Sunday, September 11, 2005

Plagiarism

The readings for this week touch on several provocative issues related to plagiarism. I will focus on the role of technology, and its effects on plagiarism within academia.

There is an underlying assumption within both readings that technology, and specifically the web, poses significant threats to the integrity of student research and coursework. The hypothesis is that the abundance of information and ease of access make plagiarism irresistible to more students. There seems to be a dearth of evidence presented in either article, however, to back up this conjecture. While the Final report of the UK Joint Information Systems Committee on Plagiarism presents some statistics on rising occurrences of intentional plagiarism, there is no definitive correlation to technology. The report admits that much of the evidence it presents stems from small-scale studies, or is circumstantial in nature.

Still, the concern that the changing nature of information availability may transform the values associated with student research seems valid. The report states that the majority of student plagiarism is inadvertent, due to misunderstanding of academic conventions and standards. The major problem seems to be a breakdown in communication, or disconnect in values, between students and the institutions. While the report suggests addressing this by making standards clear to students, the deeper problem of actually defining plagiarism is highly complex. It may be that the changing nature of information availability is one source of the disconnect between the long-standing academic values and the way students see information.

One possible solution suggested is for instructors to re-evaluate the structure of coursework, either in the way they design assignments, or by examining the students’ research process. Mallon decries this as "hand-holding," and worries that it will contribute to the further "infantilization of American college life" (247). However, by asking students to look critically at the process of creating research, through peer review groups for example, students may gain a much-needed skill in an age of information abundance. The types of assignments that seem to invite plagiarism are those that require the least amount of critical thinking: researching and reporting facts or the ideas of others. Assignments that require students to synthesize ideas and think originally, rather than focusing on canonical thought, would not only be less vulnerable to plagiarism, but would be more useful learning strategies in the "information age."


Mallon, Thomas. 2001. Afterword in Thomas Mallon, Stolen Words 2d Edition. San Diego: Harcourt, pp 239-253.

Deterring, Detecting, and Dealing with Student Plagiarism. Final report of the UK Joint Information Systems Committee on Plagiarism, Feb 2005.

3 Comments:

Blogger sc said...

I think it is an interesting point that a change in course structure could discourage plagiarism. In addition to giving assignments that focus on the research process and synthesis, group work might also discourage plagiarism. Peer oversight could act as another layer of deterrent and detection. This might be a counterweight to the feeling of anonymity that the JISC suggests is a problem in large classes. However, group work does have its own issues with workload distribution.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Janaki said...

The excerpt from Mallon's book and the article in the Guardian throw up an interesting point when taken together. The Guardian article indicates that information rottenness is not neccessarily linked to a particular medium of expression(the Web)and, maybe because of this, it does not connect the problem to the 'quantity' of information that is now available. Mallon's article, on the other hand, seems to attribute plagiarism (which we may see one instance of rotten information), at least partly, to the 'quantity' of information available on the web. (Of course, as Sarai points out, neither the article nor the UK report substantiate the claim that plagiarism has gone up or that it relies on technology to do so). This, I think, leads to an interesting point. Our discussions in class last week looked at the problems of 'quantity' and 'quality' as separate. Here seems to be a view that sees quality problems as arising in part from the 'quantity' problem. While I do not necessarily agree with the author on this, I think this is a question worth exploring.

The other interesting part of the readings was how technology centric their solutions to plagiarism were (rSchooldetective). One of them does advocate a holistic approach but this focusses more on prevention. The 'solutions' to detecting plagiarism were mostly a case of using more technology to deal with problems that they felt were caused by technology in the first place.

11:08 PM  
Blogger bjorn said...

This weeks readings deal with some very interesting issues that also have been heavily discussed in the Scandinavian countries.In June this year the Study Principal at the Norwegian School of Management stated in one of the largest newspapers in Norway that he was worried about the attitudes that many of the students at his institution expressed, and that many of the students are not willing to do the hard work that being a clever student implicates. He also stated that 50% of the students don't know anything these days, and that if he was an employee he would be very sceptical towards hiring most of these students, as they are cheating on their exams through buying term papers from others. The day after this chronicle in the newspaper the Principal at the Norwegian School of Management commented the chronicle with a new chronicle, and stated that he did not agree with the Study Principal, and that most students at the school worked very hard, and that they did not cheat more than other students. Later the same week the Study Principal was laid off... This decision was then criticised in a new chronicle by a Professor at another institution in Norway, who said that the Norwegian School of Management had handled this case very poorly, and that they had to implement a mandatory ethics course for all students at the school. This could prevent plagiarism, which in his opinion was a problem that had to be addressed in the near future at the Norwegian School of Management. In april this year 20 students at the Norwegian School of Managementwere caught for plagiarism.

I also enjoyed reading "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies", as it deals with a very interesting and important issue.

10:14 AM  

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