Vol. 6. No. 3 — December 2002
Perspectives on Plagiarism in the ESL/EFL Classroom
Karen Stanley, editor
Thinking about putting together a column on plagiarism, I wandered over to my computer, pulled up a search engine, and entered “plagiarism.” Bingo. 491,000 entries. Quoting from the summaries of just the first few on the long list:
. . . Welcome to Plagiarism.org, the online resource for educators concerned with the growing problem of Internet plagiarism. This site is designed to provide the . . .
. . . Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It. What is Plagiarism and Why is it Important … How Can Students Avoid Plagiarism? …
. . . Welcome to Glatt Plagiarism Services, Inc. . . . Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program (GPSP). A highly sophisticated Screening Program to detect plagiarism. …
. . . Plagiarism and the Web. Plagiarism is a perennial temptation for students and an eternal challenge for teachers. . . .
. . . Cut-and-Paste Plagiarism: Preventing, Detecting and Tracking Online Plagiarism…
. . . Avoiding Plagiarism by Sharon Williams … Writers sometimes plagiarize ideas from outside sources without realizing that they are doing so. Put simply, you. . .
. . . Avoiding Plagiarism. Mastering the Art of Scholarship…
Clearly, plagiarism is a focus of attention for educators. As instructors involved with second language learners, our classroom situation is even more complex than others. And, as is easy to see if you sift through the websites and talk with friends and colleagues, it is not a problem with easy answers or quick solutions.
What follows is a discussion from the TESL-L email list in February, 2002. Please feel welcome to share your thoughts and ideas with the individual contributors and/or the editor.
Alyx Meltzer – Kuwait University
I am involved in teaching an EFL course for grad students that requires … writing a literature review (part of their thesis). Typically around 30 references will be listed on the reference list. [-1-]
Many of us have had the experience of discussing plagiarism and its repercussions, then teaching paraphrasing, summarizing, using citations, etc. — only to find that students don’t take this matter seriously. Last semester, I nailed a grad student for plagiarizing much of a section and if I had had the time, I probably could have found more instances in her paper. While her advisor was fairly appalled, he seemed to think that because she had cited her sources (even though she had failed to paraphrase) that her offense was of a lesser nature. Her defense was “I didn’t have enough time,” which was probably true because I knew she was behind in her reading and her first draft was extremely weak — majorly lacked development.
In the pre-electronic days, note-taking and highlighting seemed to have made it easier to avoid plagiarism. Now, however, with so many journal articles available in full-text, I suspect many students (and faculty) find themselves electronically cutting and pasting, which streamlines the whole process but in a way facilitates inadvertent plagiarism.
What I’m wondering is this:
1. Has the advent of full-text resources changed the way you teach “note-taking?” How so? If not, what do you tell your students as regards using full-text electronic resources?
2.We generally ask Ss to hand in copies of their sources, but when so many sources are involved, this requirement is impractical. I have been doing random checks, but of course this entails having to research the articles — fairly time-consuming. Any short-cuts come to mind?
3. Do you find the opinion of her advisor not at all uncommon — that unparaphrased but cited plagiarism — is a lesser offense?
Bill Snyder – TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY
Alyx Meltzer’s note about plagiarism poses three specific questions that I hope will be discussed here. However, I am more interested in the question of sources of students plagiarizing, something that lies below the surface of those questions.
Alyx Meltzer suggests that students do not take instruction about plagiarism seriously, but my experience suggests something different. I believe that students do take the instruction seriously, but that the instructional and curricular contexts in which they do their writing sometimes contribute to their falling short in practice.
Students may be taught how to paraphrase and summarize, but instruction that does not address the issues of authority in text and the students’ possibilities for creating a unique voice in synthesizing others’ work, rather than simply extending their authority, may not deal with the real issues of self-confidence that may underlie plagiarism. The notion of students owning their own text may have to be raised explicitly, especially in EFL contexts, to help students feel able to address the work of experts using the paraphrase and summary skills they have learned. [-2-]
The student that Alyx Meltzer mentions plagiarized because of “lack of time” (not lack of understanding!). In many EFL contexts, the educational curriculum seems based on a belief that students will not (cannot?) learn outside the classroom. Thus, students at the university level are often taking 8 to 10 (or more) classes per term, with the attendant reading and writing demands. In such a situation, when do they have time to produce thoughtful, original analyses in writing? Combined with traditional approaches to writing production which do not provide for a cycle of feedback and re-writing, in which problematic passages might be caught and repaired, this workload may lead pressured students to the type of plagiarism reported. It may even support the attitude of the student’s professor that this is less serious.
I haven’t really addressed the 3 questions Alyx Meltzer asked here. But I hope by raising a different set of related issues, I will promote some other discussion and perhaps urge some people to support changes in what and how we teach that will move all of us away from the cat-and-mouse game of ‘nail the plagiarist’ to one where students are supported by the curricular and instructional environment in learning how to write.
Maggie Sokolik – College Writing Programs, UC Berkeley;
Manager of TESLMW-L, Materials Writers Branch of TESL-L
I’d like to make a plea for a little more openness and compassion in the way we are teaching and dealing with plagiarism.
… I use turnitin.com (my department pays for it), and I fully involve students in its use. Most students are grateful that there are routine checks for plagiarism. Students who don’t plagiarize sometimes feel at a disadvantage–rightly or wrongly–and fear that their classmates who plagiarize are getting better grades. The open use of checking for plagiarism (and I check ALL papers, not just questionable ones) levels the playing field for all. Telling students about the services also opens the discussion about the internet and how it can be both a help and a hindrance to writers.
Alyx Meltzer says:
> Last semester, I nailed a grad student for plagiarizing…
I think it will help us and our students if we step back from the role of being plagiarism ‘cops’ who ‘nail’ students for their transgressions. It’s easy to get emotionally involved with the issue and feel that somehow *we* have been transgressed against, but it’s so much happier for all involved if we can deal with the act and the writer as unemotionally as possible. This is not to say we take it lightly; students need to know the consequences, and they must live with them. But, we don’t have to cast ourselves in the role of judge and jury in order for this to happen. [-3-]
Alastair Pennycook has an excellent article on this issue in a recent TESOL Quarterly: “Borrowing Others’ Words: Text, Ownership, Memory, and Plagiarism.” TESOL Quarterly 30 (1996): 201-230.
Finally, are we as teachers setting good examples? What acts of plagiarism are we committing in students’ full view–“borrowing” activities from published authors or colleagues, using elements of others’ websites without attribution or permission, photocopying instead of buying textbooks? We can’t expect students to live up to standards we don’t adhere to ourselves.
Erlyn Baack – ITESM, Campus Queretaro, Mexico
Maggie Sokolik wrote:
>I’d like to make a plea for a little more openness and compassion in the way we are teaching and dealing with plagiarism.
Of course I agree with Maggie’s openness and compassion comment.
… in our composition classes, we **discuss** plagiarism and examples of it, both at the beginning of the semester and several times throughout the semester. After these discussions, students know what does and does not have to be documented. Therefore, by the time a student plagiarizes half an essay, it is not an error of knowledge in my view; it is an error of judgment.
In addition, there are two other items to consider. First, almost all students have already taken at least seven or eight semesters of English before they get to the composition classes, so plagiarism is nothing new to them. Second, we also discuss the “voice” of the author, and we consider what happens to the author’s “voice” when half the essay is plagiarized.
Meanwhile, our school does not subscribe to any of the “plagiarism detection” services which means the Google search engine is the only (or at least the best) tool we have, and after discussion among the members of our department, we have agreed not to divulge that information. We are completely open about plagiarism detection services available, however.
(By the way, doesn’t ANYONE remember the first time they got caught plagiarizing? I was in a high school writing course studying “writing poetry.” I HATED writing poetry, and a major assignment was due. I went to the Sioux City, Iowa (USA) public library, walked the stacks of poetry books, and picked the oldest, dustiest poetry book I could find, copied a poem from it, and turned it in as my own. I remember thinking, “This poem is REALLY BAD; the teacher, (and I still remember his name), will NEVER know I didn’t write it; it’s that bad!” Of course he knew, and when he returned the assignment, he had written, “This work is excellent. IF IT IS ORIGINAL, please talk to me immediately so I can enter it into the high school competition…” Obviously, I didn’t talk to him much about that poem.)
In sum, it’s not a catastrophe reprimanding a student for plagiarizing. Letting them get away with it IS. I have never taken a plagiarism offence to any “higher” level. I have never encountered the occasion to do that. [-4-]
Sarah Graff – MA TESOL student, University of Northern Iowa, USA
In response to the discussion Alyx Meltzer has begun regarding plagiarism, I agree that plagiarism is a major problem for ESL students, who often cannot express themselves in written English and tend to use the text they read instead. I also think it is important that ESL teachers remember that what we call “plagiarism” in the United States is actually highly encouraged in most Asian countries. I have been completing a large research paper focusing on the ethics of teaching the U.S. American rhetoric to ESL students who grew up with a different perspective. I have found that in China, Confucianism still promotes the use of proverbs to carry on age old messages about morality and universal truths. In Korea, students are graded highly by their teachers if they imitate classic writers. Meanwhile, in the United States students are rewarded for their own creativity and fresh voice. As instructors we must be open-minded in the classroom, and educate ourselves about these types of culturally influenced rhetorical differences.
Joel Boyd – Language Specialist, CELCIS – Western Michigan University
Alyx Meltzer wrote:
> Do you find the opinion of her advisor not at all uncommon — that unparaphrased but cited plagiarism — is a lesser offense?
I’m not sure if you are aware of the recent scandal in the United States where two eminent historians have been shown to have plagiarized some material in their books. It is precisely over the question of citing sources without the use of quotation marks (inverted commas) that the charges rest. Although it seems that some people share the opinion of this advisor, there has been enough concern about this practice to have the question discussed on national television here in the United States. I showed videotaped portions of a discussion to one of my classes and we also read an article in Newsweek magazine and they seemed to understand the seriousness of the matter. I would suggest this approach to any instructor dealing with this problem.
Diane Pecorari – University of Birmingham
One of Alyx Meltzer’s questions was whether the reaction of the advisor whose student plagiarized was common. The student used language from a source without marking it as a quotation, and the advisor felt that because the student had named the source, the plagiarism was less serious.
I suspect that is a common view, not because teachers think that way of writing is appropriate, but because it seems to cast some doubt on whether the student was intentionally deceptive about the origins of her writing. A teacher may reason that a student who knowingly does something wrong would cover her tracks. If she named her source, perhaps she didn’t think she had anything to hide. [-5-]
Other teachers may be skeptical about this reasoning, arguing that their students have been warned about plagiarism, and therefore if they plagiarize, it must be intentional. But as Bill Snyder insightfully observes,
> . . . students do take the instruction seriously, but . . . the instructional and curricular contexts in which they do their writing sometimes contribute to their falling short in practice.
As language teachers we shouldn’t be surprised that students can know something in theory and not put it into practice consistently. When students forget about the “s” on the end of a third person singular verb in the present, we remind them. We don’t give them a failing grade, saying “You were warned about that at the beginning of the semester!”
So Bill Snyder has it exactly right in my view–the problem to wrestle with isn’t so much detection as giving students the opportunity to practice source use as part of writing in a meaningful context with appropriate feedback.
Laurie A. Lew – Beijing, PRC
Sarah Graff wrote:
>I also think it is important that ESL teachers remember that what we call “plagiarism” in the United States is actually highly encouraged in most Asian countries. I have been completing a large research paper focusing on the ethics of teaching the U.S. American rhetoric to ESL students who grew up with a different perspective. I have found that in China, Confucianism still promotes the use of proverbs to carry on age old messages about morality and universal truths.
I’ve taught in Beijing for over 10 years and plagiarism comes up again and again. While it’s true that Chinese are taught to imitate and copy “beautiful” phrases and sentences when learning to write in Chinese, it’s also true that the readers (teacher) _know_ it is imitation and copying, even if they don’t know the exact source, as in the case of a proverb. When students plagiarize in English, they’re hoping that I believe it’s their work. I point out this difference at the beginning of each writing course. I also have students do lots of writing in class to get them into the habit of writing directly in English on their own.
Students know that copying from another during a test is cheating and when they do it, they hope they don’t get caught. How the culture views cheating in general is another matter.
Bill Snyder – TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY
Nearly everyone writing in the plagiarism thread has said that their program includes direct teaching about plagiarism, but that it persists as a problem despite this. This would suggest to me that the approach being taken is not effective. That approach, as I understand it, is one of teaching about plagiarism (“laying down the law”), providing glosses of ways to avoid violation, such as paraphrase, and then laying in wait to nail violators, like policemen at a speed trap. [-6-]
We should think about why this doesn’t work. The issues of cultural attitudes towards authority in text, the limited resources of our students in language and time, the pressures on them for performance, and the adequacy of the models we provide for them have all been raised here. I’d like to add a few more thoughts to this.
First, I think we need to recognize plagiarism not as a simple black and white issue but one with shadings. In the book, The Craft of Research, Booth and his colleagues make this a central point in their discussion of plagiarism [Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (1995). The craft of research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press]. They even include one well-paraphrased and cited example that they feel is truly gray. Some people would object to the fact the order of ideas in the original is maintained, others would see it as okay. This might explain why people can evaluate some examples of plagiarism as more serious than others.
Next, I think we need to understand that mastering the tools for avoiding plagiarism, including gaining the language to express oneself adequately and the confidence that one’s expression is adequate, as well as mastering rhetorical structure, the tools of citation and quotation, etc. is not an easy task. If we think about, I think that we will see that instruction about these things cannot be enough. They have to be learned in the doing, in part by making mistakes. The poster who recalled being caught copying a poem is really all of us, isn’t she?
And this should suggest a way that combines the compassion suggested by Maggie Sokolik, with a prolonged process approach to instruction that allows us to deal with these problems in the drafting stages and help students develop the skills to overcome them. I believe it also should point us towards having students work in more depth on fewer papers over the course of a term.
In a different article from the one Maggie Sokolik cited, Pennycook suggests that one of the main questions second language educators should be asking about their practice is, “Under what conditions can induction into a new language and culture be empowering?” (See System 18, p. 311). The cat-and-mouse game of plagiarism as it is currently played is not one of those conditions, I think.
Richard Cusick, Jr.
— Maggie Sokolik<sokolik@SOCRATES.BERKELEY.EDU> wrote:
> I’d like to make a plea for a little more openness and compassion in the way we are teaching and dealing with plagiarism.
This kind of attitude gives us a bad name. If TESOL is ever going to be considered a profession, we have to be just as vigilant about plagiarism as other professors in other disciplines.
On your greensheet or course syllabus, outline specifically what plagiarism is and what the penalties for practicing it are. In the end, you will be doing a great favor for your students, your colleagues, and for your profession. [-7-]
(Mr.) P. Ilangovan, EST Project (British Council-sponsored) coordinator, Coimbatore, India
Quite a few posters such as Sarah Graff and Bill Snyder have been very perceptive in their observations on plagiarism. As it was rightly pointed out, “nail a plagiarist” could turn out to be more a game – a game can be called a verbal ploy that results in the gamester receiving a mental kick – rather than turn out to be an educational intervention. But before we dive into the deep end, let’s remember a basic truth: all children learn, including language, at first by imitating. Is it fair on our part to demand correct usage (the question of Form) and at the same time penalize content that has been imitated by a learner who, say, is only trying to please their teacher by turning in a term paper that reads as though an expert has wrote it? In trying to learn a 2nd language, there would seem to be several gradients for the climber along the cline. One such would be academic writing in a target setting. For the learner to be helped to make the grade, plagiarism can be noticed and commented on, but not penalised at the initial drafting stage. At the revising and final drafting stages it would become necessary for the teacher to guide SS to learn to avoid overt (and not so overt) plagiarisms.
Maggie Sokolik – College Writing Programs, UC Berkeley;
Manager of TESLMW-L, Materials Writers Branch of TESL-L, Editor TESL-EJ
>From: Richard Cusick
>This kind of attitude gives us a bad name. If TESOL is ever going to be considered a profession, we have to be just as vigilant about plagiarism as other professors in other disciplines.
>On your greensheet or course syllabus, outline specifically what plagiarism is and what the penalties for practicing it are. In the end, you will be doing a great favor for your students, your colleagues, and for your profession.
… I think Mr. Cusick misunderstands. Of course we outline what plagiarism is (to our best ability; to think that it’s clearly definable is also to misunderstand the issue), and of course, we tell our students what the penalties are. And we use the detection tools available to us.
But students plagiarize anyway, and the question is why? I don’t believe that they’re a bunch of sneaky, no-good students who don’t belong in the university.
I agree with Bill Snyder that “vigilance” hasn’t gotten us very far (with native speakers, either, so I think ESL professionalism is a non-issue). Bill says we need “a prolonged process approach to instruction that allows us to deal with these problems in the drafting stages and help students develop the skills to overcome them. I believe it also should point us towards having students work in more depth on fewer papers over the course of a term.” I agree. [-8-]
We also need to craft assignments that are creative and challenge a student’s own thinking. In an article on plagiarism I wrote for a Berkeley publication, I said (rather provocatively, I admit): “If an assignment can be downloaded from the internet, maybe it ought to be.” An assignment that asks a question that has been answered a million times before, or that doesn’t guide the student through the *thinking* process, begs to be plagiarized.
This is not to say it’s our fault when a student plagiarizes. It is to say, however, that there are many more sophisticated tools that we can use to address the problem than the hammer we’ve been brandishing.
Bill Snyder – TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY
I think Richard Cusick, Jr. is wrong in assuming that maintaining a legalistic approach to plagiarism is essential to establishing the professional status of the field. Judging from my own experience, and from what I read here, the approach has not been successful pedagogically (it hasn’t eliminated plagiarism), and leaves both students and teachers frustrated in the roles it assigns to them. The former must find ways around their limited resources to produce adequate writing and are always suspects; the latter are turned into detectives, hounding the suspects into confessing violations of the rules, and judges, imposing punishment for the crime.
I think if there is one legal metaphor that I would like to undertake as a teacher it would be that I am an advocate for my students. I believe that they do want to learn, put forth great efforts in doing so, and my job is to help them. And it is for that reason that I have argued here for a different approach to plagiarism, not one that gives up standards of academic honesty, but one that recognizes that learning how to write is difficult and mastering the tools of writing is not a simple matter of transfer, but of gradual development. And the circumstances of this development are often stressful, especially for second language learners.
I see this different approach as a pedagogical one, in that it is dedicated to the process of teaching and learning, to helping students learn what they can do, rather than merely instructing them in what they shouldn’t do. I do not believe that it is easier (or necessarily harder) than the legalistic approach. It does demand that my time be spent in a different way in teaching, but lets me play roles that I feel more comfortable fulfilling.
In his book, Thoughtful Teaching (Cassell, 1995), Christopher Clark reprints a paper that dealt with how one professor dealt with a case of a student handing in a stolen paper, not by taking a legalistic approach and having the student dismissed, but a pedagogical approach that involved helping the student rewrite the paper to learn that he could do the work properly and well through his own effort. As he concludes, “… for teachers generally, honesty, respect, compassion, and forgiveness mean more work, not less. Morally responsible teaching requires that we go beyond, sometimes far beyond, the letter of the laws of technically effective teaching” (p. 79).
Our professional status is raised when we help students meet the academic standards required of them, yes, but not only by that. How we do that is important, too. We have choices about how we approach our students and their learning goals. I think we should see them as partners in a process that will have effects beyond the classroom, and that necessitates a different approach to plagiarism. [-9-]
Joel Murray, B.A., M.A. – EASL Department, Kwantlen University College
> I also think it is important that ESL teachers remember that what we call “plagiarism” in the United States [and Canada] is actually highly encouraged in most Asian countries.
I agree. Many Asian students in my classes are surprised to find out that they cannot copy an entire paragraph, passage, etc. Having their own perspective and being graded on how well they express it is an entirely foreign concept for them.
>As instructors we must be open-minded in the classroom, and educate ourselves about these types of culturally influenced rhetorical differences.
While I agree that we must educate ourselves about these differences, I believe that we should do so for our understanding why the problem exists. In the end, we must remember that our students must conform to the academic way of doing things. As we all know, plagiarism is considered a form of cheating at every level of college and university instruction. Certainly we can understand better why our students plagiarize; nevertheless, we can also ensure that we educate our students about plagiarism and encourage them to avoid it by expressing their own ideas.
Paul Stables – Hong Kong Shue Yan College
Alyx Meltzer wrote:
>3. Do you find the opinion of her advisor not at all uncommon — that unparaphrased but cited plagiarism — is a lesser offense?
I think it is a lesser offence given the EFL context. I remember one of my students coming to me after a lesson on paraphrasing and asking me whether he had correctly understood what I was asking him to do – “you want me to take this piece of writing, written in perfect English and rewrite it full of grammatical and vocabulary errors?” A rather difficult question to answer. In Meltzer’s specific example I would like to know whether the student’s cut and paste job showed evidence that she understood the material or whether her arrangement was simply arbitrary.
I find the best way to help undergraduate students avoid plagiarism is to set assignments that are not plagiarism friendly. Very specific essay questions rather than vague general term papers can help the student to approach the original source material from a particular angle which assists with the selection of material to be included and excluded. However, this may not be appropriate at the graduate level described by Alyx. [-10-]
Patricia Warwick – TESL student at George Brown University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I would like to add my two cents to this conversation. In many countries outside the so-called western countries, there is not as much concern for intellectual property, written or otherwise. This is why there is such a problem with software piracy and reproductions of brand-names etc. Is it possible that some of the problems with plagiarism arise from these attitudes? (I certainly do not wish to imply that these are not problems in the west, they are…)
Richard Morgan – ELTD, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
It’s been interesting to follow the plagiarism thread, and to see how the enduring humanistic attitude so prevalent in EFL classrooms ties itself in knots when faced with the demands of academic gate-keeping. It’s true that good Academic writing isn’t easy to master, even for native speakers, and it’s also true that other cultures may have radically different attitudes to use of source texts – of course these are factors which any decent teacher must take into account.
However, it is also true that non-native speakers attending an English speaking academic institution are there to get a paper qualification which will lead to them being judged academically (and therefore by extension linguistically) alongside their native speaker colleagues. An MSc from the University of X is an MSc from the University of X, regardless of whether the graduate in question has English as a first language or not At this point the humanistic classroom question “Under what conditions can induction into a new language and culture be empowering?” (See Bill Snyder’s post) is no longer relevant. The student must be able (and willing) to perform to the standards and protocols required by the regulatory bodies of English academic practice.
As far as Diane Pecorari’s point about compassion in the face of error is concerned, I must also beg to differ. Forgetting to use third person ‘s’ is a linguistic slip – copying large chunks of primary text and passing them off as your own work is not a slip of any kind, it’s an attempt to circumvent academic assessment. Native speakers who did this would be dealt with severely and unless overseas students are to receive degrees with a special “Non-Native – Scrape Through” stamp on them, the same standards must be applied to all.
I have conducted a little of my own informal research into this area, and I am assured by educated students from a variety of different cultures including China and Saudi Arabia that copying another academic’s work without appropriate acknowledgment is just as much an academic crime where they are from as it is here. Students who continue to plagiarise after activity based classroom warnings and development are not culturally confused, they are using the issue of cultural sensitivity to mask their own performance problems.
We are on dangerous ground here – no matter how much we might not like confrontational or enforcement style attitudes within our classes, we are teaching to an outside context, and the norms of that context must be adhered to. Fudging the issue with a “soft” classroom approach to what is a “hard” outside world issue benefits nobody. Instead, it may harm the student (by giving the wrong impression about plagiarism), the student’s future University tutors (who will have an embarrassing disciplinary task on their hands) and the University itself (whose academic standing may well come under fire if it becomes apparent that a different set of marking criteria are being applied to native and overseas students). [-11-]
Diane Pecorari – University of Birmingham
Richard Morgan’s “cold hard truth” about plagiarism is accurate so far as he describes the reaction plagiarism meets. He’s right that we do no favors to students by letting their plagiarism slip in the EFL/ESL class so that they can go on to do the same in other arenas. That does not mean that a punitive approach is the only response to plagiarism, though.
Richard raises the issue of whether plagiarism is or is not a culturally appropriate activity in some parts of the world, but that issue may cloud the main point. Cultural explanations may help us understand why students tend to write in certain ways, but won’t necessarily tell us how to help them cross the cultural divide (if there is one) and produce texts which meet the expectations of an English-speaking academic institution.
In order to do that, we need to understand why students who have been *told* not to plagiarize still do it. Richard’s post makes it clear that he thinks intentional cheating is the explanation:
>Students who continue to plagiarise after
>activity based classroom warnings and development are not culturally
>confused, they are using the issue of cultural sensitivity to mask their own
I think it’s more likely that there are other explanations for some students at least. These involve the fact that they often have insufficient opportunities to practice writing, and writing from sources, and refine their skills in it. That students in some contexts (for example, those who enter and English speaking university at the postgraduate level) are often required to write from sources (i.e., literature reviews) without having had the kind of practice in writing on personal, unreferenced themes that US high school students and undergraduates do. That passages creep in unattributed with the idea that they will be revised later, but the deadline comes too quickly. . . .
Maybe those reasons sound plausible to you or maybe they don’t, and certainly the list is not comprehensive, but any language teacher should recognize the absurdity of teaching *anything* by saying “I told you once and now I expect you to comply fully.” And in any case, as Bill Snyder has noted, that approach is not working. [-12-]
Bill Snyder – MA TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY
Richard Morgan seems to have misunderstood me in my posts on the issue of plagiarism. Far from being tied in any knots between a humanistic approach to instruction and academic gatekeeping requirements, I believe the two can and should go hand in hand.What I have objected to in my posts is curricular environments and instructional approaches that do not help students acquire and apply the necessary skills in academic writing so as not to plagiarize. What I have argued for instructionally is more in-depth, long term writing instruction as a way to help meet this goal. It is not enough for students to have plagiarism “defined” for them and be given some cursory lessons in citation, quotation, and paraphrase before being turned loose before the law. Ultimately, I believe this means that writing instruction is the proper concern of everyone in the institution, not just those English teachers assigned to composition class, and that content instructors should be engaged in helping their students learn how to present themselves properly in writing for academic purposes. Establishing concern for writing across the curriculum would be one kind of curricular change that I would support. I believe that the curriculum should also be designed so that students have adequate time to do the reading and writing assigned them without having to rely on cheating. I believe there should be support mechanisms in place such as writing centers and tutoring programs to help students who are having difficulty. Academic institutions that admit students, take their money, and don’t do their utmost to help those students succeed are guilty of theft as much as any plagiarist.
Having said that, I must also say that I think most academic institutions (and the teachers within them) do try, but many fall short of perfection in some way. And in some cases, even when help is available, our students do not know how to ask for it. It is not some kind of sentimental humanism to keep these facts in mind when we act in our roles as gatekeepers; it is essential to justice.
If we try to meet our responsibilities to our students, there is no denying that they should try to meet theirs as well. And not plagiarizing is one of these. Should any students persist in copying large chunks of primary text and trying to pass it off as their own after proper instruction, then yes, they should meet with the sanctions required in law, regardless of their background. But most plagiarism is not this blatant. We deal with grayness.
Richard Morgan is right that students come to our institutions to get a degree and the status that will come with that. But I also believe that they come to learn in order to do that. If entry into academic discourse is something foreign to both native and non-native speakers alike, then Pennycook’s question remains relevant. What could be more empowering than helping our students acquire the skills to achieve a goal they have set for themselves, meeting standards that are challengingly high?
Richard Morgan – ELTD, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
Diane Pecorari believes that academic plagiarism among her students arises thus:
>passages creep in unattributed with the idea that they will be revised later, but the deadline
>comes too quickly. . . .
Am I the only person who finds this IMMENSELY implausible? And am I the only teacher so inhumanly callous as to believe that getting your assignments in on time AND up to standard is not an unreasonable burden to place on the shoulders of mature adult individuals? [-13-]
Bill Snyder reluctantly agrees:
>Should any students persist in copying large chunks of primary text and trying to pass it off as their own
>after proper instruction, then yes, they should meet with the sanctions required in law, regardless of their >background. But most plagiarism is not this blatant.
I’m sorry, but about 50 – 70 percent of the plagiarism I encounter IS this blatant. One particularly memorable student told me quite cheerfully that of course he’d plagiarised, because his English wasn’t good enough to write the substance of the essay in his own words. And there’s the rub! What we are dealing with here is largely a case of students whose linguistic competence simply is not sufficient to address the course they have signed on for in the language in which it is taught.
This is not a big surprise – being a humanistic teacher doesn’t mean you have to pretend your students are all angels. In fact, it means understanding exactly how human they are. Most students have their own agendas to pursue, and very often these agendas have little to do with learning for its own sake. If plagiarism turns out to be a viable short cut to a valuable qualification, then it will be used by more than a few. Ignoring this rather obvious human truth is nothing less than denial.
Alyx Meltzer – Kuwait University
I was surprised at the number of responses to my original post. While only one person addressed my question concerning the effect of full-text sources on inadvertent plagiarism, practically everyone commented on plagiarism in general, perhaps indicating that it is an issue of concern to many. Now I would like to add my own thoughts to “the soup.”
True, we must consider the realities of our educational systems. My Ss do have to perform under considerable time constraints, but they will have to do so as well when they become professionals — as we must … Yes synthesizing, paraphrasing, summarizing, etc. are difficult and time-consuming, even in one’s native tongue. However, just as our Ss must master biochemistry, so they must master these writing skills. Can we help by teaching the subject matter properly and providing sufficient practice/multiple revision opportunities? Certainly. In the case I mentioned, however, the student was late in submitting her drafts and failed to develop her work until the final draft (3rd version). By then it was too late to provide feedback. I think three drafts are “adequate opportunity.”
I agree that plagiarism is not a black and white matter; the situation I raised, in which the student cited but did not paraphrase, is a case in point. That’s why this student did not receive a zero as my supervisor advised. However, I do believe that there must be some penalty – not just to penalize the student directly involved, but to serve as a deterrent for others, many of whom do not take the issue of plagiarism seriously (Joe Boyd’s suggestion to make class discussion of plagiarism as real as possible is good to keep in mind).
Some responders had powerful reactions to my use of the term “to nail.” Would “detect” have been more palatable? Bottom line: a student plagiarized and I caught it. Did I enjoy doing so? Not particularly; in fact, I’d just as soon not have had to deal with it at all. However, once I suspected plagiarism, I was grateful I was able to document it. Clearly, if “policing” for plagiarism isn’t done, students will get away with it. Even top students resort to shortcuts when time is tight. Maggie’s and Paul’s suggestion to avoid plagiarism by giving assignments conducive to synthesis and creative thinking is logical, but in the case I discussed, 1) a lit review does require these skills; 2) the student demonstrated she had the ability to do what was required as the rest of the paper did not appear to be plagiarized. [-14-]
I think the strong reaction concerning the apprehension of plagiarism was in part based on teachers’ reluctance to effect punitive measures that are in place in their universities. That’s why, in particular, I would like to know what the penalties are in various programs/universities in the world. I myself am certainly not in favor of expelling or even failing students for plagiarism except perhaps in cases of extensive (the whole paper) copying. Thus, even at the graduate level, I generally knock a grade down by a letter grade (depending on the degree of plagiarism), which is very generous in view of policy discussed in my department.
Bill Snyder – MA TEFL Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, TURKEY
In response to my earlier post on plagiarism, Richard Morgan wrote:
> I’m sorry, but about 50 – 70 percent of the plagiarism I encounter IS this blatant.
My experience is different. I’ve found very few cases of deliberate copying of work. It may be because I’m working with graduate students who are teachers themselves and aware of the issue from their practice. But even when I was teaching undergraduates in Korea, I just didn’t see that much. Perhaps it was because I tried to give assignments that didn’t encourage plagiarism, as Maggie Sokolik suggested.
It’s not because I don’t watch for it. My students quickly learn that I will question any language I find suspicious, ask to see sources, and search others, if necessary. I’ve sat on enough academic review boards for plagiarism that my bona fides as a maintainer of standards are in order.
Or it could be definitional, that when I read something suspicious in a first draft, I see it as an opportunity for more focused teaching, to clear up the problems the student has with the concept of plagiarism. This face-to-face feedback with a real paper in hand is worth a thousand lectures on the subject. It’s usually not a problem again. The students know my standards, which match the university’s, and will have learned how not to violate them. It becomes plagiarism as a legal matter if they don’t fix the problem as directed for a final copy.
Richard Morgan also wrote:
> What we are dealing with here is largely a case of students whose linguistic competence simply is not sufficient to address the course they have signed on for in the language in which it is taught.
And whose fault is this? What was the university doing admitting such a student or letting them sign up for advanced courses? This is what I mean by calling plagiarism a curricular issue. It is unjust to place the entire responsibility for this circumstance on the student. If universities are going to admit students, it ought to involve a responsibility, a commitment to helping those students complete their course of study. It’s not a matter of, “Pay up and get yourself educated and at the end of four years we’ll give you the paper you’re buying.” [-15-]
To say this is not to say that everyone should succeed. There are mistakes, there are lazy students, there are cheats. But I maintain that when responsibility is assumed at both ends that they are few. Teachers should enforce academic standards regarding plagiarism. At the same time we should support efforts for curricula and instructional practices that make having to be enforcers, rather than teachers, as infrequent as possible.
Karen Schwelle – Instructor, English as a Second Language Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA
I have been teaching source-based writing to undergraduates for four years and would like to add the following thoughts to the fray about plagiarism.
If an instructor encounters regular instances of plagiarism stemming from the same type of problem (i.e. students don’t understand what constitutes plagiarism; students don’t seem to think they will be caught; students’ language skills are too weak to paraphrase, etc. adequately; students claim they are too pressed for time to complete the assignment up to standards; or whatever), then the instructor should CHANGE something in the way he/she teaches source-based writing.
Others, such as Maggie Sokolik, have already given good advice about ways of preventing plagiarism, such as giving assignments that don’t lend themselves to plagiarism. This tactic has worked very well for me–students in the academic writing class I teach write their research paper on a local controversy (i.e. one centered in Missouri, St. Louis, or at Washington University), so topics naturally change from one semester to the next and can’t be found in online paper mills. Other possible changes include showing students several paraphrases of a short passage and having them choose/discuss which is the best paraphrase, which is the worst, and which are acceptable/unacceptable. Make time in class for multiple opportunities to practice paraphrasing in small groups (students often find oral paraphrasing easier than written paraphrasing) and/or individually, and grade the paraphrases. Specifically, have students complete summaries and paraphrases (which are graded) from a source that they will use for their papers. Also, draw out the time between drafts and meet with students individually to discuss their drafts so that problems can be nipped in the bud. As Bill Snyder said, there’s no substitute for that kind of feedback.
While we certainly must hold students responsible for the work they do (or don’t do), and the standards they meet (or don’t meet), we have to recognize that if the same problems crop up again and again, we need to adjust the ways that we teach. Then if I have had to fail a student because of plagiarism and he/she turns up in my class again (as has happened to me), we have a much better chance of a positive outcome. The student is not in my class because he already knows how to write a research paper; that’s what s/he’s there to learn.
For more thoughts on this topic, you might want to see this article, which should be available online through Lexis-Nexis:
Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Forget About Policing Plagiarism. Just Teach.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 16 November 2001: B24.
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