Richard Nemesvari's response (Bulletin, Jan. 2004) to my comments on essays and plagiarism (Bulletin, Dec. 2003) is a clear indication that this is indeed a serious issue. However, in light of Professor Nemesvari's input to the discussion, I believe further clarification is warranted.
First, my views on essays are largely based on teaching two courses on social and political aspects of discovery and innovation. These courses include student essays. It's my personal observation in reading and grading some two hundred essays that their style, content and quality (and hence their educational usefulness) have markedly declined in recent years in almost exact proportion to the proliferation of the Internet.
Second, in stressing low educational value of tests, Professor Nemesvari gives an implicit indication that his own discipline may be in a need of spending more effort and ingenuity in designing better test formats, including those which can account for writing skills. Whether we like it or not, Marshal McLuhan's phrase "the medium is the message" tells us that our educational methods - even in the most classical disciplines - cannot remain immune to the effects of technology.
Alexander A. Berezin
Engineering Physics, McMaster University