Tuesday 20 May 2014

How to 'avoid' plagiarism

Answer: Don't cheat.

In an education system of endemic and institutionalized cheating (i.e. the UK over the past couple of decades), plagiarism has been captured by institutional administrators, and reconceptualised as a passive experience of the student.


Plagiarism is now something to be 'avoided' - rather as if it was a runaway vehicle bearing down upon the unwary.

Any connection between passing-off someone else's work as your own and claiming the credit; and, you know, actually cheating is now buried under passive language and euphemisms.


Here - under the title of How to avoid plagiarism - is a section from a university called Why do students plagiarise?

The suggested answers are:
  • Poor note-taking skills (sources are not identified in the notes students take)
  • Lack of knowledge and understanding of academic conventions regarding the use of in-text citations and lists of references
  • Feelings of insecurity about their own writing ('The author puts it so much better than me!')
  • Fear of failure/fear of taking risks (Remember: Plagiarism may SEEM safer, but it isn’t!)
  • Poor time management (starting work on the assignment too close to the deadline)
  • They have heard of cases of plagiarism that went undetected/were handled leniently. 
...which misses out the two real reasons:

1. Student is too lazy to do the work (Why bother do it myself, when I can use somebody else's efforts?)

2. Student wants to get higher marks than they are actually capable of achieving (I need good marks - plagiarism gets me good marks - duh!)


Plus of course students have, in all probability "heard of cases of plagiarism that went undetected/were handled leniently" - because clever plagiarism is undetectable, while caught plagiarists are indeed 'handled leniently', to put it mildly.

Thus we have a very typical modern phenomenon - a bloated bureaucracy that yammers on and on forever about the 'seriousness' of some problem, while in practice making that problem permanent and more severe; thus ensuring both their own prestige (it's a serious problem) and their own survival (but the problem won't go away, and is getting worse!).

Meanwhile, the answer is simple: do all significant examinations and evaluations like they used to be done 'when I were a lad': under close supervision, so people can't plagiarize/ cheat (and if they do succeed in cheating, and they get caught, punish them very severely).


When it comes to important exams and evaluations, people cannot (and should not) be trusted.

(Even though people were far, far, far more honest fifty years ago than they are now, they were not trusted then - and obviously should not be trusted now.)



Matthias said...

I wonder how much of this could be solved by separating 1) classes where mastery of the subject matter is what counts from 2) pure research activities such as writing a thesis. In the first kind of class (which should run at least up through high school and maybe the first two years of college, depending on the aptitude of the students), your mastery of the subject matter would be evaluated based on an essay examination where you do not know the questions ahead of time. The only form of cheating possible there is reading off the next fellow's paper, and that's detectable enough. No time to rewrite so as to avoid detection.

The second sort of course would require the sort of in-depth research that requires direct interaction with a professor on a regular basis, like a thesis on a smaller scale. That would be more labor-intensive than the current system, but American humanities professors only teach something like six hours out of the week anyway.

I suppose the criticism of this would be that students have to wait too long to learn how to write a "research paper." Having passed through the American university system in the not-too-distant past, I perceive that most students' "research papers" are completely worthless, and that asking someone who has not really mastered any kind of academic material to do genuine "research" is kind of a joke. The students who plagiarize might be the ones who "get the joke" more than others.

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - Agreed. And this is of course precisely how things always used to be in the British educational system! (Plus multiple short answer exam questions to test factual knowledge.)

Richard said...

I think there are better potential explanations for plagiarism, both of the student variety and by professionals. Namely, that it's not really a form of traditional cheating (smuggling answers into a test, copying from a neighbor's test), but a pathological form of risk-taking, akin to shoplifting.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Richard - Plagiarism akin to shoplifting? Okay, but you need to recognize that shoplifting is not 'risk-taking' but a form of theft, punishable in England with a prison sentence.