Plagiarism -- students cheating or just poor education?

 
x Over the last few weeks I have caught some students plagiarizing by copying text from the Internet for their WebCT class discussions.

x These discussions are intended to train the student's brain in thinking and coming up with opinions.  Copying text and pasting it into a bulletin board is OBVIOUSLY not considered thinking and coming up with opinions. Plagiarism is serious cheating and students plagiarizing can be expelled from STC if I report it.

 

x This is posted to benefit student learning, and to hopefully avoid more of this in future classes.  You learn as long as you live – even teachers.  I have learned that I must include information about plagiarism on my web site.  Because of the low quality of education in middle school and high school, students apparently do not learn that it is NOT OK to copy other people s work and use it in essays and discussions as if it was their own.

 

x Since I did not include information about plagiarism in the discussion instructions, and since I believe a student doing this is not doing it in an attempt to cheat.  Plagiarism of this sort, for a short opinion paragraph – which would have taken the students 1 minute to write in its shortest form, is most likely done because of ignorance – the students just don’t know any better.  I will therefore show some leniency if these students read this page and follow the instructions at the bottom of the page.

 

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xx Sometimes it is hard to catch students plagiarizing writing assignments.  For this reason there are different kinds of software programs available for teachers to use to prevent this kind of cheating.  However, if the plagiarism is really clumsy -- like the postings illustrated below, it is very easy to catch, and it only takes a few seconds. You only need Google, and it usually takes less than 10 seconds to find the article plagiarized on the web.

 

x Again, some students are probably (?) not really trying to “cheat”. Many students are just not educated to understand that what they are doing is wrong – a result of an education system that has failed them – AND including the weird attitudes of students (and parents -- lack of involvement in their kids early education.)

 

x I remember personally that I was exposed to the concept of paraphrasing, quoting, source giving, and plagiarizing in fourth grade.  Of course at the time I didn’t know or understand these “fancy” words, but that year I learned that I couldn’t include other peoples writing in my project binder and pretend that I had written it.

 

x I had included an old handwritten note about pet animals written by my aunt when she was in junior high school.  The teacher called me to her desk and asked me to explain why I had included something written by someone else in my project binder.  I didn’t pretend that had written it, I just thought my aunt’s writing about pets was interesting (it had some nice drawings because my aunt had artistic talent) and that I should include it in my project binder about pet animals.

 

x So, I learned early, in fourth grade, that I must do my own work in school. Apparently they don’t teach students ethical behavior in school these days.  Copying what other people has written and pretending you wrote it is unethical.  I would think that for an adult it doesn’t take Einstein’s brain to understand that.

 

x Learning is a life long process, and I didn’t I have a good understanding of the process until graduate school.  But at least my fourth grade teacher was concerned enough to correct me, and the concept was later covered by my high school teachers – and I listened and learned so that I had a basic understanding when I started college -- that one must paraphrase, mark quotes, and clearly state the sources when writing term papers and essays.

 

x But that was then; today many students apparently can get a high school diploma doing next to nothing.  If those students proceed to enroll in college they will continue with the same behavior they got away with in high school.

 

x STC has dealt with this problem for more than a decade, and it has resulted in low 10 – 15 percent graduation rates.  Those low numbers also reflect other reasons, but the main reason is – at least in this college instructors opinion based on 16 years teaching experience at the college level, students think that they don’t have to do anything, or at the most very little, to pass courses with good grades.  It is almost as if some students think that they don’t come to college to learn new things, but instead are here to prove that they already know everything – and therefore have to do very little to get a diploma.  Hmmm!?

 

x When asked to write a short commentary about a subject, these students have the misapprehension that the way to participate in a WebCT bulletin board discussion is to use a search engine and copy information from the Internet -- and then pretend that it is their own writing.  Maybe reading the reading assignment takes too long – in a world where getting an education is not given highest priority?  Perhaps thinking about the subject and coming up with an original opinion give these students an unwanted headache?  (Try Tylenol, folks!)

 

x These class discussions are about YOUR (educated) opinions.  The purpose is to make sure that YOU think about these issues and come up with YOUR opinion.  YOU must come up with an opinion -- whether you like it or not, if you want points for the posting.  Posting someone else’s opinion and information does not count for points, and if you pretend you wrote it, it is CHEATING. You can make your opinion stronger, and maybe get a higher grade, by supporting it with information from the Internet -- but then you mark it as a quote, or paraphrase -- AND INCLUDE THE SOURCE!

 

x As already stated I am sure that SOME students don’t understand that what these students did is cheating.  NOT UNDERSTANDING that one must paraphrase and that one cannot copy other people’s work without giving the source is the saddest part of this story.

 

Dr. Nilsson

 

(The examples follow below.)

 

 

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x The first plagiarism example below is from the space colonization discussion written by a student who in previous discussions had major problems with spelling and grammar.  This posting is suddenly flawless and full of technical and special terms.  This was an obvious “flagging” of the posting – it was impossible to not see it!  Also, he/she does not participate in the discussion with the other students.  He/she simply went online, found a web site, copied a couple of paragraphs, posted them and put his/her name under it.  Then, to make things even worse continued by posting a reply to his/her own posting, which also was plagiarized!  (The first plagiarized message and a copy of the web page text are illustrated below.)

 

x As of this writing I have, so far, found six plagiarized messages by this students, in the Space Discussion, the Rainforest Destruction Discussion, the Emergent Disease Discussion, and the Evolution 2 Discussion.  My time is limited so I don’t have time for look for more…

 

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Subject: WHERE?

Topic: Space Colonization (semester discussion)

Author: [removed]

Date:  [removed]

 

 Because we are planetary creatures, when most people think about space colonization they usually envision homes on Mars or perhaps Earth's moon. Colonization of those bodies is in fact much less desirable than orbital colonization, even though Mars and the Moon are the only practical solid bodies suitable for colonization in the solar system, at least for the next few centuries. Venus is far too hot. Mercury is too hot during the day and too cold at night, as the days and nights are so long. Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus have no solid surface. Pluto is very far away. Comets and asteroids have too little gravity for a surface colony, although some have suggested that an asteroid could be hollowed out. This is actually a variant of an orbital colony. That leaves Mars and the Moon. However, both bodies are greatly inferior to orbital space colonies in every way except for access to materials. This advantage is important but not critical; lunar and asteroid mines can provide orbital colonies with everything they need. Mars has all the materials needed for colonization: oxygen, water, metals, carbon, silicon, and nitrogen. You can even generate rocket propellant from the atmosphere. The Moon has almost everything needed, the exceptions being carbon and nitrogen; water is only available at the poles, if at all. Orbit, by contrast, has literally nothing - a few atoms per cubic centimeter at best. How can you build enormous orbital colonies if there is nothing there?

 

[STUDENT NAME REMOVED]

 

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x The posting by the student was copied VERBATIM from the following web page about "orbital space" settlement.  It is the first two paragraphs of an essay authored by Mr. Al Globus, University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).  It took me less than half minute to find Mr. Globus page with Google, and then another 15 seconds to use the browser “FIND” feature to identify the plagiarism.

 

Mr. Globus index "home" page:  http://space.alglobus.net/Basics/where.html

 

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“Where Should We Build Space Colonies?

 

"Because we are planetary creatures, when most people think about space colonization they usually envision homes on Mars or perhaps Earth's moon. Colonization of those bodies is in fact much less desirable than orbital colonization, even though Mars and the Moon are the only practical solid bodies suitable for colonization in the solar system, at least for the next few centuries. Venus is far too hot. Mercury is too hot during the day and too cold at night, as the days and nights are so long. Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus have no solid surface. Pluto is very far away. Comets and asteroids have too little gravity for a surface colony, although some have suggested that an asteroid could be hollowed out. This is actually a variant of an orbital colony.

 

That leaves Mars and the Moon. However, both bodies are greatly inferior to orbital space colonies in every way except for access to materials. This advantage is important but not critical; lunar and asteroid mines can provide orbital colonies with everything they need. Mars has all the materials needed for colonization: oxygen, water, metals, carbon, silicon, and nitrogen. You can even generate rocket propellant from the atmosphere. The Moon has almost everything needed, the exceptions being carbon and nitrogen; water is only available at the poles, if at all. Orbit, by contrast, has literally nothing - a few atoms per cubic centimeter at best. How can you build enormous orbital colonies if there is nothing there?”

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x The second plagiarism example is from the Rainforest Destruction Discussion written by the same a student as in the above example.  It is a little different because it is a list of item.  Often one does not paraphrase a list.  Instead one copies the list and state the source.  One does, however, not write the list as if it was ones own ideas.

 

x What is even worse is that the student claims that the list is of items that can help save the rainforest.  Hmmm!?  Saving wire coat hangers and return them to the dry cleaners will save the rainforest?  Hmmm!?  I am sure there are lists on the Internet on “ways we can help the rainforest”, but this list, or variations of it, had over 20,000 Google hits, and was usually listed as things we can do in our home to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Our actions often will affect the environment, but I think saving wire coat hangers is not going to do much to save the rainforest.

 

x Clearly the student was trying to collect as many posting points as possible without spending too much time thinking and coming up with opinions about the problem.

 

The exact posting can be found on many web pages (with source given) I found it first on this web MySpace web page:

 

http://groups.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=groups.groupProfile&groupID=106464833&MyToken=46dd2259-ee61-4828-9653-e0b2c4889ce4

Group URL: http://groups.myspace.com/pocketchangeearth

 

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Subject: Ways we can help the rainforest?

Topic: Rainforest Destruction (semester discussion)

Author: [removed]

Date:  [removed]

 

There is a lot of ways that we can help save the rainforest and be environmentally responsible. Some examples that can get you started are :

1. Recycle everything you can: newspapers, cans, glass bottles and jars, aluminum foil, motor oil, scrap metal, etc.

2. Investigate local recycling centers that take items your garbage hauler does not.

3. Try to use phosphate-free laundry and dish soaps.

4. Use cold water in the washer whenever possible.

5. Don't use electrical appliances for things you can easily do by hand, like opening cans.

6. Re-use brown paper bags to line your trash can instead of plastic liners. Re-use bread bags, butter tubs, etc.

7. Store food in re-usable containers, instead of plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

8. Save wire coat hangers and return them to the dry cleaners.

9. Take unwanted, re-usable items to a charitable organization or thrift shop.

10. Don't leave water running needlessly.

11. Install a water-saving shower head.

12. Set your water heater at 130 degrees.

13. Have your water heater insulated free of charge by your utility company.

14. Turn your heat down, and wear a sweater.

15. Lower your thermostat by one degree per hour for every hour you'll be away or asleep.

16. Turn off the lights, TV, or other electrical appliances when you're out of a room.

17. Get a free energy audit from your utility company.

 

[STUDENT NAME REMOVED]

 

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x The third plagiarism example is from the Evolution 2 Discussion written by a different student.  This student, unlike the student above, use three rather disconnected statements about evolution from three different web pages, and make it sound as if it is his/her one opinion statement.  The reason why it was so easy to catch, as plagiarism, is the perfect language and technical terms usually not used by this student.  It took less than 3 minutes to find all three plagiarized web pages.  There is still some text unaccounted for in the message, probably plagiarized from other web pages, but I did not have time for further Google searches.  Some of the message text -- in “simpler” language, appears to be the student’s own thinking.  However, if you don’t want to be caught cheating, don’t plagiarize writings by highly educated scholars in the field!

 

x Remember, the only thing students had to do was to come up with three quotes (the Episcopal church’s acceptance of evolution, the Catholic’s church’s acceptance of evolution, and one topic of the students choice) from the reading assignment, and make a comment on each – minimum 150 words.  This students posting is almost 500 words about contradictions, Christian theology intentions, and whether evolution is a fact or a theory – none of which have anything to do with the assignment.

 

x The posting by the student was copied VERBATIM from three different web sites.  The sources of the web pages are given after the posting by the student.

 

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Subject: Evolution 2 BB

Topic: Evolution 2 (Religion and Evolution)

Author: [removed]

Date:  [removed]

 

Evolution 2 BB

 

Does Evolution Contradict Religion? Evolution does contradict certain religious beliefs and even at times, certain religions. Evolution is also readily compatible with other religious beliefs and other religions. Indeed, it should be noted that there does not appear to be any contradiction between evolution and any one entire religious tradition. When I read the evolution 2 discussion I learned that many Episcopalians actually acknowledge the prospects of evolution. The view of evolution of the Catholic Church’s is that we should never stop in believing that there is one creator and that it is not wrong to believe that evolution exist Christian theology is the intentional, rational and creative process of reflection and articulation of beliefs about God, human beings, and the creation, based first and foremost on the interpretation of biblical revelation, but also on the theologian's understanding of the natural world and the world of humanity. This process has led to the development of a theology of creation. The earliest Christian thinkers, those whom we call the Church Fathers, laid down the basic features of this theology, and their concepts have remained central to the way Christians have understood the relationship of God to the world throughout the history of Christian thought.

Is Evolution a fact or a theory? The theory of evolution explains how life on earth has changed. In scientific terms, "theory" does not mean "guess" or "hunch" as it does in everyday usage. Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses. Biological evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for the enormous range of observations about the living world. Scientists most often use the word "fact" to describe an observation. But scientists can also use fact to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. The occurrence of evolution in this sense is a fact. Scientists no longer question whether descent with modification occurred because the evidence supporting the idea is so strong.

I also agree with part three. Lack of education is a serious problem in many aspects; one is because the quality of education is better in other countries -- especially science education. I believe that in public schools we do not receive religion education, because there are a lot of different religions and believes around the world. Our children must attend to a Church where they belong depending on their religion and learn more about creationism. Instead of learning both evolution and creationism at school. In addition, I strongly believe that at school our children can learn about evolution; and at home or at the Church they should learn about religion and creationism, as I said before there are so many religions and each one have different believes about what is in the pages of the bible.

 

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Red text plagiarized from:

http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/evo/blfaq_evo_relig_contra.htm

 

Does Evolution Contradict Religion?

Or are the two compatible?

 

This is a very important and fundamental question; there is so much debate in America over evolution and the nature of life that it is worth considering whether or not the theory of evolution contradicts religious beliefs. However, the question is also too broad. There is no such thing as "religious beliefs," without context or content.

Because of this, the only way to really answer the question is to say: sometimes yes, sometimes no. Evolution does contradict certain religious beliefs and even at times, certain religions. Evolution is also readily compatible with other religious beliefs and other religions. Indeed, it should be noted that there does not appear to be any contradiction between evolution and any one entire religious tradition.

 

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Blue text plagiarized from:

http://community.berea.edu/scienceandfaith/essay02.asp

 

ESSAY II: THEOLOGY OF CREATION: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES AND FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPTS

Robert J. Schneider

 

Introduction

Christian theology is the intentional, rational and creative process of reflection and articulation of beliefs about God, human beings, and the creation, based first and foremost on the interpretation of biblical revelation, but also on the theologian's understanding of the natural world and the world of humanity. This process has led to the development of a theology of creation. The earliest Christian thinkers, those whom we call the Church Fathers, laid down the basic features of this theology, and their concepts have remained central to the way Christians have understood the relationship of God to the world throughout the history of Christian thought.

 

 

Green text was found on many web sites,

but the complete paragraph was found here:

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6024&page=27

 

What is evolution?

 

OCR for page 28
Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition anatomy suggests, then an intermediate true fly with four wings should have existed—and in 1976 fossils of such a fly were discovered. Furthermore, geneticists have found that the number of wings in flies can be changed through mutations in a single gene. Something that happened in the past is thus not "off limits" for scientific study. Hypotheses can be made about such phenomena, and these hypotheses can be tested and can lead to solid conclusions. Furthermore, many key mechanisms of evolution occur over relatively short periods and can be observed directly—such as the evolution of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Evolution is a well-supported theory drawn from a variety of sources of data, including observations about the fossil record, genetic information, the distribution of plants and animals, and the similarities across species of anatomy and development. Scientists have inferred that descent with modification offers the best scientific explanation for these observations. Is evolution a fact or a theory? The theory of evolution explains how life on Earth has changed. In scientific terms, "theory" does not mean "guess" or "hunch" as it does in everyday usage. Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses. Biological evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for the enormous range of observations about the living world. Scientists most often use the word "fact" to describe an observation. But scientists can also use fact to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. The occurrence of evolution in this sense is a fact. Scientists no longer question whether descent with modification occurred because the evidence supporting the idea is so strong. Don't many famous scientists reject evolution? No. The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming. Those opposed to the teaching of evolution sometimes use quotations from prominent scientists out of context to claim that scientists do not support evolution. However, examination of the quotations reveals that the scientists are actually disputing some aspect of how evolution occurs, not whether evolution occurred. For example, the biologist Stephen Jay Gould once wrote that "the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology." But Gould, an accomplished paleontologist and eloquent educator about evolution, was arguing about how evolution takes place. He was discussing whether the rate of change of species is slow and gradual or whether it takes place in bursts after long periods when little change occurs—an idea known as punctuated equilibrium. As Gould writes in response, "This quotation, although accurate as a partial citation, is dishonest in leaving out the following explanatory material showing my true purpose—to discuss rates of evolutionary change, not to deny the fact of evolution itself." Gould defines punctuated equilibrium as follows:

 

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x As stated at the top of this document, since I did not include information about plagiarism in the discussion instructions, and since I believe a student doing this is not doing it in an attempt to cheat.  Plagiarism of this sort, for a short opinion paragraph – which would have taken the students 1 minute to write in its shortest form, is most likely done because of ignorance – the students just don’t know any better.  I will therefore show some leniency if these students read this page and follow the instructions at the bottom of the page.

 

x However, penalties for cheating can include an automatic F in a course, or the student can be expelled from the college.  I will think about this up until the date the grades are due.  To receive maximum leniency from this instructor I expect the students to send me a private e-mail via WebCT and explain why they plagiarized. The link to this page will be posted on the class communication page. It is each student's responsibility to read the page. The students will not be notified.