The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2016  Monday, 20 August 2001

From:           Louis Swilley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 18 Aug 2001 16:50:50 -0500
Subject: 12.2012 Plagiarism and Cheating, Again - and yet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2012 Plagiarism and Cheating, Again - and yet

Nancy Charlton wrote,

>Louis Bloomfield, a physics professor
>at the University [of Virginia], wrote a program that scanned his
>database of 1,800 old
>and current papers (his students have been required to submit their
>electronically for the last five semesters). Documents that matched more
>than 500 words were turned over to the student Honor Committee.  As a
>result, 10 cases will proceed to trial and 90 await further
>investigation.  So far one student has been expelled, and others who
>already graduated could have their degrees revoked.

Were the students told that their electronic submissions would be used
for such filtering?  If not, and scanned without their permission, might
they retaliate legally under the copyright law?  And might not some
bright and wealthy plagiarists hire researchers to uncover every minute
detail of Dr. Bloomfield's own academic performance?  Dr. Bloomfield's
techniques may well backfire on him.

This is one of those hardness-of-hearts situations, in which students
are not alone to be blamed. Granting the all but universal,
time-illhonored custom among students to cheat and plagiarize - for
many, those have been wrongly but consistently seen for years as proud
protests against unreasonable or incompetent teachers and suppressive
schools  - teachers should know by now that any work done out of class
is not to be trusted as an index of the student's knowledge. Why do we
proctor examinations, but then somehow convince ourselves that projects
done outside the classroom - term papers, for example - need no
supervision?  And how difficult is it, anyway, for the teacher to tailor
a unique project for each student and supervise the student's pursuit of
it exclusively in class?

Dr. Bloomfield's "gotcha" tactics here demonstrate teachers' confusion
of educational purpose:  our commitment, our purpose is intellectual,
not moral.  Let's protect the integrity of our courses as we do our
other prized possessions, with guards beforehand rather than
retaliations after the "theft"  - and leave the would-be plagiarist to
his conscience, and to heaven.

[L. Swilley]

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