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Thinking About Plagiarism at #ALAAC17

Posted by lpearle on 10 August 2017

Just before creating this blog post, I read A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin which poses some interesting moral and ethical questions for us to ponder.

Courtney Lewis presented at ALA’s Annual Conference on international students and plagiarism. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a few years, because how we think about as plagiarism – or, as we call it at Milton, academic integrity – is not always how our students, particularly those from other areas of the world, think about it. Thanks to other commitments, this was the only learning session I was able to attend but I’m so glad I did! You can view her slides here.

First thing she mentioned, our concept of plagiarism is actually fuzzy as it doesn’t take info account collaboration, editing, academic co-authorship, programming languages, oral preaching traditions, journalism (especially today, with “sources close to…” rather than named people), political speeches, peer editing in class, authorship in the age of usernames and avatars and mash-ups. In other words, the playing field is constantly evolving.

As we all know, institutions are made up of people. People are messy. And that’s what drives policy. We need to do better.

Think about not only about the above, but also these impediments to students doing completely original work: short assignment times, Pass/Fail classes, poor study habits, the text as authority not us, inadequate practice, lectures are often hypocritical (when does the teacher cite their sources? almost never. plus, see handouts that are missing citation information), English is the language of occupation and colonialism. So there’s that. And let’s not mention the number of library resources that are helpfully highlighted (even lightly in pencil) by previous researchers.

Plus, in most Asian countries, social hierarchy by age is important, so it helps to know who is older and can help younger students understand all kinds of social and academic issues. It’s not just social, but in age is important in other ways: old is revered and seminal while new is less valuable. In former Soviet countries, corruption (and plagiarism could be considered a form of corruption, as is academic theft) is a huge problem and one people learn about early on. Faculty must be taught about social and cultural differences, which lead to an understanding of a way forward.

Here’s an idea, one that would take more time than teachers may want to allot to an assignment but… as students to summarize an article in 1-3 sentences. Then create a paragraph from those sentences. Then a paragraph with quotes. Then share it with classmates and watch them learn from each other what the critical information in the article is. Guaranteed: no two students will have the same quotes or interpretation.

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One Response to “Thinking About Plagiarism at #ALAAC17”

  1. […] on plagiarism (aka “something that got left out of my last post“): Why plagiarism is not necessarily deceitful or deserving of censure. And some comments on […]

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