Sunday, October 19, 2008

Plaigiarism is not Dishonourable

Allow me to plagiarize:
Students must write their essays and assignments in their own words. Whenever students take an idea or a passage from another author, they must acknowledge their debt both by using quotation marks where appropriate and by proper referencing such as footnotes or citations. Plagiarism is a major academic offence.
This addendum came with every syllabus I received during my undergraduate degree. Irony prevents me from telling you which university I plagiarized this work from.

Teaching students what should and should not be cited, and why citing is important is admirable. But, by teaching that citation is a system of acknowledging intellectual debts, students may never learn why we really cite others. Instead, they will cite to avoid punishment, and in some cases will do so when it is not necessary. Plagiarism is bad for several reasons; however, failing to acknowledge an intellectual "debt" to someone else is not one of them.

You are not indebted to someone whose ideas you borrow, rather, the strength of your argument depends upon what they wrote and what evidence they used to support their arguments. You do not cite them as a "thank you," rather you cite them so that a person reading your work has the means to check your sources. So that they can determine if what you say makes sense and is based on a sound foundation.

Hopefully, the person you cited also cited other authors. In this manner, footnotes and citations provide an unbreaking chain of logic / evidence, which goes back to an original source. For this, citations are extremely useful.

There are no victims of academic plagiarism. Plagiarism is the highest form of flattery. If someone sees your work as worth stealing, it must be good. Any undergrad who can write well enough to plagiarize without making it painfully obvious is probably smart enough for a BA anyway.

Transparency in education is important for creating a meaningful learning experience. Students aren't stupid, so maybe we shouldn't treat them like they are.

Plagiarism is not dishonourable; it's just counterproductive.


jeans said...

Adam, I'm appalled at you. And what a timely post. I've got a stack of 90 papers to grade. I am looking for evidence that students thought about the assignment that I bothered to give them and to construct in such a way that it invited their active participation. I want evidence that the student did some research. Looked something up. Put their thoughts into words themselves. I want them to have learned something.

And I find I am enraged by encountering a few smooth, mistake-free, elegant essays from people who cannot put an English sentence together in their response papers and who did poorly on the most recent exam. In fact, I'm downright furious. Because I'm looking at an A-quality essay, and I just know it wasn't written by the student who handed it in. And it's a total waste of my time to even read it.

Now. Maybe you are fine with applauding their "smarts" for finding an essay to buy off the internet and outsourcing their learning, but I'm not. I don't care about reading something that wasn't written by my student. That tells me nothing about the student's learning.

I'm hoping that you wrote this post to generate some lively conversation, not because you're really happy with seeing "creatively plagiarized" papers. No victims? I gotta tell you, I'm feeling like one right now.

Lauren Parkins said...
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