Monday, March 24, 2014
Wise and worldly readers, short of going full-on panopticon on them, have you found reasonably elegant ways to combat online plagiarism or cheating?
That being said if I found obvious cheating I'd punish it, but in my view the real world is a much harsher judge than any instructor can be.
As you note, "lock down browsers" and other remote monitoring are a joke if you don't have a proctor verifying they have no other communication tools available. If they just log in, a parent or someone they hire could have the password and do the work for them.
My willingness to track down plagiarism suffered when I found a scientific description on the Nobel Prizes web site that had apparently been plagiarized from a textbook, without any citation. (I think other sentences in that work had had references to the literature.) Alas, I'll never know if the student was plagiarizing the Nobel site, the obscure and much older textbook (thanks, Google books), or some other site that copied from one or both of those places.
That's a very short-sighted view of "is what they're learning important?", but it gets the student's attention quick enough. And yes, the real world is a far harsher judge.
That said: my best defense against cheating has always been to get to know the students and to listen even a little bit to what their aspirations are. If you can get a half-decent relationship working with the student, and they get even a small amount of investment in why your goals are what they are for the class, you tend to get a decent environment.
I suppose that doesn't help if there's an identity swap at the very onset, but at a certain point, we have to make some assumptions that students are going to behave honestly.
@Chuck Pearson -- I really hope I never run into a vet who doesn't understand gen chem. I wish we in general did a better job at making our students understand how the sciences fit together and if you want to be good at biology (including veterinary science...) you really need to be able to integrate all of them. But that's a different rant that I won't start.
I believe that the system worked fairly well, but since the Honor Commission worked in secret, I really don’t know if due process was truly observed, and I don’t know if they really operated fairly and were not some sort of Star Chamber. About the only notices of the proceedings of the Honor Commission were terse notes in the college newspaper which reported the nature of the violation and the penalty meted out. In just about all the cases, the accused student was judged to be guilty. The penalty for plagiarism was usually a grade of failure in the plagiarized work.
But this was back in the 1960s, before the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Previously, plagiarism required a certain amount of effort—you had to go to the library, drag out the book, and write down the paragraph or paragraphs you wanted to crib. But now all it takes is a Google search and a couple of mouse clicks to copy just about anything you want into your paper. It is so easy to do this that a student could inadvertently forget to properly cite what they dragged off the Internet into their work.
I wonder how Turnitin works in the present environment. Would Turnitin flag as a potential plagiarism a single sentence that just by coincidence matches something found on the Web? I suppose that a wise teacher needs to carefully vet what Turnitin tells them, just so that they don’t falsely charge a student with plagiarism. You can’t trust a computer to make what are basically human decisions. On the other hand, could a clever plagiarist escape Turnitin’s scrutiny by paraphrasing what they copy, changing just a few words and doing some rearrangement, all without properly citing the work?
I teach in math and physics, where I don’t assign papers, so I have little experience in such matters.
Your complaint that "the workload implications alone are severe" is realistic, given the system we have... but ultimately not totally different from the students complaining about the workload of their assignments leading to plagiarism.
Turnitin in particular struck me as deeply ethically hypocritical. It involves a private for-profit company making money off of my intellectual property, which I am required to give them to participate in a particular course. Why is "stealing" more ethical than "cheating"?
It's not that you should necessarily let blatant cheating stand, but we can't let the credentialing functions of higher ed outweigh the learning functions of higher ed to the extent that everything rests on whether the system is perfectly fair. Because the world isn't fair.
Turnitin can be used as a teaching tool for those who honestly don't know what plagiarism is. We have students turn in their own paper and try for an originality score that exceeds a threshold. That helps them understand what is required.
I find that a final exam taken in a proctored test site tends to weed out those who cheated on the midterms as long as the final can tank their grade. And I'd rather give someone a C than an F - it allows them no opportunity to retake the course (at the places where I have taught). I also grade all the answers to a single test question at the same time and flag those students who turned in the same wrong answer or right answers that have identifying quirks. I then let the students in the class know that I've identified some patterns in the answers and that I'm tracking them. This seems to help discourage the worst offenders.
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