Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Astonishing plagiarism

You know what always floors me? When a student who is a terrible writer has no idea that when s/he plagiarizes, there will be just a wee bit of a disconnect between her/his unbelievably poor writing, and the polished academic language s/he is plagiarizing.

I have in front me an annotated bibliography whose annotations are mostly plagiarized either from abstracts in journal articles, or from the first couple of paragraphs of the articles themselves - I have checked every single one of them. What alerted me was the interweaving of sentences that contain no subject/make no sense/are full of ridiculous spelling errors (s/he has used the word "ethnics" instead of "ethics" a full six times in this piece of work - and I am not sure s/he would be able to tell me what each word means), with fragments like this: "a process of defining moral personhood as a question that is always already culturally bound and shot through with complicated power relations". Uh, yeah. And "ethnics".

What is so astounding about this is the complete lack of self-consciousness it reveals. Students have so little sense of language that they can't distinguish their own writing voices from the ones they are plagiarizing, and realize that the difference will be glaringly, screamingly obvious to their professors. Even though - as in the case of this student - they are students who don't do well at all, generally. This is a literacy problem, I think. It amounts to a kind of illiteracy.


medieval woman said...

Oh god - that sucks because you can't really convey to them the total obviousness of their actions. It's not only a kind of illiteracy (not know what their own language is like enough to distinguish from others' excellent use of language), but I also wonder if they think *we're* not going to notice?? Maybe it's all part and parcel of the same ignorance?

I'm so sorry about this!

dbm/gaa said...

Ignorance, illiteracy...yes of course. But it is willful, too, that is what bugs me. They are in a place where they are supposed to be taking the opportunity to LEARN but they spend their time doing this crap.

I had three students do this last term. When confronted all three denied knowing they were doing anything wrong, which is just bullshit as far as I'm concerned. Out of the goodness of my heart (ha ha) I let them re-write and only one was really gracious about it, the other two acted like it was a huge burden and couldn't I just pass them already?

huitzilin said...

Things like this happen a lot in foreign language classes, too. I just graded a set of 17 papers in which four had been passed *entirely* through a web translator. It is more than apparent for two reasons:

1) words like "needs." It can translate to a noun ("the students don't satisfy my needs") or a verb ("she really needs to drop my class"), right? They can't tell the difference. Nope. Not between a noun and a (conjugated!) verb. Also, words like "broke." Adjective ("I'm broke as a joke") or verb ("he broke the stupidity record")? Who can tell? (Not my students, apparently.)

...and, my personal favorite...

2) badly spelled words in English that the translator assumes are proper nouns and leaves alone. The most glaring ones so far: "forgeign," "neice," and "nkow."

Right. That, mixed with plagiarized articles from Google scholar. Which means I get "forgeign" and correct usage of the ablative absolute in the same paragraph.

Anonymous said...

The most egregious example I've had was for an assignment to discuss five of about 24 assigned Montaigne essays, using the essays to consider a specific historical question. One student found an online site that provided short abstracts for all of Montaigne's essays. She downloaded five of them, including the titles, and put her name at the top! No intro, conclusion, or any other revising, and then she insisted it was her own work! When the dept chair and I asked her to rephrase some of the sentences in the abstracts for us, she couldn't do it, but still insisted it was her own work. Amazing!