Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Culture of Copy-and-Paste--What Hath Technology Wrought?

In my March 23rd posting, Reducing Plagiarism the New-Fashioned Way, I wrote about the application of technology to decrease the amount of plagiarism. Along comes this spiked article to give us a student's perspective. Jessica Durkin, a student at Boston University, has done her homework on this issue and so should we, the professioriate.

Would it surprise anyone that in a survey of students, 54 percent of them admitted to Internet plagiarism? That's not really a question, but a comment. Sure, as an economist I can understand why that percentage is so high. Reduce the cost of plagiarism and there will be more of it. And the Internet sure reduces the cost. The time and effort needed to plagiarize is a fraction of what it was when I was a student. Just click, copy, and paste. But the lower cost doesn't tell the whole story.

From Jessica's perspective, many college students are motivated to attend college by the promise of careers with lucrative salaries rather than by the love of learning. For students motivated by money, technology offers an easy way to a diploma. Get, get, get. Me, me, me. Plagiarize, get the grade, get the degree, and get the job. If they can keep that job, that is. Committing fraud to get a degree surely lowers the internal barriers to committing fraud to keep a job later in life. (See Mission Impossible? Ethics in the Mission Statement.)

The invention of a new technology to alleviate problems created by another technology has been a pattern throughout human history. It started in ancient times. Someone invented the club, so someone else countered that technology by inventing the shield to deflect the blows delivered with clubs. The more things change, the more they stay the same. To counter North Korean nuclear missiles I heard President Bush propose tonight the counter technology of a missile defense system. Teaching in a techology-enhanced environment, the problem is the same--to stay one step ahead of the students.

I like Jessica's values-driven conclusion. The ultimate solution to reducing plagiarism has to be with instilling values that motivate students to learn rather than plagiarize. The goal of faculty should be to win the hearts and minds of students by being role models with a passion for learning and love of subject. The dismal statistics on cheating tell us there is a failure somewhere in the system--one that technology can't fix. (See my April 9th posting below, Beyond the Statement of Teaching Philosophy--A Personal Mission Statement to Improve Teaching.)


Blogger Dr. Tammy said...

This is a very relevant topic...wheter teaching online or onground...

As an online instructor, it's difficult for me to believe my learners INTEND to plagiarize, as I "trust" my students first, until they prove me wrong. I spend a great amount of time at the beginning of each term having the learners on avoiding plagiarism. All learners are required in the FIRST WEEK to complete an online APA/Plagiarism tutorial and discuss what they learned in the classroom about plagiarism. We get the dicussion out in the open and lay it right on the table!

I have found REQUIRING learners to include citations/references in almost EVERY paragraph of a paper, reduces plagiarism. I "ding" them for NOT citing authors. In other words, if a paper is turned in WITHOUT citations/references in almost every paragraph, the grade is SIGNIFICANTLY decreased. They learn quickly they can say anything they want...just use citations!

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Lisa SG said...

Another way to avoid the problem (admittedly, not a good idea for major courses, but for gen ed courses for first-year students in particular this can work): assign the topic YOU want the students to work on, and make them use the readings YOU want them to use in their bibliography. This works very well for me in philosophy classes, plus I can then spend time helping the students work on the topic and develop a good paper, since they are all working on the same topic. Then change the topic every semester.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the above and I found this

At the same time your last paragraph strikes me as slightly naive -- most of my plagiarists are poor students to begin with and are trying to use plagiarism to vault a couple of grade levels above what they could do on their own. I would at least distinguish between the marginal plagiarist and the average plagiarist.

The next-to-last paragraph of the Durkin article strikes me as a combination of rationalization and moral confusion.

9:04 PM  

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