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Plagiarism and Influence September 26, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Assessment, Literacy, Online Tools.

plagiarism   My daughter, a middle school student, slowly explained to her stone aged father that she had to submit her assignment to a class blog. I was excited to see the writing process at work, from reading to thinking to composing to editing to polishing and, finally, to posting.Seeing her write was interesting, of course. Her task was to evaluate an online news article and she handled the project as well as any other kid in her class would have. She took pride in the article she found after evaluating several child-focused news sites. In her determination, National Geographic had the best articles for her needs; bonus points for evidence of higher order thinking.

She posted her entry on the class blog and my RSS reader notified me immediately. It was interesting to read what other students wrote and then figure out how much influence adults had on the piece.

One response was a single sentence; bonus points for doing it entirely on your own.
One had misspelled some common words; points off for not using a spell checker.
Some wrote about music stars; bonus points for choosing your own article.
Some responses were about car crashes; points off for not choosing a current event.
One was about the Alternative Minimum Tax. Hands up if you parent is a CPA.
One response weighed in at twenty sentences; points off for too much parental influence.

This is the point at which parental influence bumps up against the issue of plagiarism. My pre-service student teachers get riled up about plagiarism too, but on mentioning programs that scan for plagiarized articles, to my surprise, there was not uniform support for such tools.

Charlie Lowe, spokesperson for the Caucus on Intellectual Property and Composition/ Communication Studies (CCCC-IP) wrote publicly that plagiarism detection services such as turnitin, iThenicate, and iparadigms are creating the wrong atmosphere for writing in schools. The organization’s statement  notes that academic integrity can be compromised in at least five ways:

1. since students’ writing is going into databases, students are losing authority over their work;
2. students are viewed as guilty until proven innocent and not as trustworthy learners;
3. the services promote a culture of mistrust;
4. the responsibility for detecting plagiarism is removed from the professor, and;
5. the databases of student work risk being available to third parties not directly engaged in the educational relationship originally implied.

The act of plagiarism, when it occurs, is a teachable moment between the teacher and student – and both should benefit. The student should come away from a discussion about writing with a renewed understanding that his writing is being read and considered by someone. The student should come away with a sense that his own ideas are what are being sought in the writing assignment. The student should realize that the most important thing teachers are asking is for students to engage with a concept and writing is a way of making it their own.

The teacher must come away with a lesson learned also. If a student can think she can get away with a copy and paste product from a web site or an online encyclopedia, then the teacher has not created an engaging assignment. The teacher should come away with the understanding that assignments need to engage, to challenge, and to promote an inner dialogue with material they are studying. If the student can just copy and paste to fill out a traditional ten pages, then it is time to re-examine the assignments that teachers are imposing.

There is a great deal of support for p-20 teachers who are looking for ways to change their ways of assessing students. From self tests and study guides to portfolios and synthesis projects, teachers have more at their disposal than the ten page paper.

In my observations, most students will rise to the challenge of being assessed in novel ways and some teachers will attempt the change.



1. Zs - September 30, 2007

I should tell my students who complain constantly that they must post their work on a blog (since they don’t know what is a blog, and they hate all technology, and even if I provide a first day tutoring and help them set up their blog, and give them handouts about step-by-step use of a blog…). I constantly tell them that they must live in 21st century! That the generation they educate is born with computer and text messaging in their DNA :-)
My plea does not help me more than to have my students hate my techniques of teaching.
Yes, you guessed they are my graduate students!

I keep asking myself IF we would need NCLB given our teachers would advance in the rhythm of “times”…? I am constantly amazed WHY a graduate student who pays lots of money for education would prefer having very easy courses and an easy grading teacher?

I tell myself that the next generation will be different and I should be glad if I change one student at a time (one/semester). I AM glad when I meet my former student and she tells me that my course changed not only the way she teaches, but changed her life, the way she thinks and relates to people.

Perhaps that is in the end the reward of a teacher, the reward which tips the balance.

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