Sunday, July 24, 2011

Plagiarizing is for idiots (by Charles)

Plagiarizing is for idiots.  I am teaching a three-week summer course right now and I have already caught three students plagiarizing on papers.  With 30 students I do expect to catch maybe one student plagiarizing, but I've caught THREE students on the first of three papers!  WTF

On one hand, I get the lure of copying someone else's work as one's own.  The lifted material might sound really good and copying saves time.  On the other hand, those two things (sounding good and saving time) are deceptive.  You see if it sounds really good, it might sound too good.  I have a good sense as to the level of writing any particular student should be writing at.  Give me five minutes with a students and I can peg the approximate the grades the student will probably get on papers.  So if the writing and concepts written are much better than what I expect, I go to Google with some of that writing and usually find it on the web someplace.  Gotcha!

And that saving time bit, if the copying and pasting actually does save you time, it probably means that you did a poor job plagiarizing and you'll get caught.  To do a really good job plagiarizing means that a student will have to spend considerable time masking the plagiarism so that the professor won't notice it.  To do a good job means: (1) possibly simplifying highly academic concepts to make them more believable coming from a student, (2) possibly simplifying highly academic vocab and writing, (3) possibly introducing spelling/grammar/punctuation mistakes to make the copying not seem like copying, and (4) mixing and matching plagiarized paragraphs AND sentences so that they are not as easily searchable.  If a student does all that, there isn't any time saved.  The student might as well just used his or her own words.  Besides, even if a student does all that, the likelihood of still getting caught is really really high because we have services like TurnItIn to catch even the best of plagiarizers.

What I really don't understand is why risk it?  Plagiarism comes with STEEP penalties!  I know a professor who will immediately fail a student for the slightest plagiarism, and then make the student retake the class with that professor.  Some are more lenient, but the cost is still usually high - most likely an F for the assignment.  Basically you lose big time.

I don't know.  Maybe plagiarism happens so much more than I know about and students figure that the risk is quite low.  How would I know?  But the risk is still there regardless.

Plagiarizers are idiots.  You don't go to school to hone your skills at cheating.  Cheat in your job and you'll probably get fired.  You go to school to learn to be better at all the right things: thinking, writing, speaking, (re)solving, remembering, collaborating, and adapting.  Plagiarizing just doesn't make the list.  Why?  Because it's idiotic.

What really sucks for me, however, is that catching and confronting plagiarizers takes more time than if the student just wrote the damn like he or she is supposed to.  When I'm fighting to hit grading deadlines, I don't need some schmuck plagiarizing and sucking away my needed time.  Just drop out of school and go home if you are going to plagiarize!

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