gee, who saw this coming?

From the Washington Post (via /.):

Two McLean High School students have launched a court challenge against a California company [Turnitin.com] hired by their school to catch cheaters, claiming the anti-plagiarism service violates copyright laws.

Well, duh. If a company earns a tidy profit largely off the uncompensated labor of students, some of those students are bound to object. I’ll make three brief observations:

  1. Writing assignments that are easily fulfilled through plagiarism are not good assignments.
  2. The software that runs the for-profit Turnitin.com site can’t be that complicated. Surely a university (or a consortium of universities) could create a free, open-source program that does the same thing.
  3. Creators do not need to give up copyright in order to allow others to make use of their material. There are ways around our increasingly illogical copyright laws.
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5 thoughts on “gee, who saw this coming?

  1. Yep, I’ve been waiting for that show to drop for a really long time. My plagiarism problems were magically solved this semester when I created better assignments. There’s a mini-rebellion here against Turnitin b/c a student/friend wrote an anti-Turnitin editorial, which is pretty cool.

  2. I do not *get* plagiarism at all. What the heck is that about? One of my professors began his class by saying, “Is there anyone here who doesn’t think they are bright? Anyone?” He went on to say, “You wouldn’t be at this school if you weren’t bright…” and then telling us of an experience with plagiarism he had had with a former student. Apparently, he thought her thesis was brilliant. He did further research on the Internet, only to have her paper pop up in one of those disgustingly greedy “buy a paper” sites. What students fail to realize is that plagiarism is painful for the professor as well. It cannot be comfortable to have to confront a student or sanction discipline–or to wonder if somehow, you failed someone in some small or rather large way. Professors love to know that they are actually helping you become someone wiser, more perceptive–that is, essentially, the reward of teaching. Unless you have a rare bitter apple, professors are on the whole quite helpful and accessible. As I am a student, I fail to see how anyone need resort to plagiarism– researching, organizing, revising, writing are all a part of learning. Don’t you feel guilty? If you need help, there is usually a Writing Center on campus (there is where I am) or some other sort of help. Don’t steal others ideas or words or presentations. You steal from yourself. You rob yourself of the opportunity to develop and learn.

  3. I understand this guy’s comment on plagiarism [from Plagiarism.org]: “Who wants to sit around looking for websites trying to find out if a paper is plagiarized or not… pretty soon you’re a private investigator.” –a Stanford University professor, from an article in TechWeb News

    My thought is that no one wants to do this! And shouldn’t have to. But if a professor has an intuitive sense, then further questioning may be appropriate. My father claims that he can spot plagiarism fairly quickly. That he has honed the skill over decades of teaching. That many instances of plagiarism are transparent. I think, also, that it is discernable in another way. Students who write well ought to be consistent in ability and pretty articulate about their ideas. I think that plagiarism is partially connected to teachers being unable or unwilling to engage students in dialogue during class. For example, one of my professors interrogates us! You damn well know not to appear in class withut having read, memorized, and posed your own questions about materials. You just won’t survive the inquest. Once he said, “Would you like me to stop the torture?” Each one of us has an imprinted way of writing–a set vocabularly, a style of presenting ideas. Teachers need to get to know students! Of course, this may or may not be reasonable (as in the case of my brother’s 300-person course). But on a smaller campus, this kind of support will also go a long way to helping a student feel more involved and confident.

    This is not to mediate the culpability of plagiarizers. However, getting to know students may shift the central perspective (in their minds) from “grades” to “involvement”.

    The professor of mine who addressed plagiarism (the paper he found on the Internet) covered the topic so thoroughly the first class that I sat there thinking, “What are we? Six???” Later I would understand more thoroughly that many students really don’t understand that plagiarism effects the cheater, often the class (robs them of a student’s genuine participation in discussion and is unfair), the professor (this goes without saying)– at the very least. We have an honor code where I attend college–but many places don’t. I think that they should. At the end of each exam, we have to state that we have abided by the honor code. Having to sign that statement gives pause.

    As my professor said, when one student cheats it reflects on the whole college. It demeans the hard work that graduates have done. It sullies the college’s reputation.

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