Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Academic dishonesty revisited

The technology war escalates

Last year, I wrote about discovering that I had had a visit to the blog on a search for a distinctive sentence from an earlier blog post, with quote marks around it, a common method used by teachers to ferret out academic dishonesty. At the time, I warned students not to attempt to copy something from the Internet to turn in as their own work, with the admonishment, "Don't even THINK about it. You WILL get caught!" – a standard warning I always issue to my students at the beginning of each term.

Still, this term, I have had two students who have attempted to turn in plagiarized papers. It's frustrating, and it really eats up a lot of my time to document the incidents and file all of the paperwork. The college where I teach requires that I report all incidences of academic dishonesty, no matter what. I consider this to be an excellent policy. I do not believe that academic dishonesty should be tolerated in any way, shape, or form. However, it eats up lots of my time, which, especially toward the end of the term, is a scarce commodity.

Part of the time-consuming aspect of documenting plagiarism is verifying that the work is plagiarized. This is usually done by doing an Internet search for distinctive phrases or sentences to find the original. The first student this term made the task time-consuming by pasting together material from four different sources. The second student, however, stymied me – every distinctive phrase I entered into the search engines turned up nothing. I knew the papers were plagiarized, and some other instructors who looked at them agreed – this was a student who couldn't put together a coherent sentence or develop a paragraph, and these were well written and well developed essays.

Then I discovered the latest online "service" provided to lazy students who just want to get a good grade rather than actually learning anything: plagiarism "prevention." These sites will allow a student to upload a paper, and then they will somehow modify it, changing words and phrases, and possibly making other adjustments, so that a teacher who does an Internet search on distinctive sentences will come up empty. The websites make such claims as "remove all plagiarism from your papers before you turn them in."

Bullshit. These websites don't remove plagiarism. They only disguise it. A paper is just as dishonest after being run through one of these websites as it was before.

And you know what? If you're a student and you turn in plagiarized material, even if you use one of these websites, you still WILL get caught. Even though I couldn't confirm an original Internet source for my student's essays, there were still enough glaring differences between this student's work and the plagiarized material that it was obvious. I just filed the report to the Dean of Students this afternoon.

Okay, I hear some students say … that was a student whose writing was really poor, so the plagiarism was blatant. What about students who write well enough that a plagiarized essay isn't going to be obvious? Well … if you're already writing so well that plagiarism won't be noticeable, then you don't need to plagiarize, do you? Your own writing will stand for itself. Don't cheat yourself out of an opportunity to hone your writing skills.

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16 Comments:

Blogger Carol Anne said...

Programming note: Visitor #72K was somebody in New York state, looking for how to launch a sailboat.

I can tell it's spring. I'm getting a lot of visitors looking to launch sailboats.

Wed Apr 21, 12:00:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous Adriftatsea said...

CA—

Unfortunately, there are always going to be students that are trying to take a short cut... and in doing so they are only really cheating themselves.

Computers have made cheating easier, but have also made catching cheaters easier... so it is basically a wash in my opinion... the ones who cheat still would have done so if computers weren't available.

Wed Apr 21, 05:52:00 AM MDT  
Blogger yarg said...

It’s not the cheating from the lower level students that bothers me so much (that will always go on), but the outright cheating, and the various lesser shades of it, from the top students is alarming and appalling. I taught in an urban school and live, and now coach, in a relatively uppity suburban school. Cheating has many shades of gray (not reading the book, tweeting and texting on tests, sharing homework, borrowing last years’ papers and tests, writing the plagiaristic pastiche, etc.), and in better schools there are man practitioners who are damn good at it.

I think that from the student’s perspective the most important thing they learn in school these days (maybe always) is how to deal with the system, a system that has very little to do with what they perceive as their real life. Either they are beating the system or surviving it, but in this fast paced, high pressure, high stakes society the relationship with the system is the students’ overriding concern. And why not? When the students look around do they see a culture that rewards honesty and intellectual development, or do they see a society that rewards having the right connections, manipulating people and situations, and some dumb luck? Do they even have a definition of honesty that looks like yours or mine? The culture is adjusting the declination of the moral compass.

I fear those in the business of plagiarism proofing their own work and others will probably go far in this world. Honest, good writers will be working for them as they steal the credit for the work. Perhaps we English teachers can hope for some later in life Dickenesque retribution for the schemers and frauds, but I’m not holding my breath.

This little rant brought to you by a guy who really loves working with the kids.

Wed Apr 21, 07:32:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

How many people in the world today make a living by doing genuinely original creative work? Most people who work with their minds these days operate by learning from what others in their field have done before, picking out what work by others is relevant to their own situation, and then copying, improving on and applying those ideas and processes to their challenges.

The guy who sits in a box and tries to invent the wheel by himself is wasting his time and will fail. The guy who thinks, "Here is a design for a wheel I found on the Internet. If I just copy it and tweak it a bit it will do the job," will solve the problem at his company and win a promotion.

Research for and discovery of and application of relevant solutions invented by others is a key life skill for 99.99% of information workers.

Just saying...

Wed Apr 21, 08:36:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Baydog said...

How many people in the world today make a living by doing genuinely original creative work? Most people who work with their minds these days operate by learning from what others in their field have done before, picking out what work by others is relevant to their own situation, and then copying, improving on and applying those ideas and processes to their challenges.

The guy who sits in a box and tries to invent the wheel by himself is wasting his time and will fail. The guy who thinks, "Here is a design for a wheel I found on the Internet. If I just copy it and tweak it a bit it will do the job," will solve the problem at his company and win a promotion.

Research for and discovery of and application of relevant solutions invented by others is a key life skill for 99.99% of information workers.

Just saying...

Wed Apr 21, 08:08:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Baydog said...

;)

Wed Apr 21, 08:09:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous tillerman said...

Baydog, that is the most brilliant comment you have ever made. (The long one. Not the ;) one.)

How do you do it?

Verification word: cheney. Really! I have no idea why but it surely can't be a coincidence?

Wed Apr 21, 08:43:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

One of the websites I was at earlier this week was aimed at college composition teachers, and it said something to the effect of, "Plagiarism is widely accepted in high school nowadays, so students new to college may be unfamiliar with the idea of academic dishonesty." Whoa.

And yes, much of work in the real world does consist of taking what already exists and simply making it better. But, at least in the world of college composition, attribution is used to give credit to the previous improver of the information. Taking it without giving credit is stealing.

Wed Apr 21, 09:54:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Baydog said...

Tillerman: Figures your favorite comment of mine was yours. Like I've said before, plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery.
You are still the best.

And what, the Quayle-hunting Cheney? Did he use potatoe-s for bait? (By the way, the poor Trenton kid whose misspelling of potato that was incorrectly corrected by
J. Danforth is now incarcerated, a deadbeat dad, and/or on the dole and costing me and my neighbors precious taxpayer money. Really, I saw it on the news. Dan Quayle...what a dunce. That kid may have grown up to be President or something. P.S.- Did you ever wonder why the National Spelling Bee is broadcast on ESPN?

Carol Anne: The students unfamiliar with the idea of academic dishonesty today will be asking "paper or plastic?" tomorrow.

Wed Apr 21, 11:11:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Baydog said...

And wasn't our brilliant VP Joe "The Gaffer" Biden accused of plagiarism a few years ago?

Wed Apr 21, 11:15:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Carol Anne's classes offer opportunities for both individual and collaborative work. Plagiarism defeats her intent of evaluating the students' abilities and progress and being able to help them develop their powers of argument and skill with language.

Thu Apr 22, 10:46:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Baydog said...

In other words, don't waste her time!

Thu Apr 22, 10:57:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous Jerry said...

Here's an idea!

Step 1: Let's all sign up at oDesk.com and get jobs obfuscating plagiarized work. (I'll get a side job writing CAPTHCA-defeating spambots.)

Step 2: Produce horrible papers.

Step 3: Repeat until obfuscating industry is discredited.

Unfortunately the pay for these services is pretty awful.

Thu Apr 22, 11:18:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous tillerman said...

Shakespeare Line in The Merchant of Venice, 1596: "Love is blind"–Jessica, Act II, Scene VI.

Chaucer Line in The Canterbury Tales, 1387: "Love is blynd"–"The Merchant’s Tale."

I rest my case. Oh, and of course I copied the above off the Internet!

Thu Apr 22, 01:01:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Gerald said...

I'm considering myself lucky in that most of my school work is visual, and that it's still not very feasible to copy film over the internet.

Thu Apr 22, 04:09:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

OTOH, the guy who created the three-color portrait of Obama is being sued by the Associated Press, because he used an AP image without permission as the foundation for the portrait.

Thu Apr 22, 09:44:00 PM MDT  

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