Saturday, November 27, 2010

Plagiarism Online

Via Glenn Reynolds, I'm seeing this piece from last summer on classroom plagiarism. I'm pretty sure I saw it at the time, but didn't write about it. Now though I'm almost finished grading fall papers, and I've found three students plagiarizing with direct cut-and-paste from web articles. Check the comments at "Adjunct Law Prof Blog." One suggests "it's a losing battle," but only if professors give up the fight. Obviously most students don't write nearly as well as a New York Times correspondent (or a Wikipedia editor for that matter), and if I sometimes find, while reading through a student summary, inconsistent styling from one passage to the next (often pretty blatant), I just type in the text at Google and up pops the original article. Still, while one of my students literally swiped entire paragraphs (on some California ballot initiatives from Ballotpedia), it's not as common as one might expect. I'm always pleasantly surprised this time of year to find a large batch of students who are very good writers. It's poor students who're tempted to cheat, at least at my college. They simply can't write that well, even two or three paragraphs at a time. It's quite frustrating as a teacher. Some kids come from immigrant homes, including many Latinos, and the schools haven't always picked up where families have left off. It's kinda sad sometimes, but not uncommon. And these kids are in the workforce and often starting their own families. Things will get worse before they get better. Schools are stretched thin at all levels, and to the extent that administration and faculty discuss challenges on campus, it's usually over budgets and contract negotiations. Amazing sometimes how the education of the students, the reason all of this exists to begin with, is filed away as an afterthought. I'm not going to overstate the case, but it's a problem. And there aren't any Chris Christies around to help restore priorities. Teachers are on the front lines, and they gotta keep pushing, looking out for the kids as best they can. That's all you can do sometimes, besides holding on to a bit of sanity.


Paul Champagne said...

I've come to the realization that not all kids should go to college.

I know that most high schools are judged by how many of their graduates go on to college ... and which colleges they get into.

But if they can't write very well (or read, or do math), why are they taking up space in the classrooms?

It would be a service to them ... as well as to our country, to teach them a marketable skill rather than wasting our educational resources trying to get them to be something that they are not.

Some kids are late bloomers ... there is nothing to stop them from returning to the classroom later on in life.

Anonymous said...

Cheating, without any punishment, is a problem. Earlier this month over 200 students in one class at the University of Central Florida were caught cheating. Were they expelled? No Were they given an "F" for the exam? No They were allowed to retake the exam and also required to take an ethics course. Universities are becoming diploma mills needing a constant flow of revenue generating students and students believe that by paying their tuition they are "entitled" to a degree by any means necessary. Trophies for everyone mentality. The students "regret" was not that they cheated, but that they got caught.

Article link here:,0,671512.story

The Vegas Art Guy said...

It's a big concern at the HS level which might be why you see less of it at College. When we do research papers (2nd semester) several days are spent showing how to give credit where it's due with citations an the bibliography/works cited pages. At the HS level it's more often ignorance than anything else. At least your papers didn't have the hyperlinks still attached to the papers like I saw when I was still an education student.

The Griper said...

and the primary reason for it is that kids are being pushed into college before they are ready to go.
all you have to do is go around the blogosphere to see how poorly some people write.
you can see in their words that they have no thoughts of their own.

computers have been a god send to people but the ability to copy and paste has, in this issue, been the work of the devil as one would say.

Dana said...

I assume that, had the cheaters simply used quotation marks and cited their sources, the papers would have passed muster. Is it really that difficult a lesson to teach?

I'll add the suggestion that you bite the cheaters hard, since the word verification for this comment is "cobra." :)