Workshop I: Plagiarism and Computers: Fun Ways to Take Control of the Issue -- RM 115

Nick Carbone, B/SM and University of Maryland University College

In this session, we look at plagiarism from the inside out: if it's an issue exacerbated by computer technology and the ease of copying and pasting, of surfing and downloading, how can we apply a little pedagogical judo and turn things our way? What are some strategies and moves we can make to flip the issue from something to be worried about to something we can embrace for its teaching opportunities? And heck, sure it's a serious issue, but why not make learning about it intellectually fun?

links we'll be using.

A plagiarism tip from Barclay Barrios:

You can take this tip and do a lot with case studies of people whom, if not brought low by plagiarism, suffered a reputation hit: Doris Kearns Goodwin, most famously. But also, there are probably cases too of people wrongly accused of plagiarism. What's the flip side of the issue? How should students prepare and what should they do to show they did not plagiarize? What safe guards can they take and what good writing habits should they learn and follow?

http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail64.html The site's a hoot, and it's funny. And it's also a useful teaching tool, worth showing in class if you can do it, or sending students to look at and write about it for a class discussion on doing one's own work.

What is good about this piece? What does it make fun of? How can you use it jump-start a discussion with your students?

http://slate.msn.com/id/2059540/ leads to "Adventures in Cheating," by Seth Stevenson, a piece that samples term paper mills, and finds --no surprise-- that you get what you pay for (and even that ain't much). I wrote a response to this piece, which again, I find useful for teaching, that began, "Essentially, the free papers stink, and they're recycled. That is, free paper mill sites often carry copies of the same papers."

After having students read Stevenson's essay, do what Kelly Ritter of Southern Ct. State U. had her students do: have them find and then analyze and review a term paper mill site. Have them sample and analyze the papers. What are the sites intellectual property and copyright policies? What do the the sites say about plagiarism and being for 'research'?

http://bedfordstmartins.com/plagiarism goes to the Bedford/St. Martin's Plagiarism workshop site. This is a faculty resource where you'll find useful handouts, teaching tips, and reviews of plagiarism detection tools.

After reading Robert Harris's book, The Plagiarism Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting, and Dealing with Plagiarism (2001, from Pyrczak Publishing); an article on the role of honor codes by Robert Boynton in the Washington Post; and thinking about the many plagiarism discussions that have come up on professional listservs I participate on such as WPA, TechRhet, WCenter, it occurred to me that the first place to begin a better discussion with my students on plagiarism is in my own syllabus. talkingplagy.htm lays out what I use to start the conversation.

See --and add your own contributions to-- CompFAQ's collection of resources at http://comppile.tamucc.edu/wiki/Plagiarism/HomePage
CompFAQ lets composition instructors contribute their own ideas and resources to the composition community. It doesn't take long to add something.


Nick said...

I just posted this to WPA-L, so some of you may have seen it from there, but it's useful and the kind of piece you can assign students to consider.

The writer wonders what will happen as search and match technologies
that are the basis of plagiarism detection programs continue to
improve (MIT researchers are working on one that will look for
paraphrases.), and we discover that more and more writing is likely to

Here's the piece:

Rise of the Plagiosphere
By Ed Tenner June 2005

The 1960s gave us, among other mind-altering ideas, a revolutionary
new metaphor for our physical and chemical surroundings: the
biosphere. But an even more momentous change is coming. Emerging
technologies are causing a shift in our mental ecology, one that will
turn our culture into the plagiosphere, a closing frontier of ideas.

The Apollo missions' photographs of Earth as a blue sphere helped win
millions of people to the environmentalist view of the planet as a
fragile and interdependent whole. The Russian geoscientist Vladimir
Vernadsky had coined the word "biosphere" as early as 1926, and the
Yale University biologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson had expanded on the
theme of Earth as a system maintaining its own equilibrium. But as the
German environmental scholar Wolfgang Sachs observed, our imaging
systems also helped create a vision of the planet's surface as an
object of rationalized control and management--a corporate and
unromantic conclusion to humanity's voyages of discovery.

What NASA did to our conception of the planet, Web-based technologies
are beginning to do to our understanding of our written thoughts. We
look at our ideas with less wonder, and with a greater sense that
others have already noted what we're seeing for the first time. The
plagiosphere is arising from three movements: Web indexing, text
matching, and paraphrase detection.

The first of these movements began with the invention of programs
called Web crawlers, or spiders. Since the mid-1990s, they have been
perusing the now billions of pages of Web content, indexing every
significant word found, and making it possible for Web users to
retrieve, free and in fractions of a second, pages with desired words
and phrases.

The spiders' reach makes searching more efficient than most of
technology's wildest prophets imagined, but it can yield unwanted
knowledge. The clever phrase a writer coins usually turns out to have
been used for years, worldwide--used in good faith, because until
recently the only way to investigate priority was in a few books of
quotations. And in our accelerated age, even true uniqueness has been
limited to 15 minutes. Bons mots that once could have enjoyed a
half-life of a season can decay overnight into cliches.

Still, the major search engines have their limits. Alone, they can
check a phrase, perhaps a sentence, but not an extended document. And
at least in their free versions, they generally do not produce results
from proprietary databases like LexisNexis, Factiva, ProQuest, and
other paid-subscription sites, or from free databases that dynamically
generate pages only when a user submits a query. They also don't
include most documents circulating as electronic manuscripts with no
permanent Web address.

Enter text-comparison software. A small handful of entrepreneurs have
developed programs that search the open Web and proprietary databases,
as well as e-books, for suspicious matches. One of the most popular of
these is Turnitin; inspired by journalism scandals such as the New
York Times' Jayson Blair case, its creators offer a version aimed at
newspaper editors. Teachers can submit student papers electronically
for comparison with these databases, including the retained texts of
previously submitted papers. Those passages that bear resemblance to
each other are noted with color highlighting in a double-pane view.

Two years ago I heard a speech by a New Jersey electronic librarian
who had become an antiplagiarism specialist and consultant. He
observed that comparison programs were so thorough that they often
flagged chance similarities between student papers and other
documents. Consider, then, that Turnitin's spiders are adding 40
million pages from the public Web, plus 40,000 student papers, each
day. Meanwhile Google plans to scan millions of library
books--including many still under copyright--for its Print database.
The number of coincidental parallelisms between the various things
that people write is bound to rise steadily.

A third technology will add yet more capacity to find similarities in
writing. Artificial-intelligence researchers at MIT and other
universities are developing techniques for identifying nonverbatim
similarity between documents to make possible the detection of
nonverbatim plagiarism. While the investigators may have in mind only
cases of brazen paraphrase, a program of this kind can multiply the
number of parallel passages severalfold.

Some universities are encouraging students to precheck their papers
and drafts against the emerging plagiosphere. Perhaps publications
will soon routinely screen submissions. The problem here is that while
such rigorous and robust policing will no doubt reduce cheating, it
may also give writers a sense of futility. The concept of the
biosphere exposed our environmental fragility; the emergence of the
plagiosphere perhaps represents our textual impasse. Copernicus may
have deprived us of our centrality in the cosmos, and Darwin of our
uniqueness in the biosphere, but at least they left us the illusion of
the originality of our words. Soon that, too, will be gone.


Malagueta said...

For those interested in teaching this topic, Suellyn Winkle and I have an entire chapter in NextText devoted to plagiarism and ethics. The chapter includes the Tenner essay, as well as the Gladwell piece you mentioned in your presentation.

I've taken the liberty of posting the chapter TOC below:

Putting a Price on Integrity: EDUCATION + ETHICS

OPENING IMAGE: Neville Elder, Counterfeit Items on Canal Street, New York

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, What the Bagelman Saw FROM: Freakonomics, Morrow, 2005

David Callahan, Everybody Does It FROM: The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, Harvest, 2003

Rebekah Nathan, The Art of College Management: Cheating FROM: My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, Cornell University Press, 2005

J. D Heyman, et al., psssst . . . What’s the Answer? FROM: People, 24 January 2005

Jason Stephens, Justice or Just Us? What to do About Cheating FROM: www.carnegiefoundation.org/perspectives/perspectives2004.May.htm

William Gibson, God’s Little Toys: Confessions of a Cut and Paste Artist FROM: Wired, July 2005

Ed Tenner, Rise of the Plagiosphere: How New Tools to Detect Plagiarism Could Induce Mass Writer’s Block FROM: Technology Review, June 2005


A Portfolio of Term Papers

Term Paper Terminal

READING DEEPLY: An Annotated Selection

Malcolm Gladwell, Something Borrowed FROM: The New Yorker, 22 November 2004

la professore said...

Another aspect of Nick's presentation that is covered in the first chapter in *NextText* (that Anne and I wrote) is term paper websites. We have a special feature in each chapter called "Portfolio," and the Portfolio in the Education and Ethics chapter is devoted to examples and analysis of term paper websites.