If you attended high school in the late nineties and early aughts, it's likely that you used the family computer in the den to type up your essays or do research. It's also likely that much of your time "doing research" was actually tooling around on AOL with an open Microsoft Word window so if your parents walked in you could smoothly play it off like you were truly doing work.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
EssayTyper is a site that allows you to plug in virtually any subject, then brings you to a Word-style webpage where you can write your essay. But you don't have to "write" anything. Not technically. Just bang on the keyboard and words appear.
Go ahead, try it. I used "economics" then pressed that button on the right.
Immediately, a paper appears.
The title is prewritten: "Innovative or Simply Post-Modern?"
And then, some computer magic.
Just start banging on keys.
Bang on the home keys, bang on the number keys. Press enter! Press delete! What will they think of next?
And here's a look at what's happening on the screen:
It's very fun, but we wondered if students were actually trying to pass off these generated papers as their own.
See, the first sentences of "Truly Jobs" (all EssayTyper papers are pre-titled) reads as follows:
Steven Paul "Steve" Jobs was an American pioneer of the personal computer revolution of the 1970s. He would come to be known as the entreprenur, marketer, and inventor, and cofounder, chairman, and finally CEO of Apple Inc. who transformed "one industry after another, from computers and smartphones to music and movies.
And a quick search proved it was just a rewrite of Jobs' Wikipedia page. So was our EssayTyper paper on Business Insider, and "Mad Men."
In 2012, The Atlantic published "Write My Essay, Please!" uncovering the truth behind sites similar to EssayTyper and the people who use them.
"Essay writing has become a cottage industry premised on systematic flaunting of the most basic aims of higher education," Richard Gunderman explains in the Atlantic piece. "The very fact that such services exist reflects a deep and widespread misunderstanding of why colleges and universities ask students to write essays in the first place."
While EssayTyper is free, and pretty useful for fooling your parents into thinking you're actually sitting on the computer and doing legitimate work, Gunderman says the bevvy of sites out there that appoint real people to write term papers for students is alarming. And, he points out, paying someone to write an essay for you isn't technically plagiarism.
"In this case, assuming the essay-writing services are actually providing brand-new essays, no one else's work is being stolen without consent," Gunderman writes. "It is being purchased. Nevertheless, the work is being used without attribution, and the students are claiming credit for work they never did. In short, the students are cheating, not learning."
A quick Google search for "how to find out if student is plagiarizing" serves up tons of tips and tricks for exhausted teachers and parents. A site called PlagTracker lets you type in a phrase or sentence to run against the rest of the internet. I copied and pasted the first sentence of "my" Steve Jobs essay.
The process took about twenty seconds (and PlagTracker offered to speed it up if I paid.) Here were the results.
My content was "81% plagerized from 5 sources," but none of those sources were listed as Wikipedia.
Brooklyn Friends School teacher Kathleen Clinchy agrees that while technology has made it easier to cheat, it's now a lot harder to definitively catch a cheater. She says resorting to old-school interrogation is the way to go.
In an email to Business Insider, Clinchy tells us:
It gets a little tricky because you don't want to accuse a student of cheating, so being able to have a conversation with strategic questioning is a good skill to have as a teacher. In younger grades, like middle school, you can get the parent involved and just ask them to revise the work together (AKA make sure your child stops cheating), but high school is a little murkier.
You also need to watch for students copying or plagiarizing each other too — that's where you just give the kids their papers back together with highlighted similar sentences and just stare at them until they talk.
But Bay Gross, founder of EssayTyper, has made sure to caveat his service to take any potential blame off of himself and the site. "Please don't ever try to use this legitimately," he says on the site. "The magic part is not real ... and that's plagiarism."
You may have heard the news that the world will soon see "Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary." That intriguing sounding announcement belies a more complicated reality. This new, restored film draws on footage shot by the British Army Film Unit in Nazi concentration camps in 1945, which was actually released in the mid-80s, in a film called Memory of the Camps. This first version, which you can watch above, took nearly forty years to reach the public, when it was finally released in 1984, first at the Berlin Film Festival, then on PBS. Until that time, the original footage sat unused in storage at the Imperial War Museum, consigned there after the Allied military government decided that such publicity for Nazi atrocities wouldn't get Germany reconstructed any faster. How, right in the aftermath of the Second World War, might we have reacted to its hauntingly revealing coverage of Bergen-Belsen?
According to the Independent, a screening of Memory of the Camps' material left even Alfred Hitchcock, certainly no stranger to death and malevolence, "so traumatised that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week." He'd shown up there in the first place as an advisor, and in that capacity offered director Sidney Bernstein advice on how, visually, to place these shocking revelations in a recognizable geographical and human context. "He took a circle round each concentration camp as it were on a map, different villages, different places and the numbers of people," Bernstein remembers. "Otherwise you could show a concentration camp, as you see them now, and it could be anywhere, miles away from humanity. He brought that into the film." For more on Memory of the Camps and its upcoming successor, a remastered version with a "lost" sixth reel restored, see also Richard Brody's related New Yorker post.
Memory of the Camps and other wartime films appears in our collection of 700 Free Movies Online.
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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.