking this law is a fine of up to $10,000 New Zealand dollars (about €6,000).

Glynn says this could be an option in Ireland: “I would endorse it if it came in here – enforcing it is the challenge – anything to discourage student plagiarism.”

Students should be aware that using these services can be risky, potentially expensive and, in the end, the product might not be worth the paper it’s written on.

Since the 2010-2011 academic year, there have been almost 1,000 cases of students disciplined for plagiarism across the Irish higher-education sector.

If anything, the number of cases is on the rise, with 236 cases recorded in the last academic year alone.

The real number is likely to be significantly higher, given that UCD, UCC, University of Maynooth and the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown had not provided figures at the time of going to print.

Of the colleges that supplied figures, the Institute of Technology Tallaght topped the list of detected cases of plagiarism (206), followed by the University of Limerick (162) and DIT (143).

All colleges reported that students were disciplined under their codes of conduct.

Institute of Technology Tallaght has one of the most extensive approaches to dealing with plagiarism, involving a sliding case of penalties, ranging from written warnings to potential disqualification from the institution.

TV: from luxury item to an essential

Dr Gareth Ivory is the Manager of RTÉ’s Audience Research Department and a Director (on behalf of RTÉ) of TAM Ireland, the company that manages the television audience measurement contract on behalf of broadcasters and advertisers in Ireland.

The ratings system provided to the Irish media industry by Nielsen TAM reports on daily viewing levels to about 30 channels, as well as providing monthly data about more than 200 other stations available across a variety of distribution platforms. The proliferation of the likes of integrated digital TVs, set-top boxes with enhanced functions, and tablet computers confirms that Irish people are fully embracing the digital revolution. But was it always so?

While there were some early adopters of television along the east coast before RTÉ’s first broadcast on New Year’s Eve 1961, prior to that, those who bought a TV set in order to watch BBC or Ulster Television were in a very small minority. For most of the 2.7 million or so people living in the Republic of Ireland in 1961, the radio (or wireless as it was still called), cinema and various print publications were the media of choice.

It was a very different country at that time and any technology being adopted by Irish people was far more likely to be modern domestic appliances such as fridges, electric cookers, twin-tub washing machines, tumble dryers and vacuum cleaners. Acquiring these goods that could ease the drudgery of daily household chores held out the prospect of more leisure time. A TV set was still regarded by many as a luxury item and below more pressing household purchases. Other options, such as hire purchase or TV rentals, were often preferred.

In the early years, RTÉ’s Annual Report provided estimates on the proportion of houses with a television. The uptake of this ‘new’ technology was more gradual than many may realise at this remove. By 1964, while 91% of Irish households had a radio, just 44% had a television set. Many of these homes were clearly early adopters living in urban centres. Six years later it was estimated that 70% of private households had a set, accounting for 79% of the population.

An urban/rural divide was still very evident: 84% of households in towns and cities in 1970 had a TV while only 57% of rural homes did. Four years later, the national percentage had risen to 79% of homes and by 1984 it was 91%, equating to 94% of the populace. The conversion from black & white sets to colour was similarly gradual. Between 1974 and 1984 the percentage of homes equipped with a colour TV set rose from 11% to 74%.

Data has been collected since 1988 estimating the number of homes that have more than one television set. In that year, just 16% of households had more than one set. By 1998, this percentage had increased to 43%. The current estimate is 53% of TV homes.

Basic TV equipment was in most Irish households by the early 1980s. Technological innovations allowed some accessorizing during that decade as video cassette recorders (VCR) and remote controls (with basic functions) became more commonplace. In 1984, just 8% of Irish households had a VCR while 10% had a remote. Ten years later, these figures had increased to 59% and 73% respectively.

Quite apart from technological innovation, the size of the average Irish household has changed dramatically since the birth of RTÉ Television. While on average four people lived in every home in 1961, this has fallen to just 2.5, according to the 2011 census. Moreover, the total number of private households has more than doubled from 675,000 in 1961 to around 1,636,000 now.

Since the millennium the penetration of digital technologies has increased dramatically. Between 2002 and 2005 ownership of DVD players more than tripled, from 18% to 62%. It peaked at 80% in 2008-2009, while the current estimate of 75% suggests that the perceived need for DVD players is waning. That may be due in part to the dramatic rise in PVRs [such as those in Sky and UPC digital set-top boxes], from 3% of Irish households nationally in 2005 to 42% currently. Significantly, of the three in every four homes that have digital reception, more than half have a PVR.

Since the 1980s, the capacity of broadcasters, network operators and technology manufacturers to offer audiences a range of possibilities that allows them to personalise their viewing experience has expanded rapidly. The coming years will likely see further growth in time-shift viewing and video-on-demand (VOD) services, and an increase in the consumption of broadcast content on mobile devices, including smart phones, laptops and tablets. New opportunities to view will abound and broadcasters are in the business of being available wherever and whenever audiences want them.

The future for television continues to shine brightly as we move into the second 50 years of Irish television and traditional viewing exists side-by-side with these technological developments. Notwithstanding the proliferation of technology over the past two decades, audience measurement data shows that individuals continue to watch on average just over three hours of live television per day. Just like in 1991. Apart from a small spike in 1998, time spent watching television gradually fell during the 90s from an average of three hours, 15 minutes to just below three hours in 2001. Since then it has been slowly creeping back up again.

Many people would like to know the most successful programme of all time. Unfortunately, no electronic dataset exists to allow for a direct comparison across all programmes broadcast in the Republic of Ireland since 1962. An added complication is that until 1989 viewing levels were reported at the level of Homes rather than Individuals (aged 4+), as is current practice.

However, I can say that the most viewed programme since 1989 was when Ireland drew 0-0 with Norway at Giants Stadium on 28th June 1994 to qualify for the knock-out stages of the World Cup Finals in the United States. On that day an estimated 1,716,000 viewers watched the entire match on their TV sets at home. And many more were watching in pubs, hotels and clubs.

To see the February 1962 statement RTÉ released to announce the start of television audience measurement by TAM Ireland, click here.


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