26 January 2011

Stuff I Like to Use in Every Course

What is Plagiarism?

One of those terms whose definition seems, ironically enough, to be plagiarized from time to time. Or is it plagiarized? Why isn't it?

Cheating is Easy
http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&q=free+term+papers, but let us look and see how it can be made both harder to do, and not worth doing, all in the context of helping students use the Internet and WWW better for the writing and learning they need to do.

Try Googling your assignment. Go to Google or another search engine, and put in keywords from your writing assignment. See what comes up. Do you need to revise the assignment to make it less plagiarable?

Turn Papermills to Your Advantage
Since these sites exist, let students know that you know about them. Use them in your teaching. For example, you can go to Schoolsucks.com
(http://schoolsucks.com/portal/modules.php?name=searchmain) and find student papers and use them in class for all sorts of reasons: to teach peer review, for editing practice, as imperfect models.

How Student Papers Sometimes Get Written

http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail64.htmlThe site's a hoot, and it's funny. And it's also a useful teaching tool, worth showing in class if you can do it, or sending students to look at and write about it for a class discussion on doing one's own

http://slate.msn.com/id/2059540/leads to "Adventures in Cheating," by Seth Stevenson, a piece that samples term paper mills, and finds --no surprise-- that you get what you pay for (and even that ain't much). I wrote a response to this piece, which again, I find useful for teaching, that began, "Essentially, the free papers stink, and they're recycled. That is, free papermill sites often carry copies of the same papers." Rest of the note is here: http://fray.slate.msn.com/?id=3936&m=2538524&.

25 January 2011

Turnitin's statement on copyright

About this letter

This letter is old, from 2001, and Turnitin.com has changed as a company -- most significantly with new ownership. But also since its arrival in 1997, its product's evolved, its approach to teaching about plagiarism is more sophisticated, it supports best practices that many teachers follow and use successfully.

Still, this letter has value because it points to a fundamental truth: that with course and writing assignment design, which the workshops I do focus on, Turntin.com really isn't necessary. See the final paragraph.

Context for Letter

In 2001, a student at a college which subscribes to Turnitin.com put a copyright statement on his essay, saying that his work couldn't be uploaded to any WWW site and archived. This meant that it couldn't be submitted to Turnitin.com (or a service such as Plagiserve.com, a free alternative to Turnitin.com that also archives submitted papers), which archives papers and adds them to the database that submissions are checked against.

The college checked with their lawyers, and with Turnitin.com on what to do if a student puts a copyright on their own work expressly forbidding their paper to be co-opted by a for profit service such as Turnitin.com. Below is Turnitin.com's reply to the matter of student copyright (They don't think much of it.).

Also, here's an excerpt from the writing center director at the college where this happened, describing what happened on the college end:
I also contacted our general counsel (the chancellor's legal team) for their thoughts. The wording in our institutional documents does not seem to compel students to give papers to this type of service, although it says that by enrolling, students give "limited rights for the instructor to mark on, grade, and retain" papers and to do whatever "as required by the process of instruction." Their final word was, let the student off the hook and don't submit the paper to the database. Now the provost wonders if this idea will catch on, effectively making his $4,000 investment a dud. I don't think this issue is going away.
Turnitin.com's reply to the issue:

-----Original Message-----
From: Paul Wedlake [mailto:pwedlake@iparadigms.com]
Sent: Thursday, October 25, 2001 5:55 PM
Subject: Legal issues regarding Turnitin.com

I've attached our Registration Agreement that outlines some of the issues we
discussed yesterday. I have also attached our Usage Agreement and Privacy

Please contact legal@iparadigms.com if you need further assistance.

Below is our standard statement regarding the Copyright Issue:

We have spent considerable time and expense researching this issue.  The
consistent opinion of our attorneys, plus those of the several schools that
have looked into it, including the University of California, is that fair
use does in fact allow us to store the student's papers.  Here is a summary
of the reasoning:

We believe that use of the student's paper would be deemed fair because
rather than constituting infringement, the use prevents infringement of that
paper from occurring.  The student's paper is only being used to catch
someone who might have stolen from it.  That's the primary purpose of the
use and so it would likely be accorded even more deference than other
recognized purposes of fair use such as education, commentary and research
because its promotion of the underlying goal of the copyright statute, i.e.,
to promote creativity, is higher.

Most major recent fair use cases have identified "transformative use" as the
key question in fair use analysis.  Transformative use means that the new
work is being used for a different purpose than the old work.  In this case,
transformative use is present because the instructor is not using the paper
for its original purpose, i.e., turning an assignment in, research into a
topic, but is making a new use of the paper, i.e., checking for

Of the four fair use factors, effect on the market for the work is generally
considered the most important.  In this case, the instructor's use of the
student paper isn't affecting any reasonably likely market because it's not
reasonable to assume that individual students could start licensing papers
to individual teachers for this purpose.

Thus, although the issues are complicated, we feel confident that the use of
Student papers in our system does constitute fair use.  That being said, a
few precautions can greatly simplify the relationship between student,
institution and Turnitin.com.

Informing students of the use of the system in each course syllabus using
the product is the most important tool.  This is the stop sign that prevents
most of the plagiarism in the first place (which should be the goal), and it
also insures that students are agreeing to take that course with the
provision that their papers may be submitted to our system.

Having students submit their work, rather than instructors submitting it,
adds one more level of consent on the part of the student, as nothing is
done without the student's knowledge.  We do not feel that this is required
to meet the requirements of fair use, but it certainly removes any

Finally, offering the students an off-line alternative makes their consent
absolutely clear.  For instance, as an alternative, the student could be
required to turn in a photocopy of the first page of all reference sources
used, an annotated bibliography, and a one page paper reflecting on their
research methodology.  Such an option would be unlikely to be chosen by any
students, but if they did choose it, the chances of plagiarism would also be
vanishingly thin.

Best regards,

Paul Wedlake
Director of Sales
iParadigms, LLC., developers of Turnitin.com/Plagiarism.org
1624 Franklin St., Suite 818
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: 510-287-9720 ext. 223
Fax: 510-444-1952
URL1: www.turnitin.com
URL2: www.plagiarism.org
URL3: www.iparadigms.com

22 January 2011

Theft, Fraud, and the Loss of Voice by Keith Hjortshoj

Excerpted from Keith Hjortshoj's magnificent Transition to College Writing, a book I recommend heartily and often for students, "Theft, fraud, and loss of voice," situates plagiarism in the context of a novice writers struggling to find their own voices.

Very often mistakes in source use comes from the simple fact that writers do not know where their voice begins and where a source ends.

To learn more about the full text, Transition to College Writing, which is as a gentle and patient an introduction to college writing as you'll ever find, click the cover image below.

Transition to College Writing 2e by Keith Hjorsthoj

13 January 2011

Talking About Plagiarism

Talking About Plagiarism

A Syllabus Strategy for Talking About Plagiarism with Students

After reading Robert Harris's book, The Plagiarism Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting, and Dealing with Plagiarism (2001, from Pyrczak Publishing); an article on the role of honor codes by Robert Boynton in the Washington Post; and thinking about the many plagiarism discussions that have come up on professional listservs I participate on such as WPA, TechRhet, WCenter, it occurred to me that the first place to begin a better discussion with my students on plagiarism is in my own syllabus. The syllabus, after all, is the contract I make with my class. It's the document that conveys my personality, my view of writing, and sets the tone and approach I want to take with my students (as well as the tone I want them to take with one another). Teachers use syllabi to set parameters, to layout conditions, to explain grades. How a syllabus talks about things like grading, writing, and plagiarizing matters.  I want an open, inviting class, where students feel comfortable taking risks with their writing, have a clear idea of what I expect, and can comfortably share their work at any and every stage. But the plagiarism statement I had in the first draft of my fall 2001 syllabus, worked directly against those goals. It read: 
The Emerson College Statement on Plagiarism in The Emerson College Student Handbook warns that "plagiarism is the use of the words and/or ideas of another as if they were one's own and without acknowledgement of their source" (63). Please familiarize yourself with this policy by reading this section of the undergraduate catalogue.  Intentional plagiarism will not be tolerated. Any student who plagiarizes another's work will automatically fail this course. In addition, Emerson College will take disciplinary action and an official record of such action will become part of your permanent file. Plagiarism can result in probation or expulsion from the College. Most importantly, you are here to learn and gain skills that will serve you during your entire career and life; to plagiarize is to cheat yourself of this opportunity.
My conflict here is that I don't lead any other discussion with threats, so why one on plagiarism? Why start off scolding? Why build anxiety and fear when I know that I'll be asking students to learn complex literacy skills, writing skills, and academic conventions? Why make myself a state trooper to their novice driver? So I deleted the above language and swapped in this instead: 
You should read your student handbook. (Has anybody read it?--I've never met a student who has unless and until they have a question it answers. It's not exactly scintillating stuff.) It has all the legal warnings you'll ever want to hear. But since you're likely not going to read the handbook, let's think about plagiarism more carefully and realistically than the handbook does.  Unfortunately, the term plagiarism is more technical than practical. It's used to describe equally mistakes in handling and citing sources and deliberate cheating and lying about the authorship of the work you hand in. In fact, one refuge of many cheaters is to say that they merely made mistakes in source handling. So by plagiarism in this course I want us all to distinguish between fraud and cheating, which is always wrong, and mistakes in learning, which are inevitable, correctable, and for many people, necessary for learning. Mistakes are welcome; deliberate fraud is not. 
To help explain some of these differences, and how they play out in practical terms in the course, and to give us a way to talk about these issues, I'd like to invite you to think about plagiarism as a matter of Don'ts and Do's. Some of the Do's will vary in other courses, but most all teachers will agree and assume you'll abide by the Don'ts. 
We'll talk about this stuff as the course goes on. 
Don't cheat. Don't lie. Don't steal. Don't misrepresent others work as yours. Don't go to places like schoolsucks.com, evilhouseofcheat.com, termpapersrus.com, or any of the other hundreds of online and off line sources where term papers can be commissioned or bought or borrowed for <wink>research purposes only</wink>. Don't make up fake sources. Don't make up fake quotes. Don't make up fake interviews. Don't think that by copying something over and changing every couple of words that you've put it in your own words. Don't think that because something is on the Net it doesn't need to be cited. Don't think that because a lot of textbooks and other printed matter you read don't site sources that you don't have to cite them either. Don't think that because politicians have speech writers and actors have script writers who often go unacknowledged that you can get a writer to "secretary" your paper for you; rules that apply in other settings are different here, where the purpose is for you to do the writing. Don't go to the library, find a book that hasn't been checked out often, then find a source in its bibliography, and then copy that source into a paper as yours. Don't procrastinate on assignments and homework so that you end up under too much deadline pressure and become tempted to take shortcuts. Don't be afraid to come see me if you feel overwhelmed, unsure, fear missing a deadline, or start falling behind. Don't try to get around any of these Don'ts by working so hard to disguise them that you might as well have just done the Do's. 
Do share ideas with one another. Do swap writing. Do help one another write. Do edit and rewrite sections of one another's papers from time to time; writers do that kind of thing all the time, and editors do it with them. Do learn to like your writing; even when it's bad, hand it in any way, and know I'll always find something to like about it. Do expect to make mistakes managing and citing sources. Do expect to correct them. Do take care in downloading sources and taking notes. Do find a way to use sources wisely and fairly. Do learn the myriad rhetorical purposes that including and citing sources can serve. Do use the word processor to help you manage sources (for example, put sources you're quoting or paraphrasing in a different font and font color until the final draft so you don't accidentally forget they came from some other writer). Do have fun with sources, think of using them as weaving, building, playing with blocks, or any other metaphor that you associate with "taking what's at hand and making something of it." Do write before, while, and after you research, but especially before. Do discover an argument so you have a distinctive voice in your own essay, and aren't overwhelmed and intimidated by sources. Do come see me whenever you have a question about the course, are feeling overwhelmed, or unhappy with an assignment or your work; we can talk and find a way to make things work. 
As you can see, there are some contradictions in these lists. My students asked, "but isn't someone editing and rewriting my paper cheating?" Well, no, not if it's done right. It depends on the circumstances and the assignment, but most published writers benefit from this kind of help. Students need to learn how to manage that kind of help. (I want this to be an issue, by the way, because I know a lot of students, especially in other courses, will do what so many of us do--ask someone to proofread their paper. And sometimes that proofing is simple punctuation correction, but sometimes it gets into sentence level revisions. So it is important to know to ask, when is that okay and when is it not?)  The Don'ts and Do's also link plagiarism and cheating to writing skills (drafting, revising, editing), research skills (evaluating sources, file management, planning), and student skills (time management, talking to teachers, learning to ask for help). That is, I found the lists give me a framework for talking about plagiarism and cheating in context, as things which come from daily decisions, sometimes small, in doing the work of being a student. 
I know this approach might not appeal to all teachers; certainly my list of Don'ts and Do's will not. But I found this semester that using this approach has really helped me in day-to-day workshops and discussions. It has given me a vocabulary in everyday language to talk about writing, plagiarism and cheating in a way that supports writing rather than polices students. I guess I see it as the difference between gatekeeping and hosting, between warning and inviting, between suspecting and trusting.