Universities have started using software to check prospective students’ application essays for plagiarism. At one institution 55 prospects had their applications rejected because of plagiarism.
Also recently, a German politician was forced to resign in disgrace when it was found that he had plagiarized his graduation thesis.
Using someone else’s words and calling them your own is theft and must be condemned, but what do both of these occurances have in common? School. Current ideas about writing and expression in academia do not empower students be better express themselves, and encourage plagiarism
Plagiarism happens in setting outside of education. When I searched for the the phrase “plagiarism in college” I got 85,700 hits. When I searched for “plagiarism in business” I got 17,200 hits, the top three proclaiming “There is no plagiarism in business.”
My point here is that there is some recognition of the occurance of plagiarism in the business world, but the awareness is not as acute as it is in the world of higher education.
Plagiarism in academic settings can be remedied with 3P’s, Practice, Process, and Publication.
By practice, I mean that learners can learn to enjy self expression thorugh practice. Many schools use one-off writing assignments to test students’ abilities and focus on deadlines when final products are due.
Students whould learn more and have better opportunities to express themselves and have better opportunities to express themselves if they had practice in putting their thoughts into writing.
Being able to write is useful only in so far as it gives people the opportuinty to express themselves. As another series of hoops for students to jump through, another series of arbitrary rules to obey, it is worthless.
Writing as a process lifts every involved person’s game up to a new level. Ideas are exchanged and examined. Skills are honed. Structure is refined and strengthened.
The focus on writing as a product, in exclusion of the work that has happened before the deadline, cheapens the effort and announces loud and clear, “The end justifies the means.” If grades on a product are all that count, then by any means necessary.
Students aren’t stupid, and they are aware of how the business world works, how it treats a product. In an interview with CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason, he says, “…with music, we call that plagiarism. But in business it’s called competition.”
Finally publication, the free exchange of ideas, develops the awareness that their work will be scrutinized, not only by a teacher, but by their peers. Grades must not be part of the scheme, but publication of work, opening it up for appreciation and debate, must be part of the college experience.
The current method of a teacher assigning an essay that will be written without consultation with the educator, to be delivered by a deadline under penalty of failure, and without further consideration after submission is a recipe for stagnation and cutting corners.
Education, beginning in high school, can better prepare learners for a life of meaningful written exchange by employing the 3 P’s. Granted, it will require more time and effort. This is not the quick and easy way, and will require ingenuity when engaging large classes. It is, however, the only way that a college can make the claim that writing is a skill that the institution fosters.