After just five terms here I have finally got a handle on my timing and had a terrific term. I scheduled student presentations for the first two weeks in November and just took my time, giving the kids as long or as little time as they wanted. Essays were due November 2. As a result I’ve had all my marking done for two weeks now, and have been spending the last little while on a leisurely review of the term using video to spark discussion and relating that back to the course themes. While other teachers, especially the newbies, have had stacks of marking to wade through, I’ve been chilling in the staff room reading the local paper. It only took me 2 1/2 years, but I have this course humming like a little sewing machine.
This present crop of English teachers is as raw as you can get. The most experienced of them has a year under her belt. Last year’s crew was just the opposite, with scads of expertise. But this new crop are rising to the challenge and learning how to manage the curriculum and the kids. The new anti-plagiarism software has been a huge help to the English department, and has helped us to catch students who borrow essays from each other, as well as teach the students themselves the importance of citing their sources. Everybody is on board with its use, and it is becoming widely adopted in other programs as well.
A couple of months back two professors at one of Malaysia’s leading universities were caught by the Times Education Supplement of plagiarising. A candidate for her PhD had simply copied an online Harvard textbook and submitted it for her thesis. Her supervising professor simply accepted it without doing any checking. The thesis was on how to write a resume to secure employment, and it was submitted, along with other documents, to the TES in order to raise the university’s rankings in the world listings. The ironies abound! The real kicker is that while both of them were reprimanded, neither lost their position at the university and the candidate’s PhD still stands. This is the context in which we are trying to teach our students the cost of plagiarism.
This term I had one student who submitted her first essay which was 100% plagiarized from the internet, despite my prior instructions to the classs, and my warning about the new software that would detect them. I gave her a second chance, and her revision was self written, and passable. Her second essay on Lord of the Flies was 100% plagiarized as well, this time from another student, her roommate, who had left her essay on her computer and wasn’t aware it had been pilfered. I guess she figured if she plagiarized second hand she wouldn’t be caught. This time I gave the girl zero and warned her she was likely to fail the course if she tried this again on her final essay.
A month later she showed me a draft of her final essay, as I required, but didn’t upload it so it could be checked for plagiarism. However, given this girl’s past history I scanned the draft and uploaded it myself. It was 100% plagiarized. I called her in, warned her not to use any of the material from this draft, and gave her another chance. Her final draft submitted and uploaded two weeks later was 90% plagiarized and included the portion that was 100% plagiarized that I had told her she couldn’t use.
Not surprisingly, she failed the course, but you have to wonder at the sheer obstinate persistance of some of these kids. We have three students in the program, now in their second term, who have cheated on every single essay, every single assignment, every single test and are still obstinately pursuing that course leaving behind in their wake failure, mistrust and indignation from teachers and students alike. You’ve got to wonder why they don’t see how futile their course of action is.
However, these students are the exception, not the rule, and I have had a delightful term characterized by some fine writing and a genuine increase in awareness of the proper use of citation when doing research. The next step is to get them beyond what shows up on the first page of Google! But that is the challenge for the next course. This one, I am happy to say, was largely a resounding success.