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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Plagiarism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1284  Saturday, 12 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Ron Dwelle <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 09:04:53 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1270  Re: Plagiarism

[2]     From:   Harry Hill <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 10:00:38 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

[3]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 09:49:44 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

[4]     From:   Lisa Hopkins <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 15:24:00 -0000
        Subj:   Plagiarism

[5]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 11:11:15 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism ('Tis the Season)

[6]     From:   Karen E Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Dec 1998 11:20:38 +1000 (GMT+1000)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

[7]     From:   Simon Spiero <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Dec 1998 11:24:08 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

[8]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Dec 1998 15:52:45 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Dwelle <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 09:04:53 -0500
Subject: 9.1270  Re: Plagiarism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1270  Re: Plagiarism

Since my academic career is on the rapid downslope toward retirement, I
suppose I can now admit the following:

As an undergraduate, I became what was euphemistically known as the
"Librarian" for my fraternity (because I was an English major, because I
wrote for the campus newspaper, and because everyone had to pull his
share as the group struggled toward graduation). Officially, I was to
offer composing advice and final proofreading to my writing-challenged
brothers, but actually what I did was maintain files of all papers and
exams previously submitted (mostly by graduated brothers) and distribute
them as needed. It was, of course, only a wee step to outright
plagiarism.

What the successful librarian learns is to never give an unaltered A
paper to a C student (to perhaps throw in a split infinitive or two to
the fussy world-lit teacher who always red-inked "19B" in the margins).
I learned that if you do a minimal job of adapting the paper to the
author and to the teacher, you never get caught.

So, three conclusions: Generally, I suspect there's lots more plagiarism
than most people think. Most of it is successful because students steal
more "C" and "B" papers than "A" papers-only the greedy or exceptionally
stupid get caught. And, as a teacher, the only recourse is to give
assignments that aren't plagiarizable.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 10:00:38 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

Worse than plagiarism, in my view, is the increasing practice of
ideological/critical name- and concept-dropping in place of engagement
with the `original' texts. The other week, for instance, I asked an
undergraduate generally regarded as superior to venture definitions and
resonances of several words from two of the world's most celebrated
speeches, the `To be or not...' and `O that this too too solid flesh'.
She could not tell me what a canon is, nor who Niobe might have been,
the nature of a bodkin, nor could she say what a quietus is, let alone
that the author may have been showing off his Hamlet's Latin because of
his studies at Wittenberg, of which she had naturally never heard. Her
essay had been about these speeches, and it *was* `very good', using
Lacan and Foucault subtly and well; what it did *not* use was
Shakespeare.

        Harry Hill
        Montreal

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 09:49:44 EST
Subject: 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

>  For what it's worth, Cliff's Notes has just been purchased by the people
>  who publish those various X for Dummies titles...  couldn't have been a
>  more serendipitous pairing if we on the List had arranged the marriage
>  ourselves....
>
>  Marilyn B.

Odd.  I always thought Cliff's Notes *were* For Dummies.

<grinning cheekily>

Carol Barton

>  Has no one ever said, "See how much my writing has improved under your
>  tutelage"?
>
>  Barbara Hume

Barbara brings up an excellent point that I think serves to answer Ethan
Wells, too: of course discretion on the part of the professor is
mandatory, and most of us will be fairly certain we're right before we
would even think about making such an accusation.  On the other hand,
students *are* capable of vast improvement-who among us would have
entered this discipline if we didn't think so, and how many would have
stayed here if we couldn't see that we were making a tangible
difference?

Once upon a time, I was teaching a Comp I course in NY, which of course
is required of all students, regardless of major.  An LPN studying after
many years of practical experience to become an RN came to me as a
returnee; her first essays were atrocious, the sort of thing one might
expect to find in notes passed between girlfriends in high school.  I
worked with her all semester, to bring her back into the academic fold,
and by her final paper, saw such marked improvement that I beaming wrote
across the top, "I can't believe you wrote this!"  With tears in her
eyes (seriously) she came to me during the break, clutching her paper:
"But I DID write it!" she exclaimed, more hurt than defensive.  "I KNOW
you did," I said, laughing. "It's just hard for me to believe that the
person who could write THIS [her original essay, which I handed to her]
could write THAT [her well-deserved A paper]."

So yes, of course, we do need to know our students and their writing
styles and capabilities well before we accuse them of anything
untoward-but the point is, most of us do, especially the really good and
really bad ones.  And nervousness might preclude the kind of calm,
well-argued answers you would expect from a student who is on the spot,
but unless he or she were in a state of abject terror, it isn't
unreasonable to expect a writer to remember at least *some* of his/her
own work.

The problem is, even when you catch someone red-handed, as I described
doing in an earlier post, you are likely to be asked to give him/her a
second chance, as I was-"after all, students who have been expelled
don't pay tuition . . . ."  That was perhaps the saddest commentary I
have ever encountered on the deterioration of academic standards . . .
in an expensive private college then struggling for university status.

Sigh.

Carol Barton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lisa Hopkins <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 15:24:00 -0000
Subject:        Plagiarism

It is certainly true that a student can far outshine their own previous
work.  As an external examiner, I was involved last year in interviewing
a student who had produced a 'suspiciously good' final year essay;
during the course of the conversation, it became, contrary to my
expectations, quite clear that he had full mastery of the topic, and had
indeed written the piece himself.  However, students do plagiarise.  I
am blessed with the ability to recall lots and lots of what I read - and
cursed with the inability to remember WHERE I read it.  Four times last
year I was reading through undergraduate essays when I got that awful
feeling that I had read these sentences before; eventually I tracked
them down as being by Verna Foster, Janet Adelman, Valerie Traub and
Joseph Pecquigney.  In each case the entire essay was plagiarised, with
no more than four or five words at the beginning or end of the student's
own.  In three out of the four resulting interviews, the students
claimed to have recycled, verbatim, their old A-level notes; the fourth
student simply said that it had never occurred to her that I might have
read the book myself.  Because there were also five other cases of
plagiarism last year on our degree course, we have issued dire warnings
to all our current students that if they do not stay 'clean', we are
going to have to revert to examinations as the sole mode of assessment.
So far (although it's early days) there have not been any cases this
year.

Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University

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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 11:11:15 EST
Subject: 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism ('Tis the Season)
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism ('Tis the Season)

Apropos of our discussion, one of my students just sent me this. In the
spirit of the holidays, I thought you all might enjoy it, too; Merry
Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa to all!

Carol Barton

  Twas the night before finals, and all through the college,
  The students were praying for last minute knowledge.
  Most were quite sleepy, but none touched their beds,
  While visions of essays danced in their heads.
  Out in the taverns, a few were still drinking,
  And hoping that liquor would loosen up their thinking.

  In my own apartment, I had been pacing,
  And dreaded exams I soon would be facing.
  My roommate was speechless, his nose in his books,
  And my comments to him drew unfriendly looks.
  I drained all the coffee, and brewed a new pot,
  No longer caring that my nerves were shot.

  I stared at my notes, but my thoughts were muddy,
  My eyes went a blur, I just couldn't study.
  "Some pizza might help," I said with a shiver,
  But each place I called refused to deliver.
  I'd nearly concluded that life was too cruel,
  With futures depending on grades had in school.

  When all of a sudden, our door opened wide,
  And Patron Saint Put-It-Off ambled inside.
  Her spirit was careless, her manner was mellow,
  She wore a white toga, she started to bellow:
  "What kind of student would make such a fuss,
  To toss back at teachers what they tossed at us?"

  "On Cliff Notes! On Crib Notes! On last year's exams!
  On Wingit and Slingit, and last minute crams!"
  Her message delivered, she vanished from sight,
  But we heard her laughing outside in the night.
  "Your teachers have pegged you, so just do your best.
  Happy finals to all, and to all, a good test!"

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen E Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Dec 1998 11:20:38 +1000 (GMT+1000)
Subject: 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

I'm flattered!  I've actually succeeded in generating controversy on the
list!

But seriously...

I read with care and interest Ethan Wells's detailed and thoughtful
response to my (admittedly rather flippant) posting on plagiarism.  And
in many important respects he is entirely correct.  Yes, plagiarism is a
serious charge to make against a student.  Yes, some students might
respond to such a charge in ways that suggest "guilt" but might in fact
be evidence of innocence.  And yes, it certainly is possible for
undergraduates to write good papers: I have read, and have treasured,
many.  Yet...yet...I cannot bring myself to be quite as open-hearted as
Ethan (and others who have contacted me off-list) suggest.

One thing to consider when evaluating the "too good to be true" response
is the educational context.  In my case, I assign short essays and
analytical exercises on a weekly basis.  I read these on a weekly basis,
make detailed comments, and return.  By the time I assign and read any
student's longer and more ambitious paper, not only do I have a
"base-line" in-class essay on file, but also I have become very familiar
with his or her style, syntax, patterns of organization, vocabulary and
other idiosyncrasies.  Certainly improvement is expected-if I didn't
expect it, I wouldn't waste my time writing more on each paper than the
student wrote herself.  But in my experience, improvement is a gradual
process for most students.  I have yet to encounter any student who
moves overnight from the inability to write one complete,
grammatically-correct, declarative sentence to a prose style which
Northrup Frye would be proud to call his own.

However, it is not typically the students who have dutifully performed
their weekly writing tasks who turn in suspicious papers.  More usually
it is the student who has irregular attendance, irregular performance on
previous assignments, and less than satisfactory examination performance
who, through panic or laziness, attempts to salvage their grade by
turning in something plagiarized.  Sometimes-and I am infinitely
sympathetic and gentle with these individuals-the copied paper is
submitted by a hyper-perfectionistic, overly-grade-obsessed individual
who so fears receiving a "B" instead of an "A" that they toss ethics and
common sense to the breezes and turn to plagiarism.  I counsel, rather
than advise these individuals.

A last thought...those of you who teach at Cornell, or for that matter
any of the universities or colleges with any kind of a selective
admissions policy, will have a decided advantage over those of us who
teach at community colleges or open-admission-for-local-residents public
universities.  My institution is a land-grant, public, open admission
4-year university, with MA programs in business, education, marine
biology, Micronesian studies and agricultural sciences.  As part of our
mission, we admit every student from the Western Pacific/Oceania region
who applies and who has graduated from high school.  This makes for a
fascinatingly diverse student body.  It also makes for students entering
the university who read and write at a 4th grade level (I kid you not).
These students rarely are so transformed by my tutelage that they begin
writing like professionals over the course of a single term.  Upper
division undergraduates have improved, of course, and English majors are
better still.  But my cynicism about magical style improvement remains.

Thanks to Carol Barton and others who understand.  I apologize for
ranting, and hope we can return to discussions of Shakespeare and his
contemporaries.

Affectionately yours,
Karen Peterson-Kranz
Division of English & Applied Linguistics
University of Guam

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Spiero <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Dec 1998 11:24:08 -0800
Subject: 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

I feel much happier about this whole issue since I read Ethan Wells
letter today. I agree entirely and have the same faith in the integrity
and enthusiasm of very many undergraduates . Well put.

Simon.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Dec 1998 15:52:45 EST
Subject: 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1276  Re: Plagiarism

For Derek Hamilton, who requested a copy of my syllabus statement on
plagiarism, and the form I spoke of: regret I am unable to respond to
you by e-mail at <
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apparently does not recognize you as a user at this address.  Please
e-mail me directly once again, and send your postal address, and I will
be happy to oblige.

The indulgence of the other List-members is solicited and appreciated.

Best,
Carol Barton
 

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