I call bull$hit on this article in the New York Times today, which suggests that “digital age” students just don’t think copying and pasting stuff from the world wide non-peer reviewed internets into their papers and putting their names on said papers is plagiarism.
Digital technology makes copying and pasting easy, of course. But that is the least of it. The Internet may also be redefining how students — who came of age with music file-sharing, Wikipedia and Web-linking — understand the concept of authorship and the singularity of any text or image.
“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”
It’s the “I can’t help it–the intertoobz rewired my brainz!” story. Riiiiiight. What aside from a few of the most dumba$$ anecdotal examples is the evidence for this alleged generational cluelessness about plagiarism?
In surveys from 2006 to 2010 by Donald L. McCabe, a co-founder of the Center for Academic Integrity and a business professor at Rutgers University, about 40 percent of 14,000 undergraduates admitted to copying a few sentences in written assignments.
Perhaps more significant, the number who believed that copying from the Web constitutes “serious cheating” is declining — to 29 percent on average in recent surveys from 34 percent earlier in the decade.
Wow! All the way from 34 percent to 29 percent over nearly a decade! (What’s the margin of error on that?) A five percent decline does not impress me. In fact, it’s pretty appalling that only about a thirdof students believe that copying from the Web is “serious cheating!” That’s the problem right there, and it has nothing to do with the internets, friends. (Would we really be satisfied knowing that merely 34 percent of our students thought that copying from the web was cheating?)
Finally, that old urban legend about plagiarism surfaces at the end of the story. (And when I call it an “urban legend,” I don’t mean to suggest it’s not true–only that it’s such a common story about plagiarism that it’s like a bad joke that refuses to die. I guess we need another term to describe phenomena like this–can any anthropologists or communications people help me out with some technical jargon here?)
Many times, said Donald J. Dudley, who oversees the discipline office on the [University of California, Davis] of 32,000, it was students who intentionally copied — knowing it was wrong — who were “unwilling to engage the writing process.”
“Writing is difficult, and doing it well takes time and practice,” he said.
And then there was a case that had nothing to do with a younger generation’s evolving view of authorship. A student accused of plagiarism came to Mr. Dudley’s office with her parents, and the father admitted that he was the one responsible for the plagiarism. The wife assured Mr. Dudley that it would not happen again.
HA-ha. The only person making any sense in this story is an undergraduate Senior, who points out that “plagiarism has nothing to do with trendy academic theories. The main reason it occurs, she said, is because students leave high school unprepared for the intellectual rigors of college writing. ‘If you’re taught how to closely read sources and synthesize them into your own original argument in middle and high school, you’re not going to be tempted to plagiarize in college, and you certainly won’t do so unknowingly.’” Yes–exactly. It’s not hard to understand that if you take words from someone else and put your name on them–even if you can’t find the name of an author for attribution–that’s plagiarism, and the definition of it never goes out of style.
Someday, somehow I’d like there to be a serious conversation about how budget cuts and increasing class sizes make it liklier that student will engage in academic dishonesty, because 1) they feel anonymous in class, and 2) it’s nearly impossible for professors and adjunct lecturers to stay on top of student work in classes with more than fifty students. I’d like to talk about how the people who run colleges and universities are actually responsible for this speed-up culture in universities in thinking that they can get more of something for nothing by cramming more and more students into our classes. I’d like to talk about how this kind of cynicism starts at the top, with the bogus belief that we can have Excellence Without Money, to borrow Roxie‘s term again.
That’s just my two cents. What’s yours?