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Plagiarism is not Recursive Writing

February 24, 2009

Some WiseAss commented on my plagiarism posting that:

If a student is written up for plagiarism, and then there is no penalty upon graduation, where is the problem? I think this eliminates the instructor’s perspective for a specific reason: to cut down on plagiarism that may be allowed by instructors. Hold the instructors responsible for student work–tried before and works only part of the time.

I have no problem with enhanced student responsibility.  The point I was making, though, was the zero-tolerance policies that lump together minor infractions (even if intentional) with larger ones.

My issue with all of this is that a if a student misses quotes, that might be accidental, but then again, it really might not be. And, I never had a student who just “forgot to quote” someone. So, I don’t really see how this qualifies as a reason not to write a student up. Most students don’t turn in work forgetting to quote a major source of the paper.

You have been truly blessed.  My students, it seems, at times couldn’t walk across the street without falling down, much less navigate getting from source to text–bless their ignorant souls…

That said, in the old days, before all the digital text sources, I made my students turn in sources with their areas of research highlighted in matching colors to text in a draft before the final was turned in. Teachers always have the option of proposing a draft stage before final turn-ins, and most writing teachers already do this. This doesn’t mean instructors have to grade twice. I offer to comment on a student’s paper in 1, 2, or 3 areas, no more. It depends on how long the paper is, but any more than that, I and I tell the students to seek out a writing center, multiple audiences, etc. The point is, most teachers include an instructional phase in their writing projects designed to weed this thing out.

I think that multiple drafts for a writing class is the perfect method of instruction.  Have them write and write and write, with only a spot-check here and there before the final grade.  I have used this method and I, Piss Poor Prof, approve this message.

I have never seen a final paper with an accidental plagiarism at the end of the semester. Perhaps waiting to grade until farther along in the process or structuring the process will help, but for many years the game has remained the same: do you think my teacher will notice if I copy this out of a book? The game hasn’t changed, only the ways in which students have access to text. Some teaching must occur in the semester. These are not fully formed writers from the outset.

The conversation gets a bit more cloudy, though, when we move from the writing course into a “subject course” (or the other, more laden term, “major course”).  Here the typical instructor is not, they seem to feel, to be burdened with the minutia of documentation.  They are interested in the “ideas” dammit, not the punctuation.  The students should arrive fully formed to their door, eager and able to readily exchange ideas in the academic marketplace.

It is to the latter group that I, in my post on discourse communities and plagiarism, aimed what I deemed to be some serious shots across their tenured brow.  To which I reiterate myself:

Otherwise, each and every instructor has the onus and responsibility to teach the student how to navigate the writing discourse community that is college.  No bitching.  Unless your college outsources this task to a specific class, it is on you.  Take the first assignment of each class as a hit against student ignorance of proper writing, such it up, and teach the poor, ignorant things how to properly cite, attribute and acknowledge the ideas of others.  You are, after all, getting paid to traffic in the world of ideas.

  1. brokeharvardgrad permalink
    February 24, 2009 7:33 pm

    Strange that you don’t read things that are actually posted as comments, even while quoting them on your own page. Perhaps you missed this. I will, as WiseAss be happy to present it to you yet again: I think this eliminates the instructor’s perspective for a specific reason: to cut down on plagiarism that may be allowed by instructors. Hold the instructors responsible for student work.

    So sorry your students seem to fall down while walking, quoting, and doing other normal daily activities. You have sucky students. Perhaps they need better teaching.

  2. brokeharvardgrad permalink
    February 24, 2009 7:34 pm

    P.S. Zero tolerance has been enacted just to eliminate this sort of conversation, because most administrators get sick of hearing about it. No one wants a moral discussion when deciding whether or not to write up a student or suspend them; everyone just seems to want a policy. No one wants to listen to the instructors whine about how they weren’t listened to. Policy stated, now quit the whining.

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