Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Anson, Chris M. “We Never Wanted to Be Cops: Plagiarism, Institutional Paranoia, and Shared Responsibility”

Anson, Chris M. “We Never Wanted to Be Cops: Plagiarism, Institutional Paranoia, and Shared Responsibility.” Pluralizing Plagiarism: Identities, Contexts, Pedagogies. Ed. Rebecca Moore Howard and Amy E. Robillard. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook/Heinemann, 2008. 140-57. Print.

Recently, I read two collections of essays on plagiarism, Who Owns This Text?: Plagiarism, Authorship and Disciplinary Cultures and Pluralizing Plagiarism: Identities, Contexts, Pedagogies, in hopes of finding ways to minimize or even eliminate plagiarism on campus. Unfortunately, both books seem more intent on problematizing plagiarism than on offering practical solutions for how to negate or deal with it. Frankly, plagiarism is enough of a problem already, as students short circuit their own learning by representing the work of others as their own, so some of the scholarship offered in the books may come across as puzzling to the instructor frustrated by another case of plagiarism in a course, and looking for a solution to the problem. Though some of the essays in the volumes raised interesting points as to why students plagiarized, how definitions of plagiarism vary from discipline to discipline, and other matters, the only essay I can recommend entirely to instructors looking for suggestions on how to eliminate, or, at least, minimize plagiarism is “We Never Wanted to Be Cops: Plagiarism, Institutional Paranoia, and Shared Responsibility,” by Chris M. Anson. In the essay, Anson presents practical advice for how instructors can prevent plagiarism in their classes. He notes that if instructors keep the focus on educational goals and student learning, then plagiarism will decline in their classrooms. Critiquing traditional methods of instruction and plagiarism management, Anson argues for a more student-centered pedagogy. He writes, “A ‘solution’ to plagiarism that focuses primarily on policy, detection, and punishment does nothing to advance our presumed mission, which is education” (140). Anson realizes that such approaches look backwards, by which point plagiarism either will or will not be a problem, but do nothing to prevent its development beyond attempting to scare students into not trying it lest they be caught, even if many of them don’t understand what it is exactly that they would be guilty of doing. In fact, approaches such as assigning a piece of writing, providing no support to students writing it (instead of, for example, encouraging them to utilize the writing process or breaking down the writing into aspects and then dealing with them in class), and then collecting the writing at the end of the semester will often inadvertently teach students that the product is all that matters, and, thanks to the Internet, a vast amount of readymade products is available for the student to utilize. As Anson points out, “In the pursuit of learning, students have lightning-fast access to vast storehouses of information, increasingly rich and interconnected. Yet this information also comes to the computer virtually unscreened and unevaluated, making the Internet like a huge flea market where good finds are hidden among large quantities of junk” (141). Not only do students need assistance in determining the value of the information available for research purposes, but they also need assistance in developing their own voices among the electronic babble. To offer such assistance, at least as far as integrating sources into student writing, Anson, drawing on the pedagogical theories of John Biggs, suggests that instructors “might set up activities in the classroom in which students wrestle with challenging passages and learn how to incorporate them into their own texts or paraphrase them so as not to quote them directly, but still cite their source” (145). Furthermore, Anson advises that using more informal writing assignments might also help students learn as well as minimize plagiarism. He states, “. . . writing assignments can be relatively informal, focusing mostly on the concepts, ideas, readings, data, or other information in a course instead of the formal characteristics of the writing; or they can be longer, more formal, and more extended, with higher stakes for the nature and quality of the text. The longer and more formal the assignment, and the higher its stakes, the greater the teacher’s responsibility to support its development through, for example, the practice of certain intellectual and analytical skills and processes and through work on multiple drafts” (147). Helpfully, Anson lists some examples of both low stakes and high stakes assignments (150-52). Dealing with plagiarism can be frustrating for all involved, so if we, as instructors, can do anything beforehand while designing assignments to get students to understand the educational meaning behind them so that students will be less likely to plagiarize while completing them, then such efforts will likely be well-rewarded with fewer plagiarism investigations afterwards and students who have learned rather than have merely pretended to learn. The book is available through OhioLINK.

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