Rethinking plagiarism

Professors often frame plagiarism as an ethical problem, with a simple solution: don’t do it. imagesAs InsideHigher Ed reports, “For students tempted to plagiarize knowingly, that approach might work. But the academic integrity rhetoric ignores the fact that students sometimes unintentionally plagiarize or misrepresent source material in their work, panelists said Thursday during a session on the topic at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

“Stephanie Roach, associate professor and director of writing programs at the University of Michigan at Flint, recalled a class discussion about why students misuse sources in their work. Students named all the usual suspects – the assignment was too hard or they ran out of time, for example.

“But Roach was struck by a student who said, “I didn’t think I was that person.” The student had crossed a boundary she’d never thought she would, and Roach wondered how it had happened. The professor said she later mused with colleagues that the war on plagiarism was like the war on drugs, in that academe tells students to “Just say no,” painting a bright line between right and wrong and assuming students have the tools they need to make the right choice.

“But sometimes they don’t. Students might misrepresent a source because they don’t understand it, or don’t know how to weave it in with their own thoughts, panelists said. And open-source culture, where facts and thoughts easily can be “plucked” from webpages, makes that supposed bright line dimmer still.Valerie Seiling Jacobs, a master of fine arts in nonfiction writing candidate at Columbia University, doesn’t lecture her first-year writing students on intentional plagiarism, she said. She tells students that if they’re going to deliberately misuse others’ work, “then you have bigger problems than I can ever help you solve.”Instead, Seiling Jacobs focuses on inadvertent misuses, which are far more plentiful. Continue reading “Rethinking plagiarism”