[LINK] Plagiarism in the digital age

Steven Clark steven.clark at internode.on.net
Wed Aug 4 11:05:03 AEST 2010

On 3/08/2010 1:11 AM, thoughtmaybe.com wrote:
> The New York Times ponders plagiarism in the digital age
> <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/education/02cheat.html>, where films like Rip:A Remix Manifesto<http://thoughtmaybe.com/video/rip-a-remix-manifesto>  question traditional notions of copyright and fair use:

my comments below are perhaps cynical, but as an educator (and 
academic-in-training) i have seen this malaise in high schools and 
universities over the past decade and more. it's neither new, nor 
surprising. and i'm not at all convinced that the internet or the 
'digital age' is at fault ...

> "At Rhode Island College, a freshman copied and pasted from a Web site's
> frequently asked questions page about homelessness - and did not think he
> needed to credit a source in his assignment because the page did not include author information.

this reflects a lack of education regarding proper citation practices 
that appears to be endemic across secondary education. australian 
students have similar difficulties understanding that referencing is not 
merely about copying certain data into their bibliography.

it is not coincidental that 'constructivist' approaches to curriculum 
and educational delivery seems to have coincided with less emphasis on 
getting things right than on getting something done. (reward for 
'effort' aka 'outcome', rather than achieving lasting learning)

> At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student's copying was the purple
> shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web; when confronted by a writing tutor his professor had sent him to, he was not defensive - he just wanted to know how to change purple text to black.

yup. generation y is almost apt. 'why do i need to know that?' they're 
surrounded by toys that they don't understand. they can *operate* them, 
sure, but that's no achievement.

> And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from
> Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries -
> unsigned and collectively written - did not need to be credited since they
> counted, essentially, as common knowledge.

lol. i've heard that here. when pressed, the student couldn't explain 
what they thought 'common knowledge' meant.

> Professors used to deal with plagiarism by admonishing students to give
> credit to others and to follow the style guide for citations, and pretty
> much left it at that.

sure, but students used to have some idea that they were *supposed* to 
that - even if they were fuzzy about *how*. they were used to *reading* 
and to looking through source materials (research) - not merely hitting 
google up and patching together fragments from websites (search and deploy).

> But these cases - typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials
> responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the
> plagiarism - suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed.

they've been allowed to float through 'education' that reinforces their 
own views rather than being challenged to adopt social conventions (like 
courtesy) that used to be considered normal foundations for 
participating in society.

> It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of
> intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the
> unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study
> plagiarism..."

it's not the 'internet age' - it's the lack of interest in requiring 
basic social conformity. it's a kind of laziness to claim that educators 
need play no role in shaping the way students acquire and apply 
'knowledge' (and by knowledge, it seems we're increasingly meaning 
information, or even data). "students construct their own knowledge" has 
become code for - "they make what they like out of stuff, we just 
'guide' them with tasks and objectives and grade them on their efforts" 
... o.O

i have worked with students who are quite literate and well versed in 
online tools who actually bother to read books and such. they tend to be 
more cognisant of what referencing and plagiarism are about. it's the 
"click-and-copy" set who struggle - largely because they're not used to 

convenience, rather than confusion, in my experience is the root cause 
of this dilemma. it's not the rise of the internet as such, but the rise 
of a culture that permits and encourages laziness in place of performance.


Steven R Clark, BSc(Hons) LLB/LP(Hons) /Flinders/, MACS, Barrister & 

PhD Candidate & Sessional Academic
School of Commerce, Division of Business
City West Campus, University of South Australia (UniSA)

Deputy Director, Economic, Legal and Social Issues Committee (ELSIC)
Community Engagement Board (CEB)
Australian Computer Society (ACS)

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