Friday, August 6, 2010

credit where credit it due

In the Friday, August 6 edition,  there is a superb commentary by Norbert Cunningham in his "ToThe Contrary" column. It deals with the problem of plagiarism by university students (that is, copying the work of others, and submitting it as their own.) It's a constant problem. In my early years of teaching at UPEI, a student submitted a paper that was a word for word copy of an article in a historial journal. I was sure of it because I had read the journal. I also wrote the article in the first place. (Maybe he was just trying to flatter me?)

Cunningham dismisses the assertion of some professors that plagiarism today is not really plagiarism at all. Students are copying, they say, the wealth of material that is available on the internet. So it's not plagiarism. It's the "new creativity". Cunningham is quite right to dismiss tnat nonsense. Plagiarism is copying and claiming it as your own work. Whether it's from books or the web or two big,stone tablets being carried down a mountain by an old man, if you write that down and claim it as your work, that's plagiarism.

Cunningham indicates no great respect for professors who explain away such behaviour. He says they delude themselves. He is being kind. Universities are full of pompous asses who think they live in clouds far above us earthlings, and who say quite silly things.

I would just add a footnote to Cunningjam's excellent piece. In my experience of university teaching, students plagiarize because most professors don't know how to teach them to do research, how to make judgements, and how to write a research paper. And, in my experience as a student, most professors don't even try to do it, That's the major reason why students cheat.

I realized early in my first years at UPEI that I had better learn how to teach these essentials if I expected to serious results. So I worked out a way to do it. The result, with a few years of development, was that plagiarism dropped off to nearly zero.

The Moncton Times&Transcript. August 6. Bottom of the editorial page. It's a keeper.

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