Sunday, April 05, 2009

Grading: the I Hate Plagiarism Edition

How much do I hate plagiarism? Very, very much. I hate plagiarism a whole lot.

I hate inadvertent plagiarism, even.

I have a paper. The student cites a crappy web thing at the end (but nowhere in the body of the paper). So I look at the crappy web thing, and lo, the student has picked up phrases of crappiness. And, of course, the crappy web thing doesn't cite its sources. And the paper's basic argument pulls a lot from the crappy web thing.

The student cited the crappy web thing in the works cited, so I'm guessing s/he intended to use it appropriately.

I know I've talked about plagiarism in class. And in the assignment, I note that any source the student uses (the OED, for example) must be cited.

And yes, the student cites the OED in the text, appropriately.

Dog, I hate plagiarism.

Why do students use crappy web things? There are pretty decent web resources around, but for some reason, they usually use the crappy ones.

(Yes, I hate the sort of plagiarism that copies whole papers without citation of any sort even more, but at least I can reasonably take those to higher levels. This sort, well, it doesn't quite seem appropriate to try to get a student expelled for being stupid, does it?)


  1. Anonymous12:50 PM

    Yes, get them expelled for stupid, please. I am soooooooo tired of plagiarism. When I walk around campus I rip down those notices that "help" you to write or edit your essay. I am on a committee that holds hearings for breaches of academic honesty. I explain it over and over again in my courses. It has subsided significantly in my courses, but still - stop. I think that the intentional and evil plagiarism should be stopped first, then the stupid ones and then last of all the desperate ones.

  2. Could you have a talk with him/her about his/her source and its general crappiness, and how the student's reliance on a generally crappy source elicited a generally crappy grade? Maybe with a post-script on a re-write that doesn't make such liberal use of generally crappy sources? I realize it's more effort, but at least it's some kind of recognition of the student's plagiarism.

    I don't know. I'm way too green at this.

  3. good reason for a bad grade, though. first, the student didn't cite in the body to the source -- so you are left to parse out which phrases and ideas were lifted where. second, the student's general citation is to the crappy website, which doesn't cite sources itself -- so it is not a good source. third, the student didn't look to other sources that might be, ya know, reliable.

  4. even wikipedia entries cite and link sources, and cross-reference other relevant entries. and if facts are asserted without sources, or if the entry ignores matters important to a full understanding of the topic, there are generally warning flags.

    i think secondary sources are just grand, if they lead one to primary sources -- but you want to go to the primary sources, read them, and rely on them.

  5. Well, more than a crappy grade. That paper cannot pass since it does not follow academic conventions for giving credit. It's not within the sphere of college-level discourse, and the grade cannot imply that it is. This is where I compel students to rewrite without the crappy source and with proper citation.

    By the way, the prevalence of this situation is one of the reasons why my students doing research in advanced composition and in technical writing submit a proposal (with a preliminary works cited), a peer review draft, a "final" draft to me (which does not get a grade), and then a rewrite. I got so sick of incoherent, illogical, poorly cited, and/or poorly researched papers dumped in my hands at semester end like that I implemented the do it and then do it over technique. By the time students get through the process, they have mainly turned out tolerable to excellent products.

    The revision process really does help them, though at a certain point students need to undertake revision on their own. But so much of assignments they've had in the past ask really just for just for writing expressive of their own beliefs that they can do a fairly good of that task; ask students to interact with other writers and disparate facts, and chaos--and plagiarism by sloppiness--ensues. Since they've not typically entered into such discourse in earlier schooling, they also have a hard time distinguishing good sources from bad, explaining the reliance on crappy Internet stuff.

  6. Anonymous5:28 PM

    Does your school subscribe to or Safe Assign? If so, you might consider beginning to use this software. I resisted it for a long time because I thought it was too much like policing, but if students are to be believed (and I know they are only sometimes to be believed), many of them really don't understand how to put things into their own words or how to cite things properly or how to tell a good source from a bad one, even though you've gone over it in class. (I think it's a harder concept to understand than we sometimes realize, and the internet both tempts them with easy information and makes it easier for us to catch them doing it -- plagiarism was much harder to detect before the internet, I assume). My feeling is that since technology has made plagiarism easier, we can use technology to help us avoid plagiarism. Cheaters will still cheat, but unintentional plagiarizers might learn something (though I might be too optimistic).

    If it were me, I would either give the student an F or give the paper back without a grade and let them re-write it for a D.

  7. As Anonymous 5:28pm says:

    "If it were me, I would either give the student an F or give the paper back without a grade and let them re-write it for a D."

    That is exactly what I would do. And as for the why-do-they-use-crap-websites question, I think it might partly be Google's fault. If the first website to pop up is a crappy one, and it is the first to pop up because it is most frequently used, then most students will continue to click on that first hit. It is a vicious cycle. I have to constantly remind my students that the first site isn't usually the BEST site.

    Anyway, I know exactly how you feel. People should be punished for being so careless.

  8. Anonymous5:48 PM

    Sigh. I teach first year composition where we spend several quarters teaching students to avoid citing crappy websites, and to cite sources both within their essays and in the Works Cited or References page.

    Sometimes I get students who take composition I, II and III with me (we are on the quarter system) and they are still struggling with this concept even in comp III.

    Do I think these students are stupid? No. Do I think they are lazy thinkers/writers? Yes. And I think that many just don't actually CARE about or GET the academic conventions we so virulently preach.

    So now I spend even more than usual WHY these conventions are oh so important.

    I'm trying. I'm trying to get to them before they get to your upper division classes. But it's a struggle, I tell you.

  9. Anonymous7:45 PM

    It's not a mistake; it's intentional.

  10. Bardiac, no one teaches students how to use Jstor!! If we go to the library and ask for help, we're treated like a nuisance. Granted, many of us are lazy, but the ones who want to do well are constantly frustrated because they don't know where to go.

  11. I hate plagiarism, too! The worst are the egregious cases where the entire essay is lifted, wholesale, from another source.

    But those are relatively easy to police (no credit, academic dishonesty on the transcript, don't pass "Go")! It's the ones as you've discussed where the student is sucked in by a source, starts to adopt its language wholesale and plug it in without understanding they need more than a mention in their bibliography -- they're heartbreaking because they're plagiarizing inadvertently and because you could be concentrating on issues of argument and composition more than technicalities of plagiarism if only they hadn't plagiarized!


  12. Plagiarism.

    AKA The Number One Reason I Consider Leaving this Profession.

    When I consider another 20-30 years of this shit, I begin to think seriously about that Starbucks job.

  13. Anonymous7:37 AM

    Random librarian here. It's really A Bad Thing that Liz was made to feel like a nuisance at the library - in theory, the library should be a great place for her to find help. I'm sorry it wasn't.

    At our university, the writing courses have a mandatory library session. Partially going by the theory, I think, of repetition: profs tell students not to use crappy websites, librarians tell students not to use crappy websites, profs tell students again not to use crappy websites, and somewhere the message sinks in.

    In theory.

  14. Anonymous6:27 PM

    I hate to say this, but in class writing assignments and in class exams are sometimes in order. Sometimes I have a rule that says any student who gets an 85 or higher on the midterm may write a paper with my personal assistance. The students who get less than an 85 are up the creek: in class final exam, where they can screw it up again and get that C or D or F they wholeheartedly deserve.

    You have to be made of stone to not get worn down by this plagiarism crap. It's just not worth defending certain pedagogies always.

  15. Anonymous7:43 AM

    Yes, a lot of us students are quite lazy. But there are also a lot of us who are frustrated because nobody has ever taught us how to use JSTOR or some such system (I've only finally figured it out after Interning at an Academic Library). If people can't manage to find what they are looking for in an acceptable source like JSTOR and can in google, then of course they're going to go for google.

    I think it also really bears repeating the differences between scholarly resources and "Crappy Websites". What makes those websites crappy? What is it that makes something authoritative?
    If you're just counting on High School to do it for people before they get to College, you're going to end up frustrated. High School education often isn't everything it should be - sometimes it certainly is, sometimes it isn't.

  16. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Try this one out: A student fails a course the first time she takes it. During this time period, she turns in a rather awful paper. The instructor gives the paper a thorough review, pointing out errors and weak spots. The paper receives a very poor grade.

    Two years later she decides to take a second run at the course. Of course, the paper requirements have been changed somewhat, but she turns in the same awful paper - unchanged. Plagiarism, or only dismal stupidity?

  17. It's probably not going to be recognized as plagiarism, since it's unlikely the instructor would remember the paper (unless s/he has a WAY better memory than I do!). So dismal stupidity it is. Alas.

  18. Anonymous9:33 PM

    I teach in China. I am grading American Literature essays, assigned as a midterm grade. I lectured on plagiarism and using baidu to translate full paragraphs. Still some did it anyway. So I am giving a LOT of zeros. I don't want to do it, but I said I would and I am making good on my word. Now, in China everyone must pass with an A or B. If I "fail" a student in the class, they will retest them until they have an "A" or, like last semester, ask me to make up grades until they have a passing score. They need A's and B's to get into the Party. At least your student gave you the source of the crappy web thing. You'd faint if you saw the shit I'm wading through.