[Air-L] Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age

Sarah Roberts robert50 at illinois.edu
Wed Aug 4 22:53:31 PDT 2010

I think it is right to question many of the assumptions at work in the article (and in the general discourse around this issue), including the presented below.  The preoccupation with _technologically-enabled_ and enhanced plagiarism is certainly something to approach intellectually and it begs elucidation, in my opinion, and also also tends to obfuscate or take the spotlight  many other, much more crucial (and less glamorous) issues.  These include such as the problematic nature of ever-growing class size coupled with downsizing of teaching assistants, graduate student labor and the like who are often critical in coaching and teaching about proper writing, attribution, and so on.  In addition, if we keep constantly reminding this generation of "born digitals," or whatever you wan to call them, about how they all plagiarize, none of them can learn proper attribution and generally have low expectations for them, won't they just start to parrot back those attitudes and beliefs about themselves?  (It reminds me of all the handwringing over "slackers" at the dawn of the 90s.  Where are all those plaid shirt-wearing, Pearl Jam-listening slackers now?  Probably somewhere financial services, or IT, or otherwise somehow paying off a mortgage on a suburban home, or reading this list right now, unless I miss my guess.)

The plagiarism hysteria also has the peculiar characteristic of contributing to the changing atmosphere of the classroom, turning into something resembling more a situation of policing and a paradigm of can I get away with it vs. gotcha, and even leads, in the worst case, to the reliance on third-party and for profit utilities that turn the entire writing and evaluation process into a scientifically managed database check.  I mean, this is just the tip of the iceberg with these tools.

Is plagiarism a problem in the university (and elsewhere)?  Undoubtedly.  But the hysteria around it, and the reactions levied against, in both the form of the changed tenor of the student-teacher relationship into one of surveillance and policing, as as well as dubious and problematic panaceas like plagiarism detection services, strike me as scarier still.


On Aug 4, 2010, at 5:00 PM, air-l-request at listserv.aoir.org wrote:

> Date: Wed, 4 Aug 2010 10:33:37 +1000
> From: Margaret Borschke <Margaret.Borschke at unsw.edu.au>
> To: "air-l at listserv.aoir.org" <air-l at listserv.aoir.org>
> Subject: Re: [Air-L] Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age
> What if we question the premise: that is that students plagiarise more than they once did.  Is it really true?
> These charges have a distinct whiff of anxiety about "kids today" and the effects of digital and network technologies about them.
> Copy and paste capacities might make it easier to lift entire passages but the same technologies also made it easier to find them. Students know this. For one, most know they will be are assumed guilty before being proven innocent by commercial services that universities subscribe to such as Turn it in.
> Whenever I read these "corrupting influence of the internet" stories, I like to counter them with this beautiful confession by Kevin Kopelson about his own old school adventures in plagiarism and his more recent experiences teaching:
> http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n10/kevin-kopelson/diary


S a r a h  T.  R o b e r t s
Doctoral Student and Fellow, Information in Society 
Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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