The Unknown Adjunct

July 3, 2009

Plagiarism Short Circuit

Filed under: Academics,Recommended,Students,teaching — unknownadjunct @ 1:15 am
Tags: , ,

G. Thomas Couser’s piece in IHE today on plagiarism is a must-read.

Inside the normal to and fro account of a professor demolishing a student’s rationalization for plagiarism is an insight that stopped me cold:

“[This is the] heart of the matter. Your use of the online “study guide” SparkNotes is a problem not only because it was unacknowledged but also because it entirely short-circuited your thinking process. Such guides very rarely enable students to carry out independent analysis of primary sources; rather, they tend to inhibit or completely block it because they trade in canned, bland summaries and commentary.”

This is a point about plagiarism that you don’t hear — or at least I haven’t heard it before and it isn’t reflected in the academic codes and plagiarism training materials in three different schools that I’ve taught for (I just checked). We talk about things like dishonesty, grades earned by false pretenses, and lack of learning, but the stuff I have seen never makes the “why” of “lack of learning” very clear.

My take. The mark of truly knowing a concept is being able to put it into your own words. When students decide to parrot someone’s version — particularly a bland puree of the work — they not only do not learn the concept, (and this is the important corollary) they eliminate the possibility of being able to use the concept in a meaningful way or as a point of departure for any kind of original insight.

Of course, this leaves me open to the charge of drawing conclusions based on my ignorance — after all, I am just an adjunct and the real professors probably knew this all along. But I suspect that if this precise point hadn’t occurred to me, it hasn’t occurred to others either. Be sure to give Couser’s piece a read.

Dear Plagiarist



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