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Plagiarism and Avoiding It

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: September 21, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

Plagiarism, Authentication and Other Peoples' Papers

by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of the Narrative of Learning Identity Series
Copyright: June 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

Much is made today of plagiarism, and with good reason. Aside from tests, both essay and multiple choice, which lose their authenticating value if their questions are known before hand, term papers and research papers are the primary mode of assessment. There have been times when I have actually found myself longing for a healthy stack of term papers, all neatly stapled and shining, never rumpled, never grumpy, always in the pretend-language of academic discourse. They are much like mysteries set before the instructor . See if you can tell when I was really trying to say something, and when I was just dumping in everything along with the kitchen sink, if I thought it might appease you. I long for them anyway, for something that simple, uncomplicated, that would permit me in a few hours of straight reading to authenticate the learning of all my students.

Nice fantasy world. But in the reality of my socially constructed world, learning neither happens that way, nor is adequately measured that way. Learning in my experience happens through a give and take, a constant questioning, discoveries that lead to more sophisticated questions, and an openness to go on learning. Not through absolute acceptance of reified authorities, nor through memorizing dates and data, nor through the arrogance of certainty that one has "found" the answers. For answers will change tomorrow.

So where in all this do tests and term papers and plagiarism fit? Well, that's our point. They don't. About the most important use they have for us is feedback. I love tests. Tests on anything. They're kind of like pie eating contests. Who can cram the most down? And after all, it's impressive, to win, that is. Imagine! You can consume more pie than anyone else in a single sitting! You can cram and recite back more facts than anyone else! It's a game to win! Or to place. Or to show. Or to lose. And that's the problem. What if you lose? Suddenly, the game may not be such fun anymore. Suddenly, we aren't playing Trivia anymore. Because someone may decide the job you get, or the professional school you go to, on tests, when you didn't even take them very seriously at the time.

tests are separated from process and application

employer wants application of the data

parent wants promise of empowerment - learning to learn

teacher wants - make learning accesible, create a climate in which it is natural, find and share the joy of learning

Does the test do any of these? Very well developed ones can. They are constructed to require you to go through three steps of reasoning to come up with the right answer. But part of the test is the mystery of seeing if you can figure out what the process is? Ambiguity is a problem. Tests tend to be convergent production - so you begin to learn to think in terms of what are they looking for?

And then, because "answers" exist, crime is born. Someone thinks of stealing the answers.

Divergent production avoids such categorization. It encourages the use and exploration of the data. It can also be open and honest in what it is looking for. And we aren't likely to create a class of criminals by providing deviant means to "the" answer.

Term papers - the problem. What are they good for? The constitution in Silin's. A writing course is hard for all. President said we couldn't teach writing with 60 students. Depends on what you write.

term paper is done all at once, usually night before - no time for writer or teacher to question and answer, develop ideas. By the time I get it at 10- 10 pages too much is set. But if we write it in pieces, then we have a shot at correcting course as we go.

no forum. under the bed, in a box in the closet where there's never enough room? who benefits? how does this contribute to knowledge in the world?

process text - leaves process open - paragraph at a time - tries for short - gives us practice in getting memos to a readable format - and if we do them in this way, someone else will use them, build on them - we have created a forum

with process text, by leaving the whole there, accessible, and saying "build on it" we are encouraging the very process we want. We cannot steal what is openly offered to us.