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About plagiarism


Genady
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There is no question here, but I'd like to see comments. It is about my unpleasant experience in an M.Sc program in one of the US universities. Not an ivy league school, so relatively inexpensive. I was an out-of-state student, I guess it was even less expensive for the in-state ones. About half of the class were regular kids while another half were high school teachers who needed the degree to be able to teach in a higher education.

I didn't have any prior experience in US schools, so maybe I'm not going to say anything new, but it was completely unexpected for me.

The program was good, the professors were excellent, but the students... many of them routinely plagiarized in their work. In the beginning of the program everyone got a paper with explanation of plagiarism and expected degrees of punishment. I guess, the school knew about the problem. Everyone signed a statement of understanding, but they plagiarized anyway, and some actually were caught and punished. Not all, though.

So, if teachers did it, it is to be expected from their students. And it is to be expected to spread out and to become a part of the culture...

 

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20 minutes ago, Genady said:

The program was good, the professors were excellent, but the students... many of them routinely plagiarized in their work. In the beginning of the program everyone got a paper with explanation of plagiarism and expected degrees of punishment. I guess, the school knew about the problem. Everyone signed a statement of understanding, but they plagiarized anyway, and some actually were caught and punished. Not all, though.

So, if teachers did it, it is to be expected from their students. And it is to be expected to spread out and to become a part of the culture

The teachers did it?

My impression is that plagiarism is given lip service in school, so it’s not taken all that seriously, until it is an actual problem, and then people are shocked that they are being punished. Kinda like My Cousin Vinnie - “You were serious about that?”

It might stem from certain “only the results matter” attitudes, and pressure to succeed. Plus an attitude that it’s only wrong if you get caught. Even places with honor codes that are supposed to be hallowed tradition have cheating scandals.

We spam-ban essay writing services on a regular basis. They must have customers out there.

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11 minutes ago, Genady said:

There is no question here, but I'd like to see comments. It is about my unpleasant experience in an M.Sc program in one of the US universities. Not an ivy league school, so relatively inexpensive. I was an out-of-state student, I guess it was even less expensive for the in-state ones. About half of the class were regular kids while another half were high school teachers who needed the degree to be able to teach in a higher education.

I didn't have any prior experience in US schools, so maybe I'm not going to say anything new, but it was completely unexpected for me.

The program was good, the professors were excellent, but the students... many of them routinely plagiarized in their work. In the beginning of the program everyone got a paper with explanation of plagiarism and expected degrees of punishment. I guess, the school knew about the problem. Everyone signed a statement of understanding, but they plagiarized anyway, and some actually were caught and punished. Not all, though.

So, if teachers did it, it is to be expected from their students. And it is to be expected to spread out and to become a part of the culture...

 

The question of cheating is as old as education itself.

I do know that at least some universities have adopted methods of countering the latest wave via the internet either buying essays etc or just blatantly copying of the net.
However I won't detail any to avoid this becoming a cheat recipe book for casual readers.
 

Don't forget that the staff are also intellingent folks too.

I will relate a different form of cheating from 50 something years ago.
In my first year we did a lot of wet chemical analysis, using standard reagents prepared by the lab techs.
One such session I couldn't get my titrations to work out.

I chose to report my results as observed anyway.

The following week, after marking (that took longer back then), almost everyone except myself was marked down for haveing fiddled their readings to get the correct (expected) results.
I actually had appropriate results for the reagents actually supplied.
The staff had deliberately mislabled them becuae they suspected dreading s were being doctored on a large scale
 

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Posted (edited)
37 minutes ago, swansont said:

The teachers did it?

To make clear: not the university profs, but the high school teachers who were students in the program.

36 minutes ago, studiot said:

The question of cheating is as old as education itself.

I do know that at least some universities have adopted methods of countering the latest wave via the internet either buying essays etc or just blatantly copying of the net.
However I won't detail any to avoid this becoming a cheat recipe book for casual readers.
 

Don't forget that the staff are also intellingent folks too.

I will relate a different form of cheating from 50 something years ago.
In my first year we did a lot of wet chemical analysis, using standard reagents prepared by the lab techs.
One such session I couldn't get my titrations to work out.

I chose to report my results as observed anyway.

The following week, after marking (that took longer back then), almost everyone except myself was marked down for haveing fiddled their readings to get the correct (expected) results.
I actually had appropriate results for the reagents actually supplied.
The staff had deliberately mislabled them becuae they suspected dreading s were being doctored on a large scale
 

Nice trick. And good for you.

But this is a relatively innocent cheating. What I saw was steeling and getting credit for other people's work. Some plagiarism was just ridiculous, like copying stuff from Wikipedia. But some other was "ideological". E.g. a woman was caught copying paragraphs from published papers on biological evolution. It was so bad, that she was expelled. In her last message on the board she said that she doesn't care because she doesn't believe in this bs anyway.

50 something years ago? Looks like we are about the same age.

Edited by Genady
added the last line
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Keeping in mind I'm a lot younger than you old timers ( 😄😄 ), and was in Uni 40 to 44 years ago, my only experience was when one 'affluent' Arab guy, who drove a brand new Datsun 280z, wanted to buy my lecture notes for $500.
He never showed up to lectures, and since the offer was $500 Canadian I had to decline.
This was 2nd year; he wasn't there for the 3rd.

Back in those days , if you wanted to plagiarize, you actually had to do research through periodicals and research papers, not just type search words into google.

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3 hours ago, Genady said:

So, if teachers did it, it is to be expected from their students.

And these same teachers will probably punish any students they catch doing it. I suspect these teachers back for an upgrade have busy adult lives and not very much time to work on assignments. At the same time, they may not take the program itself seriously: it's not for their education or qualifications, it's just for the certificate.

Unfortunately, shortcuts and 'hacks' already are part of the culture at large, as well as education. It's bound to happen in a highly competitive society, where the accoutrements  of excellence - degrees, prizes, grades, the reputation of the school - is more conducive to obtaining a decent wage than competence in some useful field. 

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3 hours ago, Genady said:

To make clear: not the university profs, but the high school teachers who were students in the program.

Nice trick. And good for you.

But this is a relatively innocent cheating. What I saw was steeling and getting credit for other people's work. Some plagiarism was just ridiculous, like copying stuff from Wikipedia. But some other was "ideological". E.g. a woman was caught copying paragraphs from published papers on biological evolution. It was so bad, that she was expelled. In her last message on the board she said that she doesn't care because she doesn't believe in this bs anyway.

50 something years ago? Looks like we are about the same age.

It has always been an issue, but as MigL pointed out, the internet made folks even lazier. Often, they are easy to catch for that reason (e.g. if you see lots of nonsensical sentences and then a perfectly logical conclusion, or leave in hyperlinks from wiki and so on). It is just a ton of work to find them and there is not a lot of incentive from the admin point of view of penalizing them, unfortunately. What is worse is that students are also more willing to fight instructors, even if cheating is blatant, so you have to go through all the additional work of reporting documenting etc., which is just tiring and time-consuming. During the pandemic plagiarism and cheating has skyrocketed, which is not making things easier. And I am not surprised that highschool teachers are cheating. From what I have heard from the recent batches of new students, there is not a lot of emphasis in many schools regarding critical thinking. 

Rather, there is an insane focus on pushing grades. Incoming students are confused that we just don't give them answer lists that they could memorize, for example. 

Edit: there is also a smaller but increasing group of students who seem to be unable to grasp the concept of plagiarism. Despite the fact that we explain what plagiarism is and why it is not acceptable, some just do not get it and claim that it was OK in high-school and therefore must be alright now. So that trend is worrisome, though it gets drowned out in the pile of worry we got.

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When my daughter was in Grade 12, in the late 1980's, she had a history project. I insisted - in spite of tears and slammed doors - that she draw ever picture and write every word herself.  It turned out very well and she got a B. Later, I saw the A papers on the bulletin board in her classroom. Every one had paste-in pictures and articles cut out periodicals. Apparently, the teacher was already less clear on the concept and a lot more flexible in the definition of "original work" than mine had been a few decades before. 

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11 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

When my daughter was in Grade 12, in the late 1980's, she had a history project. I insisted - in spite of tears and slammed doors - that she draw ever picture and write every word herself.  It turned out very well and she got a B. Later, I saw the A papers on the bulletin board in her classroom. Every one had paste-in pictures and articles cut out periodicals. Apparently, the teacher was already less clear on the concept and a lot more flexible in the definition of "original work" than mine had been a few decades before. 

Sad.

On the other note, my daughter was in Grade 12 in 1995... Now I'm starting to see why these forums are more interesting than some others.

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8 hours ago, Genady said:

Sad.

On the other note, my daughter was in Grade 12 in 1995... Now I'm starting to see why these forums are more interesting than some others.

The regulars here actually like the scientific method and it's implied rigor. The members also police crap as much as the mods. It's not perfect and there is some lattitude for people to express amateur speculations, compared to, say, Physics Forms because ultimately it is an amateur forum. You just have to weather the periods when there seems to be a lot of rubbish, One can filter out the forums that tend to produce the irritating stuff. Keep your eyes on the wheat and ignore the chaff.

I think universities have a lower standard of entry in the UK now, to fill the seats because it's not free. They also have national  league tables to compete in for applications and thus income.  These all lower the bar imo.

Edited by StringJunky
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12 hours ago, Peterkin said:

When my daughter was in Grade 12, in the late 1980's, she had a history project. I insisted - in spite of tears and slammed doors - that she draw ever picture and write every word herself.  It turned out very well and she got a B. Later, I saw the A papers on the bulletin board in her classroom. Every one had paste-in pictures and articles cut out periodicals. Apparently, the teacher was already less clear on the concept and a lot more flexible in the definition of "original work" than mine had been a few decades before. 

There’s nothing wrong with using pictures, drawings or passages made by others (sometimes it’s unavoidable) But you need to give citations for them, and not present them as your own work.

13 hours ago, CharonY said:

there is also a smaller but increasing group of students who seem to be unable to grasp the concept of plagiarism. Despite the fact that we explain what plagiarism is and why it is not acceptable, some just do not get it and claim that it was OK in high-school and therefore must be alright now. So that trend is worrisome, though it gets drowned out in the pile of worry we got.

A big part of the problem, IMO, is that they are given a pass early on. It also seems to me that the younger crowd was more prone to sharing music and ignoring copyright back when napster, etc. were big. Maybe there’s a connection. 

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23 minutes ago, swansont said:

There’s nothing wrong with using pictures, drawings or passages made by others (sometimes it’s unavoidable) But you need to give citations for them, and not present them as your own work.

Absolutely right. However, one shouldn't get an A for compiling works of others, unless such compiling is a goal of the assignment, should they? 

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1 hour ago, swansont said:

There’s nothing wrong with using pictures, drawings or passages made by others (sometimes it’s unavoidable) But you need to give citations for them, and not present them as your own work.

To me, the issue was the purpose of a school assignment. It's not that the teacher wants to see pictures of fishing boats and read articles from the National Geographic; it's that the student should learn about Atlantic fisheries. My teachers, back in the Dark Ages, held that I would retain more of the information if I hand-copied the illustrations and rendered the text into my own words. If there was an element of creativity involved, we got extra praise. There was a sense of achievement, too, that was missing from my children's school experience.

We've taught children how to cut out pictures by the time they graduate kindergarten. Why waste another 12 or 20 years educating them?

Edited by Peterkin
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8 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

To me, the issue was the purpose of a school assignment. It's not the the teacher wants to see pictures of fishing boats and read articles from the National Geographic; it's that the student should learn about Atlantic fisheries. My teachers, back in the Dark Ages, held that I would retain more of the information if I hand-copied the illustrations and rendered the text into my own words. 

We've taught children how to cut out pictures by the time they graduate kindergarten. Why waste another 12 or 20 years educating them?

The teacher shows a way to learn, the student may take some time to understand; why is 12 or 20 a waste?

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The main lesson my daughter took away

5 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

why is 12 or 20 a waste

If they just go on cutting and pasting? Because it can be done without all the expense of building schools and training teachers.

The central lesson my daughter took away from that experience had nothing to do with cod depletion or lobster farming - it was" Why bother making an effort, if you get more credit for using somebody else's work?"

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45 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

because I understand more... 

That makes you an exceptional student. Unfortunately, most students just want to get the credits, move on, get the diploma, move on, get the job, move on, get the pay, move on, get the promotion, move on ... 

Edited by Peterkin
a little more
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1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

To me, the issue was the purpose of a school assignment. It's not that the teacher wants to see pictures of fishing boats and read articles from the National Geographic; it's that the student should learn about Atlantic fisheries. My teachers, back in the Dark Ages, held that I would retain more of the information if I hand-copied the illustrations and rendered the text into my own words. If there was an element of creativity involved, we got extra praise. There was a sense of achievement, too, that was missing from my children's school experience.

We've taught children how to cut out pictures by the time they graduate kindergarten. Why waste another 12 or 20 years educating them?

The same with math and physics. If one reproduces a derivation with their own hand, it gets imprinted in memory forever. In most cases, you don't need to memorize a formula - you can just quickly rederive it.

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There is also - and most of all in science - the matter of intellectual engagement. In doing research for an assignment, even if the assigned topic doesn't make your heart flutter, you come across data that lead to some other information that opens a new path of inquiry, and so forth. Not only do you retain more of the information itself, but you also become more adept at tracking down relevant facts and making connections and that, in turn, can lead to discoveries.  

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3 hours ago, swansont said:

There’s nothing wrong with using pictures, drawings or passages made by others (sometimes it’s unavoidable) But you need to give citations for them, and not present them as your own work.

A big part of the problem, IMO, is that they are given a pass early on. It also seems to me that the younger crowd was more prone to sharing music and ignoring copyright back when napster, etc. were big. Maybe there’s a connection. 

I think it is also a mindset issue. Folks focus on giving right answers to a question for points in the most efficient way, but without engaging intellectually. Often they copy wrong answers as they have not even thought about the problem properly. Likely only some words were googled.

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So, it's really not so much about the ethics of plagiarism - or whatever degree of appropriation of other people's effort - as about education itself. Whether it's meant to be a process of knowledge building, or just a means to some unrelated end.

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I think civilizations got into trouble when knowledge was seen purely as a commodity, something to foster "productivity" in cold calculations of investment and return.  An amoral capitalist approach does not really reckon with the natural curiosity and love of connecting with others and the mystery of the larger world that is the real driver of learning.  We seek to understand our world, and other people, and what we should do in our lives - education systems that don't focus on this will always become petri dishes of cynical calculation.  People will plagiarize when they are no longer able to love knowledge as a vibrant human activity with intrinsic value outside of a marketplace.  

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1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

So, it's really not so much about the ethics of plagiarism - or whatever degree of appropriation of other people's effort - as about education itself. Whether it's meant to be a process of knowledge building, or just a means to some unrelated end.

I would say it is both. Plagiarism is an ethical issue, but engaging in it also inhibits learning.

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The students I teach are predominately pre-med, and the stakes are high. They are all paying a lot to be there, need straight A's to get into competitive medical programs. and not all of them are straight A students. Some students will go to extraordinary lengths to try and get that A, including harassing/stalking their professors, cheating, trying to find loopholes in university policies, etc and so on. My take is this: 

a) I'm there to teach the course, not police the academic misconduct policy. Some students will cheat in my course and get away with it - but I'm not going to run sting operations and deliberately try and catch cheaters, because ultimately it's a waste of my energy which could be spent on better quality teaching and pedagogy. 

b) If I do catch a cheater (which happens at least once a semester), I don't screw around. You fail and get formally reported for a academic misconduct. I block your email/phone number. You appeal to the dean if you don't like it. I don't give warnings (aside from in the syllabus) "just this one time" or other half measures. If I catch you it's extraordinarily likely this ain't your first rodeo. I trusted you, and you treated me like an idiot - you wrecked your GPA/lost your scholarship/ruined your graduation plans, not me. 

c) I don't take it personally or get upset about it. I get that this is a deeply flawed system, and the motivations to cheat. I also get that my upper division elective is just not that important in the long run, and I won't get worked up being the integrity gatekeeper of the academic world. I give my students the benefit of the doubt, and try to get on with being the best instructor I can.

Edited by Arete
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I would like to draw out a few points being made in different ways by members and add some comments to them.

Firstly I think it is important to distinguish between plagiarism at school and plagiarism at college or university.

This is because at school pupils are forced to 'study' many subjects they have little or no interest in or use for.
Once at college most (though not all) are studying for something they need, not something they want, in order to earn their living.

To take the college situation first, one way to counter plagiarism is to separate the college exams from subsequent state exams that allow them to actualy practice their chosen profession.
As a for instance, you can spend 3 - 5 years getting top marks (by cheating) pursuing a Batchelors or Masters in Pharmacy at one of several Universities in the UK.
But you cannot practice until you have passed your 'registration' exam  (which has a significant failure rate first time around).
This exam has a rigorous anti cheating format including specifying a specific non memory, non programmable, calculator, no mobile phones, offsite exam centres etc.
Essays are not required in this exam it is a test of competency.

At school a pupil might have little knowledge, virtually no skill and absolutely no interest in a forced subject  for example Music.
Yet that pupil needs to obtain some minimum score.
So is it little wonder they will take any route to gain this score, including cheating if the opportunity presents ?
This situation has been present in schools since time immemorial.

 

 

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