August
2nd 2010
“Students of the digital age” put one over on their proffies

Posted under: American history, jobs, students, technoskepticism, unhappy endings, wankers

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?

39 Comments »

39 Responses to ““Students of the digital age” put one over on their proffies”

  1. Bardiac on 02 Aug 2010 at 7:19 am #

    Way back when I was in school (well before the internet), there were legends that frat houses had files of papers and exams available for their members.

    I’ve always wondered if they actually did. Of course, it would have involved retyping the paper, but it still would have been really easy to do at the last minute.

    I doubt plagiarism has changed much in the minds of our students; it has gotten easier to cut and paste. But it’s also gotten easier to put in a footnote or look up a source late at night.

  2. Tenured Radical on 02 Aug 2010 at 7:53 am #

    Right on here on the unseen costs of defunding educaiton: as a historian of crime I also wonder whether our capacity to detect internet plagiarism (through Google and programs that helpfully search the internet for us) has upped the incidence of detected plagiarism. Faculty who suspected plagiarism in the pre-internet era were often unwilling to devote the time for even a cursory check to see if they were right.

    As a trained reader who is alert to the rhythm and style of prose, I have never found plagiarism that hard to spot: it can be harder to prove, but I would not say the incidence has gone up. And my students — who are the ones who still have a crack at coming to college *with* the skills you describe *and* get attention — don;t seem confised in the least that stealing is stealing.

    What’s harder to detect — and I occasionally make a scene about this at Zenith & then forget it — are students simply picking up and recycling papers that same lazy-ass faculty have left in the hall to be picked up from a box, rather than returning them properly.

  3. rustonite on 02 Aug 2010 at 8:03 am #

    Bardiac-

    I can confirm that my fraternity did, in fact, have files of past exams and papers, along with textbooks, solution manuals, software, etc. They’re totally open about it and it’s a huge recruitment draw. However, I don’t think anyone was ever so ballsy as to just copy a paper straight up.

  4. Beth on 02 Aug 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Budget cuts and increasing class size…yep. That’s why it’s getting so much harder for us high school history teachers to send students to college even minimally prepared to write. I will have between 190-210 students next year… Plus, and even more outrageously, my school district (in sad, sad California) decided to cut all its librarians two years ago. Our librarians were, of course, integral to plagiarism education, not to mention guiding students to decent, authored sites, academic articles, and (gasp) actual books.

    On the other hand, as we Race To the Top, our students should get better and better at multiple choice–and who cares about plagiarism then?!

  5. squadratomagico on 02 Aug 2010 at 8:53 am #

    I must confess that I do not share the level of outrage about certain kinds of plagiarism (important caveat there). Stealing a whole paper, or a whole paragraph: yes, that’s unacceptable. But, as a medievalist I read texts all the time that “plagiarize” extensively: snippets of various Church Fathers and other earlier writers are routinely recycled by later generations, often without attribution. And yet, these later writers also are coming up with something new in the ways they contextualize and use those snippets. Similarly, I didn’t read the NYTimes article, but I certainly think a case can be made that most important creative endeavors involve some form of sampling and incorporative referentiality, that works along different lines than the way earlier generations approached the issue of creativity. I could conceive of assignments where choosing the right stuff to excerpt is itself the point — and very instructive.

    My point is not that students ought to be allowed to escape the hard work of thinking and synthesizing; to argue that quotation marks are unnecessary; or that universities ought to be given a free pass on the form of assembly-line education that has increasingly taken hold. But, OTOH, I have colleagues who think that a paper with a string of three words in common with something else — THREE WORDS! — ought to be failed and the student brought up on dishonesty charges. And frankly, I think that colleague is nuts. That’s fetishizing the idea of plagiarism in a way that has no relation to the reality of thought, education, and learning.

  6. Dr. Crazy on 02 Aug 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Here’s the thing: students don’t plagiarize because they don’t know it’s wrong. They plagiarize because they are a) insecure about their abilities, b) they procrastinated, and c) they’re afraid of failure (whether because of a or because they don’t trust their professor). I *strongly* believe that harping on all the reasons that plagiarism is wrong does absolutely nothing to stop plagiarism – students already know it’s wrong, but they think that it’s a chance that it’s worth it for them to take. Knowing the consequences of getting caught isn’t enough to discourage students from doing it, just as knowing that you can go to jail for drugs isn’t enough to discourage students from smoking some weed. The issue isn’t that somehow students make it out of high school not knowing the difference between right and wrong. The issue is that for whatever reason students who plagiarize are desperate enough to believe that plagiarizing is the best solution to whatever their problems are. Until they stop seeing it as a best solution, they’re going to keep doing it, however much we wring our hands and however much we shake our fists at these kids today.

    The reasons for plagiarism have not changed. The technology has. And if there is an increase in the number of students who plagiarize, I’d be inclined to trace that to the increase of students from diverse backgrounds (socioeconomic, educational, etc.) who now attend college. Further, I’d trace it to the fact that a college degree is now pretty much necessary for most middle-class jobs. Back in the “good old days,” I’d say that it was a lot more realistic for a student to drop out of college if things weren’t working out. Today, if you’ve got 10K+ of student loan debt, and if you know that the ticket to a middle-class future is a college degree, plagiarism probably seems like a more likely choice than dropping out of school.

    But so anyway, while I agree with your last paragraph that budget cuts/increasing class sizes/adjunctification have a negative impact on our abilities to deal with issues of academic integrity, I really don’t think that the problem is that with the extra burden students somehow don’t get the memo about plagiarism being wrong or that we can’t spend enough time sleuthing for evil-doers. I think the issue is more on the front end. Students plagiarize because it seems like a way not to fail. More students are going to see that as their only option if they feel like they can’t talk to their professors, if they feel like they don’t have the resources they need to succeed.

    I teach 4 classes a semester. I don’t use “turn-it-in” (although it’s available to me) because quite frankly one doesn’t need a computer program to catch plagiarism if you’re actually familiar with your individual students’ writing and if you develop assignments that force students to think for themselves (all of which takes time). And I’ve caught a fair number of plagiarists in my day, and my students are aware from the outset that there will be severe consequences if they plagiarize. But I’ll tell you this: going on and on about punishment or going on and on about how it’s “wrong” never stopped a student from plagiarizing in my class. What’s stopped plagiarism in my classes (I haven’t had a case in probably 3 semesters) is spending time explaining why it’s worth it for them to submit their own work and spending time getting them to come into my office and spending time getting them to work together on peer review and brainstorming (in lit classes, this is 90% outside of class).

  7. Historiann on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:02 am #

    I hear you Squadrato–but there’s a difference between sampling and adding original thought, and copying.

    For example, last fall when I taught a large survey and assigned four 2-4 page papers in fifteen weeks (hardly an imposition, I thought), I routinely found that students went on-line to find summaries of the articles and books they were supposed to read, and then copied them from wikipedia or something like that. In that case, the plagiarism was the “tell” that the students either never did the reading assignment in the first place, or that they were far too busy to go back and re-read it to find the passage they wanted. I flunked and kicked out more than one student for “borrowing” a sentence or two,” because that “borrowing” was utterly antithetical to the purpose of the exercise.

    As Tenured Radical suggests, plagiarism has become easier and more tempting, but detecting it has become easier as well. Cripes–at least those fraternity files took some effort to build, maintain, and use! But, these days when our universities advertise programs that one can complete “online” in one’s spare time, on top of a full-time job and a life–well, again: it seems like students are just responding to that kind of cynicism in kind. (This is not to say that plagiarists shouldn’t be hanged and gibbited–they should be. Absolutely.)

  8. Historiann on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:07 am #

    Dr. Crazy: I don’t really care why students plagiarize. Most of them run out of time–because they chose to spend their time on things other than their schoolwork. I get it that some students feel unprepared–but avoiding an assignment and then plagiarizing it to meet the deadline is not a reasonable strategy. It’s disrespectful to me and to their fellow students–and I feel especially obligated to stick up for the students who followed the rules and ground out a maybe-mediocre but honest paper. I agree with you that focusing on the bad that plagiarism does them is a good strategy, but I also think it’s fine to use the stick as well as the carrot.

    I’ve used Turnitin, and a Baa Ram U. internal plagiarism program. I agree with you that plagiarism isn’t hard to detect, but these programs make it even easier by finding the on-line sources for you. I like them, because I think they also serve as a deterrent.

    The fact is that plagiarism done right is more difficult than just doing an honest job. It always was, and it still is.

  9. dhume on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Agreed that defunding education has a lot to do with this…but what I really think is interesting is the contortions people like the NYT writer will go through to blame these problems on _anything other than the obvious cause_!!! It’s not because underfunded schools can’t provide the education students need to be college-ready (despite teachers’ heroic efforts to do so)…plagiarism is the Internet’s fault! I guess you really can explain anything with “digital natives” theory.

  10. Dr. Crazy on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Historiann – Oh, I’m not against using the stick, as you put it. It’s just that the stick doesn’t do anything to stop the problem, and catching plagiarists is a pain in the butt – the paperwork, the crying, the bureaucracy, etc. My reasons for strategizing about how to stop students from thinking that plagiarism is the best solution in my courses are primarily selfish: if I’m spending my time on detecting and prosecuting plagiarists, I can’t spend time on teaching the content of my courses.

    As for Turnitin or other plagiarism detection services as a deterrent, the position in composition and rhetoric studies has been that such services have severe limitations in terms of actually teaching students about academic integrity and they compromise students’ intellectual property. See this link: http://www.ncte.org/cccc/committees/ip/2007developments/mclean

    I can understand why people outside of English studies might use such programs to assist them, but I would point out that your evidence of having to kick out or flunk the students in your survey does seem to demonstrate that using plagiarism detection software didn’t work as a deterrent, in more than one case. Students who are inclined to plagiarize think the software won’t catch them.

  11. Mamie on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:34 am #

    I try to fend off plagiarism in my bigger undergrad classes (80+ students) by assigning off-the-beaten-track texts (for example, newspaper reports from the Early Republic, or excerpts from testimony before Congress from the 20th century) and by asking students to answer fairly specific questions. They have a hard time cutting and pasting off the internet if they can’t find anything on the internet that is related to the assignment. I also tell them very specifically that they are NOT to consult outside sources, but to write only about the assigned text.

    That said, some still try. Last year, I had a student in his 40s paste in a long passage describing an event that was voiced in the first person by an eyewitness. When I asked him about it, he denied copying. I asked him if he had actually witnessed the event (an impossibility), and he got angry and defensive. So it is not just the young interwebby kids who indulge.

  12. Western Dave on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:56 am #

    I really like Turnitin and not just as a plagiarism deterrent. If you’ve ever gotten a paper that had no footnotes, turnitin is your friend too. A student who turns in a paper with a zero match, that’s a sign the paper needs some work. It also has great peer review features, a killer commenting function and a couple of nice bells and whistles. It’s not just about plagiarism. It’s also very useful, if, like me, you give a lot of assignments that say “no additional research.” I’ve been shocked by how many kids, who don’t trust their own authority go out and try to find stuff. Again it’s not really plagiarism from my perspective, but it does give me insight into how my students are working and where they need help. (ie: confidence in working with limited amounts of evidence.)

  13. Tony Grafton on 02 Aug 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Thanks, Historiann, for calling out this silly article, and to all for helpful remarks. Like Mamie, I try to keep my assignments far enough off center that for most of them it’s obviously easier to do the work than to cut and paste. Squadratomagico: I agree, it’s ridiculous to be draconian with the truly gormless, especially when only a few words are taken from the source. But as one who teaches, like TR, at a fancy private school, I have had plagiarists who came from excellent public and private high schools, where they had had to produce research papers, and were juniors or seniors when they tried to put one over on me–and copied big hunks of very distinctive writing. In cases like that I feel a little less kindly disposed . . .

    As to the way earlier writers quoted without citing: sure, they did that in my (early modern) period all the time as well. But serious writers put a spin of their own on the material they took from others. Not every kid who pulls a paragraph out of Wikipedia is a Montaigne artfully misquoting Lucretius. Not every mashup is creative.

  14. Jonathan Rees on 02 Aug 2010 at 10:20 am #

    In my classes, it always happens like this:

    1. I notice a word in a paper that I have trouble believing any college student knows. [Sometimes I have to look it up in the dictionary myself. Lifelong learning is, after all, a very good thing.]

    2. I run sentence with said word through Google in quotes.

    3. Compare first hit to paper in front of me.

    I while back I found four plagiarized papers in the same class that way. That’s when I started describing not the morality of plagiarism more in class, but the nature of the punishment:

    Fail the whole class. No exceptions. Put it in the syllabus (which so many of them don’t bother reading) and the administration here actually backs me up on it. They can be a nice bunch of folks sometimes.

  15. Tom on 02 Aug 2010 at 10:23 am #

    Plagiarism is often a coping strategy, allowing students to complete work (for which they often feel no person involvement) while juggling all the other things they want out of “the college experience.” Most students do know what quotation marks are for, and when they choose not to use them, they know what they are doing.

    That said, digital technology is leading to an attitude of laissez-faire on many of these issues. One might guess that Historiann does not hold the copyright on the image that appears at the top of this blog entry, for example, though she surely knows exactly how one can look up the proper way to cite an image borrowed from another source, even if that image is in the public domain.

    Part of our responsibility as teachers is to clarify when, why, and how the rules (both explicit and implicit) differ in different contexts. The writing of a paper for a college class is one of the most formal, rule-bound contexts they’ll ever experience: which is precisely why it’s a valuable experience. They need to learn to dot their ‘i’s and cross their ‘t’s. Even a professionally oriented blog, however, can (and probably should) follow different rules for citation.

    Teaching students not to plagiarize is really important for holding them to a high standard of professionalism. It’s when they don’t recognize that aspect of their class (if, for example, the class in question is not part of their major) that they see plagiarism as a viable option: because they don’t associate required, or general education, courses, as contributing to their professionalism.

  16. Indyanna on 02 Aug 2010 at 10:23 am #

    I truly didn’t need Turnitin to nail the first plagiarism case I ever saw, as a first year TA (and a good thing, too, since the Uni only had one computer back then, almost a block long, one that filled up an entire building). Two students handed in the exact same paper, obviously from a fraternity file. That they were pledge brothers was unsurprising. When I realized that they were the starting center and quarterback from our at the time 0-6 football team, I also didn’t need Sports Center’s “turn-it-over” to know why they were fumbling away the ball a lot, either.

    I didn’t mind the tone of today’s Times article so much, but that anthropological riff-rap out of Notre Dame about the altered textual consciousness of students in this age of social media got a quick “revise and resubmit” from me. Please. I totally agree with TR (and others) that if you’re still doing any academic reading, lifted stuff–even badly written lifted stuff–jumps out at you without the U. spending our dwindling “Excellence Without Money” money on some preferred partner/vendor’s sexy tech-tool. Just plain free google generally finds the source.

    I also know of a 1990s case where a scholar/professor’s academic career was badly damaged when ze faced exactly the same situation I did as a TA: caught two students red-handed with exactly the same paper. They bald-facedly denied responsibility, their parents lawyered-up, and the U. cratered and sanctioned the prof. This makes a good (or at least a reasonable) case for vigilante justice that steers “outcomes” in genuinely clear-cut cheating cases around official institutional channels.

  17. Jonathan Rees on 02 Aug 2010 at 10:32 am #

    One more thing, since I happen to be writing syllabi today. This line, after the usual plagiarism language, really helps solve the problem that the NYT is covering:

    “If you do not understand this definition of plagiarism, it is your responsibility to discuss this topic with me further.”

  18. Matt L on 02 Aug 2010 at 10:59 am #

    I agree with Historiann’s original post and several of the commenters here. The plagiarist knows that they are doing wrong. They know that they are not supposed to copy a passage from Wikipedia or the Encyclopedia of Philosophy or some other electronic source and pass it off as their own.

    There are students who do not know what a quotation mark is or how to use the ‘insert footnote’ command in MS Word. Every semester I see at least a dozen essays that have fundamental problems with the mechanics of writing, and formatting, a paper. These students are not plagiarists, they are clueless. They are woefully unprepared for college and hopefully the Comp 101 class they take in English and my Western Civ class will help them get prepared to write their senior paper in a few years.

  19. Historiann on 02 Aug 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    I agree with Jonathan that stating the penalty for plagiarism in no uncertain terms on the syllabus is important. At my uni, faculty have a huge amount of leeway with these things, and when you put course policies on a syllabus it’s treated like a contract.

    dhume (way upthread) writes, “what I really think is interesting is the contortions people like the NYT writer will go through to blame these problems on _anything other than the obvious cause_!!!” Yes–exactly. As many of us have observed here before, it’s like they’re covering the higher ed beat back in 1963 or something. Other than the digital narrative and the high price of higher ed, they appear to be entirely unfamiliar with modern universities and how they actually work.

    Americans truly believe that there’s an easy shortcut somewhere, there’s a way to get something for nothing. That’s why there’s an endless appetite for these stories that ignore the real problem–the lack of funding for education, by which I mean funding to pay a living wage to more teachers and professors. It’s the same mentality that leads some of our students to cheat. Even universities these days are suggesting that coursework can be done on top of a full time job and other activities–that they can get something (a college degree, for example) for nothing (at least nothing beyond a few multiple-choice tests.)

  20. Comrade PhysioProf on 02 Aug 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    I am gobsmacked that any grown adult who actually went to fucken college could possibly take seriously the claims of students that they “didn’t know” that what they were doing was plaigiarism, and then conclude that the problem can therefore be solved by educating students better on what plaigiarism is. These little fucken pissants know full well that what they are doing is plaigiarism, and students have been using the “didn’t know” excuse since fucken forever.

  21. Janice on 02 Aug 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    I started to respond here but went on so long that I posted my thoughts at my blog — http://blog.jliedl.ca/?p=287 — taking off from some of the suggestions that this is just how the Internet culture rolls, today, in terms of creativity and remixing ideology. Bah!

  22. Not another post about plagiarism. « More or Less Bunk on 02 Aug 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    [...] post to this terrible New York Times article about plagiarism, but really the illustrious Historiann has already written everything that I might have written myself (and she’s much funnier than I am [...]

  23. history_mom on 02 Aug 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    In my first two semesters as a TA, I had 8 cases of plagiarism in my classes. One student was a two-time offender. The first time she used the copy provided on Amazon.com without realizing it came from the back of the book; she then tried to plagiarize her final with a printed source, but didn’t bother to check and see if it was in the e-journals (it was). It was frustrating and I wasted many hours tracking down their sources.

    So, my second year I created a two-page handout about plagiarism and had them sign the following statement after going over the handout in class:

    I ______________________________, hereby acknowledge that I have read and understand the handout on plagiarism.

    I understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it in my essays.

    I understand that it is my responsibility to ask questions about citing sources or writing essays prior to the due date of the assignment.

    I understand that if I do not ask questions prior to the due date of the assignment, that I am responsible for the consequences.

    I understand that if I am caught plagiarizing that I will receive an automatic failing grade in the course and be reported for academic dishonesty. Additionally, I understand that ignorance about plagiarism is not an excuse to avoid the consequences of my actions and that I will be punished accordingly.

    I understand that my teaching assistant is available to discuss any questions I may have and that if I cannot meet with my teaching assistant, then I can talk to the professor or visit the Writing Center on campus.

    I only caught one student that semester (her mom wrote the essay for her and plagiarized for the student). The second semester, I had no cases. It’s not necessarily an ideal solution, but it did put the responsibility on the students and having that signed paper covered my butt in the event that the student claimed s/he did not know it was plagiarism.

  24. squadratomagico on 02 Aug 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Actually, despite my earlier comment, I do use a variety of tactics to deter plagiarism. Like many others here, I try to design somewhat unique assignments that are difficult to find online. I also have, increasingly, moved my syllabi and other teaching materials onto websites, with a section stating that students are responsible for understanding what constitutes plagiarism, and for asking for clarification if they do not. I note that ignorance is no excuse. I provide a link to my department’s online plagiarism statement (which includes definitions and FAQs; and in some classes (it depends on which one) I use turnitin. But, that having been said, the conversations we have at OPU about this issue are generally, in my view, insane: many of my colleagues support the three-word rule, and seem to spend an inordinate amount of time policing this issue.

  25. Clio Bluestocking on 02 Aug 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    I have to say, I do have students who really don’t understand plagairism — not all of them, but a shocking number of them — but the internet has nothing to do with it. They’ve been taught all along, they take the tutorials on the library website, they take the introductory English class (sometimes), but so little of this has sunk in because so many of them do not know how to separate the information conveyed in words from the words themselves. So few actually read or write anything that they don’t understand how to put ideas into their own words because they don’t have very many words — or ideas — at their disposal.

    Seriously, they think that if a sentence says “After resigning as general of the Continental Army, George Washington became the first president of the United State, then later retired to his plantation, Mount Vernon,” then they can use it word-for-word without citation. After all, these are facts. How could these facts be put in any other possible way but this?

    When I give them the chance to revise, pointing out that they have taken this from other sources, they return the exact same paper, but all of the plaigairized passages have quotations marks and citations. This means that their paper is a patchwork quilt of quotes sewn together with connecting phrases. Then, I explain that this only demonstrates that they know where to find the information, not that they understand it or the question asked. They don’t get that. They gave me what I wanted, right? The correct information, right? What more do I want?

    None of this has to do with the internet. I hear how inarticulate so many are even in one-on-one conversation. They have no relationship to words. The internet is just the excuse. It’s a big boogie-man robot that can be blamed because it is essentially outside of anyone’s control. Funding schools, that actually can be fixed (and fixed without assuming that all educators are lazy and stupid).

  26. Roxie on 02 Aug 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Chiming in late from London mostly to say thanks for the link, Historiann, and, hey, doesn’t it suck that another academic year is about to dawn and the mantra of Excellence Without Money still reigns supreme on campuses throughout the land? Dagnabbit, why didn’t we trademark it and start selling those tee-shirts and coffee mugs when my typist was on leave last year and could have spent her days packing up boxes of merch in her basement office?

  27. Comrade PhysioProf on 02 Aug 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    Clio’s comment is one of the saddest fucken things I’ve read in a while. If our schools are not teaching kids to read and wrote, then what the fucken fuck are they doing?

  28. I Guess It’s My Turn To Rant on Plagiarism | The Global Sociology Blog on 02 Aug 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    [...] to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by Greet BoxHistoriann posted her rant this morning on this annoying New York Times article on plagiarism. So, I guess it’s my turn, [...]

  29. Tony Grafton on 02 Aug 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Thanks, all, and especially Historiann and Clio: you’ve nailed it. Nobody wants to invest what it would take to give a large proportion of our students a real grounding in, as Clio says, “how to separate the information conveyed in words from the words themselves.” After all, that stuff (the humanities) won’t spin revenues for universities or channel students into precisely defined, limited careers. It’s every bit as sad as Comrade PP says.

  30. Clio Bluestocking on 02 Aug 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Crowd control and standardized testing, I imagine, Comrade PhysioProf.

  31. Historiann on 02 Aug 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    But Clio–your students are really, really different from Tony’s, Tenured Radical’s, or even my students. Your students weren’t the beneficiaries (for the most part) of a college prep education, or so I gather. (Please correct me if this isn’t so.)

    That said–I hear your frustration in dealing with students who can’t grasp the concept of original expression versus statements of fact. I see less evil in their hearts than in the hearts of my students, the vast majority of whom as plagiarists get that but are too lazy to do the work honestly.

  32. Ignatz on 02 Aug 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    Hear, hear, everybody.
    I encountered particular difficulty as a composition teacher with students from other countries stitching together papers from a mishmash of sources. (I tutored one foreign student whose paper was such a mashup that I blurted out, “Where did you get this?” Unfazed, he replied, “From a bunch of books.”) I doubt other countries encourage their scholars to lift portions of text from elsewhere without attribution…Many were grad students. I think they simply did not have the skills to put together and support an argument in English, so they panicked. Basically, I blame universities– for setting the TOEFL bar low and using foreign grad students as cash cows. Genormous Flagship U, where I got my PhD, was egregious.

  33. likeafox on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    I have not assigned a research paper in years because of plagiarism. What I do is require an essay on the reading each week and a discussion in front of the other students. Only works in classes of less than 20. I require cumulative writing, comparing the last book to the current one so for the most part my graduate students read the assignments. After reading this enlightening listserv I am going to require students to do research for a research papers but write the essay in class during the exam period. A proctor will make sure they are not online. In fact a better idea is that they bring the physical notes and write by hand. No computers, no drafts, no internet. Just a brain and a pile of print outs. Oh, a razor and a bottle of paste for including historical evidence in the written document. Haha. Finally, hand written footnotes. I don’t know if this will work but I am going to try it out.

  34. Bit Bot on 02 Aug 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    Ignatz–actually

  35. Clio Bluestocking on 03 Aug 2010 at 6:04 am #

    Historiann, true, the majority of my students were not prepped for college in the same way as those you mentioned; and I do get so incredibly frustrated. Some days, I think I am completely ill-equipped for my job.

    I’m afraid I do occasionally take my frustration out on them; but they are set up. Really, the school systems, even the better ones, focus so much on that crowd control and teaching to the test that they make the students afraid to have a thought. Or they allow the students to get away with plaigairism because their teachers are stretched too thin to check. Or the concept of being educated gets lost in the quest to get high test scores on the part of the schools and a credential on the part of the students.

    Then, when the students get to our college, they are dumped into humanities and social science classes without being required to take even the first semester of writing, which sets everyone up to fail. Every year I have to assume fewer and fewer basic skills, and less and less basic knowlege. Despite claims to the contrary, we do have to be Grade 13 or college prep just as much as we have to be college.

    Again, digital age has nothing to do with it. Not funding education so that teachers are not overworked and students get more resources and attention does.

    Ah, jeez, now I’m depressed!

  36. FrauTech on 03 Aug 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Well in some fields diligence from the Professor can stop plagiarism. In engineering we are informed verbally that copying the answers from a solutions manual or from the internet is cheating. However, nearly every class the professor gets the first homework assignment, then makes a speech about how so many students directly copied the homework, but how he/she isn’t phased because homework is “only 10% of your grade” and so the cheaters are hurting themselves for the exam. I’m not sure about that. A “free” 10% to your grade, and people who are looking at the solutions to the problems when doing the homework the first time around. Versus the rest of us who don’t cheat, turn it in, get 5%, and then seeing the solutions (usually posted) requires several extra hours to get out of it what the cheaters got. One of my last classes the professor taught without requiring the textbook, which meant he “made up” homework problems every week. I’d think that would be the best solution, or like all of you in composition fields have stated, make sure you’re asking for requirements that can’t just be copied from the internet, or using sources that are not often written about. Usually though, most teachers/professors are too overworked/lazy to bother with preventative measures so students have a “learned behavior” of cheating to some degree. Historiann is right, it’s lack of investment in our education system.

    I also think ease plays a part. I remember taking a closed notes/closed book exam and I trotted off to the bathroom thinking about a problem that was bothering me. It was some topic I had learned but had forgotten, so it was irritatingly close to me being able to remember but I just couldn’t. Then I realized I had walked off with my smartphone in my pocket. It took a bit of effort to keep walking and not do anything. I ended up failing that class, but I’m really glad I didn’t give in to temptation. However, it was so easy and there would have been almost no chance of anyone knowing. That’s the problem with technology is when it makes it too easy. And an unprepared student makes it that much worse.

  37. Western Dave on 03 Aug 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    @like a fox, if you are serious about that assignment, have them do the outline. And for students who use on-line research organizing programs such as the really excellent (and cheap!) program noodlebib; you’ll have to figure out some work arounds with them.

    It would be much easier to just require everybody to take their notes for research paper in noodlebib, (or by hand) and then have them turn the notes in with the project. Noodlebib has the ability to let you see the notes as they create them and gives students the ability to tag and sort. We now require it for all our upper school students and it really helps. The program also allows you to clearly note on the same card a quote, a paraphrase, and “my ideas.”

  38. Clay Boggess on 05 Aug 2010 at 6:57 am #

    Plagiarism is a character flaw that will eventually be found out regardless. Time is the great neutralizer.

  39. Thursday Links « Interrobangs Anonymous on 11 Aug 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    [...] a great discussion of plagiarism in academia, and what drives it, over at Historiann. The comments are well worth reading, and I (Millie) am [...]