Aug 2, 2010

plagiarism 2.0.1

Jonathan Adler, critiquing a New York Times article on the ostensible rise of plagiarism, writes:
The problem is not that academic standards are too strict for the Internet Age. Rather, it’s that students are not taught that such standards really matter.
Or, from this teacher's perspective, students aren't always taught why such standards matter. We stop just short, teaching them the correct citation style, and perhaps even telling them that plagiarism is wrong, and that they'll receive a zero for a first-time offense. But that's only a threat without a reason.

Why does plagiarism matter? In this teacher's perspective, the educational reasons come before the ethical.* In a classroom where assessment is at the core of instruction, and I establish and maintain the expectation that I need to know what you know, then the corollary is that plagiarism defeats that purpose. There simply isn't room for it.

It's doubly important for an English teacher; our focus on "papers" should be on the process, not merely the product. If we have an eye on each draft, especially with amazing digital tools like Google Docs, plagiarism should be nipped in the bud. Nearly all of the (very few) incidents I've seen in the past few years involved students who hadn't turned in their drafts on schedule. For them, plagiarism was a desperation move.



*Regardless of the varying ethics practiced by students--they're not all going to be Kantians, after all--the classroom ethos of purposeful learning must be foundational.

2 comments:

Andrew Bailey said...

"Nearly all of the (very few) incidents I've seen in the past few years involved students who hadn't turned in their drafts on schedule. For them, plagiarism was a desperation move."

This is right, I think.

Procrastination and subsequent panic about approaching or passed deadlines are at the root of every plagiarism case I've seen. I thus try to both emphasize the dangers of procrastination and be lax on the deadlines I set. Better to turn in a paper a few days (or even weeks) late for a smallish penalty than turn in a plagiarized paper on time for no credit at all...

James Hanley said...

A nice post. Plagiarism is something I have to deal with not frequently, but too often. We had a student drop out of school because we dinged him on it this year, and another one whom I'm afraid will do the same. But yet we have to take the stance, and it's good to see yet another clear explanation of why.