Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Third time requires a post - plagiarism

This morning plagiarism crossed my screen for the third time in a week, which means the topic is demanding to be written about!

The first time was during an academic discussion last week. A group of us were being asked our opinion about the proliferation of study groups on FaceBook and other social media platforms and their role not only in mutual support during study, but the potential for plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty.

I have a somewhat contrarian view on the thin lines between collaboration and theft.  Perhaps I am naive, perhaps I've not felt the very real repercussions of having had my work plagiarised.  Perhaps I'm reading too much utopian digital future type articles and books.

Through my blog I share a lot of what I'm thinking and doing and researching. I also have posted most of my academic submissions of the last 2 years online where they can be freely read. Of course much of what I'm writing about are things I'm particularly interested and passionate about, and I've abridged or edited things so as not to post too many details of my school or colleagues that would not be relevant or appropriate for public consumption.  To me, the most useful parts of anyone else's academic submission would be the layout / structure of the essay / paper / report and the bibliography.  I'll happily share my bibliography with anyone and everyone.

And now it starts to get tricky.  On the one hand, the whole point of academic publishing and journal articles is to make your work publicly (albeit behind a paywall) available and for your work to be part of an ongoing quest to knowledge or the resolution of societal or scientific problems. On the other hand, in the grey area of being on the path to accreditation and while doing so jumping through academic hoops while writing essays and papers and having them marked and moderated by the system, you're supposed to keep all that knowledge and learning private or secret, just between yourself and your lecturer?  Can you see the problem? The double standard? The irony?  So part of my argument, is that if a lecturer can't be bothered to sufficiently change the topic of the assessments and the way in which the course is evaluated, then if another student were to use the work of a former student the lecturer is kind of to blame.  Although I would hope that the student would at least credit the work of the first student. Which because the whole system is rotten they are obviously incapable of doing, because then the whole thing becomes uncomfortably transparent. Ditto the lecturers who are obtuse or unhelpful.

The second time was this article in the Telegraph which appeared 2 days ago. A couple of interesting points are highlighted (I must say, #1700 for a dissertation is very cheap - if I think what each of my courses cost individually, that wouldn't even pay for one course / semester, so whoever is writing that stuff is either undervaluing themselves, or the whole academic thing is such a farce as to be worthless).  I think the topic is a whole lot bigger than many (particularly academics) think. It is not as simple as "plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward" (plagiarism.org). As the article points out - plagiarism happens more often in mass courses where there is little contact between the tutor and the student. It also happens when there are language difficulties experienced by students and the stakes are high.  And, we are obviously (sic) trying to root out "copying and collusion" - at least while our youth is studying. Once they get into the world of work it's called collaboration and teamwork. I'm wondering about this Prof. Braisby who is so keen to educate his students on the evils of plagiarism.  Is any time being spent in dialogue between the students, tutors, professors, administrators and powers that be in institutions to look more closely at the subject. Or are we all very quick to make the subject black and white?

Finally this morning, LibraryGrits, weighed in on the topic with a very nice little graphic which was the most nuanced look at the subject - the symptoms of plagiarism.


Although, I'd be pedantic and say that plagiarism was symptomatic of the other causes which she named as symptoms. 

Having a closer look at her list, I would say that different items need to be addressed in different ways. I'm wondering if newer versions could reflect this by the grouping / colouring?  

In my personal value system "don't care about ethics" would be a serious problem. 

Anything to do with the policing and lack of consequences is an institutional / teacher problem.

The rest, including laziness (please read "the myth of laziness" before jumping to laziness conclusions) need to systematically be addressed and scaffolded and worked on in combination with the teacher, school and probably parents. And here is where my tendency to put my work out there in the open comes into play - by putting examples out, we address the issues of "ignorance of formatting / protocols" and "exposure to modelling of best practise". 

Issues of language barriers, search and retrieval skills, organisation and time management skills need to sorted out while the student is at school, isn't that part of creating "life long learners" as opposed to "life long plagiarisers, thieves and frauds"?  I think the pressure to achieve high grades absolutely cannot be divorced from this whole discussion.  Anyone else been following the Palo Alto suicides and all the press around it?  

We are living in very interesting times in terms of knowledge dissemination, acquisition and creation and the formal institutions of school, university and college are struggling to keep up as bastions of certification, accreditation and credibility. The dear Professor in the Telegraph article alluded to this, but I don't think he really "got it". 

And language. Yes language. So many of our students at every level are studying in a language that is not their own. Their tongues and their minds are slashed and offered to the gods of English and sacrificed to the hopes of a better life in that illusionary magical tongue.  I can only imagine based on what I know from living in tongues other than English in various times of my life how much is lost and distorted in translation. 

References:

Gurney-Read, J. (2015, April 13). £1,700 for a dissertation, but what’s the real cost of plagiarism? Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11532848/1700-for-a-dissertation-but-whats-the-real-cost-of-plagiarism.html
McKenzie, D. (2015, April 14). Symptoms of Plagiarism [Web Log]. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://librarygrits.blogspot.sg/2015/04/symptoms-of-plagiarism.html
What is Plagiarism? (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism/