[Air-l] RE: Plagiarism and Napster

Kendall, Lori Lori.Kendall at purchase.edu
Sat Mar 23 14:39:05 PST 2002

Michael Gurstein wrote:

> However, doesn't all this discussion about various mechanical ways of
> capturing the plargiarizing miscreants say some interesting things about
> the state of academe where:
> 	* student assessment is so ritualized and depersonalized that
> digitally encoded performances (e.g. student essays/reports) can be 
> substituted one for the other (apparently seamlessly) subject only to 
> mechanical (policing) review
>	* assessments are of student presentation/re-presentation of
> infinitely reproducible (and in a digital age) completely depersonalized
> "information" rather than the rather more context (and individual) 
> specific "knowledge".

Actually, my discussion of how I detect plagiarism, and that of
other people on the list specifically has to do with assessments
which are *not* "ritualized and depersonalized".  

> Surely what is important is that students can construct a useful
> argument, judiciously select and cogently deploy information from the 
> infinite information warehouse on the Net (or elsewhere) rather than find 
> this or that clever way of restating (in their own words) whatever is the
> content of the subject they are discussing.

Students' ability to construct an argument is exactly what is
at issue.  The examples of plagiarism I have encountered are not
merely students plugging in others' words and then constructing
an argument around them, but borrowing others' arguments whole
cloth and thereby *not* demonstrating skills or knowledge.  I am
able to catch this precisely because I design assignments that
encourage students to gather data, apply theory, and work with
ideas in order to better understand them.

So I don't really see how you can read this discussion as somehow
reflecting a degraded state of academe, which is how your 
argument came across.  And while the discussion may have centered
on "mechanics," the underlying pedagogical issues go well beyond
that.  My original purposes in designing assignments the way I
do were pedagogical; it is a side benefit that those assignments
are also difficult to plagiarize.

In addition, I don't think it takes much at all in terms of time 
or resources to detect plagiarism and to get students to understand 
the difference between gathering others' words and synthesizing
something out of them on the one hand, and representing others'
thoughts as their own, on the other.  It could well be that I am
not catching all of the plagiarism in my classes, but I am relatively
confident that I am, and almost entirely through assignment design.
Lori Kendall
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Purchase College-SUNY
lori.kendall at purchase.edu

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