Thursday, January 23, 2014

Plagiarists and cheats

Ann Loseva, one of the BritishCouncil's new TeachingEnglish associates, has written a very touching post called I HATED THAT FELLOW (C) C.G. JUNG on her personal blog that is a reflection on cheating/plagiarism undertaken by students and the reaction of teachers have to this.

It made me think of the times that I called out students for cheating or plagiarism and I thought I'd share something related here on my blog.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cheating.JPG
In denial and aggressive

When I worked for a private university in Barcelona, I used to have zero tolerance for plagiarism and cheating. There was one short specialised course in particular that I taught for which I required a specific piece of writing that some students found difficult to do and which prompted some to copy and paste from articles they found on the Internet. I warned the students at the beginning of the course that if I considered plagiarism to be the ultimate sin on this course, and would give them '0' not only for the work submitted, but for all of the course if I caught them doing it. I told them that if it were up to me, they'd be thrown out of the university. It's a particular bugbear of mine because I hate laziness, especially when people try to skive hard work and get something for nothing.

Despite the warning, there were those who submitted obviously copied texts. They are usually easy to spot as it's highly improbable (impossible, in fact) for upper-intermediate students to submit writing in the style and manner of a professional journalist. I don't even remember any of them trying to be clever about it and changing some of the text to include mistakes, although there might have been some who did this and who got away with it. The worst cases were those who had copied and pasted badly, including parts of the original web-page (buttons, other odd formatting) in their printed texts.

I'd usually confront them at the end of the course, when they'd meet with us to discuss their marks and they would have the chance to argue their case if they thought they'd been treated unjustly. Most of the guilty wouldn't turn up to contest my decision, preferring to shirk away from confronting me. Some did and then stared down at the ground and mumbled apologies when I presented the evidence of their misdeeds. 

I remember one, though, who confronted me and despite acknowledging he had blatantly copied and pasted his work, tried to persuade me to change his mark because otherwise he would fail English. I refused and he became quite aggressive in his stance, even trying to tell me that his father was very well-connected with the university and that he would speak to the director and make things difficult for me. I called his bluff and told him that my decision had been made and that he should go ahead and do what he thought was the right thing. He stormed out of the school. I don't know whether he tried to get his father involved or not, but fortunately I never heard from him again.

Propogating the plagiarism /cheating culture

The fact that many of the students at that university did blatantly cheat in exams or plagiarise their coursework in other subjects didn't really surprise me. You could see why they thought it was OK if you looked at what many of the teachers and administration allowed to happen in their institution. Here are a few examples of the same kind of culture that was condoned or promoted at the place (and probably still is):
  • Students photocopying books. Despite most of the students being very well-off, in many subjects, one student would buy a book and lend it to others who would photocopy it. They would often do this using the photocopying facilities in the school, and for some courses, a photocopied book would be available to buy there.
  • Academic dishonesty. Some of the tutors on the university courses were not properly qualified. Two of them I know were put on official student lists during the time I was there so they could be granted degrees from the university, despite not ever going to class or studying any of the subjects. These tutors were experienced, but did not have sufficient qualifications. Despite this, they were teaching on undergraduate degree courses, and one of them was even tutor of the university's Master's programme. 
Hardly surprising I suppose that there was a cheating/plagiarism culture amongst the students.



2 comments:

  1. Hi Graham,

    Just to let you know that you and Ann inspired a lesson, a survey of my students, some great discussion and a resultant blog post, which you can find here: http://teflgeek.net/2014/01/24/the-cheating-art/

    Many thanks,
    David

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    1. Great lesson and blog post, David!

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