That’s Messed Up

Ad recently spotted on Craigslist in Portland:

I have a few reports I have to write for an online course I’m taking. This course is just for fun and it’s not for school, just non accredited knowledge for myself. That being said there are a few books that I just can not handle reading due to the material. I guess you can call it like it is and some may consider it cheating but I need someone to read the books I believe 4 in all not long reads and a write report and answer 24 questions for each book. I am happy to neg. price for this. I would be graded but once again it’s a non-accredited course and my reason is I just truly hate these 4 books. After these 4 books I can get to the stuff I really wanted to learn.

That’s messed up!

How do I even begin to count the ways in which that’s messed up? Let me start with three:

  1. If you’re taking the course “for fun,” for “knowledge for myself,” then why wouldn’t you do the reading and posts? You are cheating yourself!
  2. You “just truly hate” the books? Really? How would you know if you haven’t read them? Answer me that!
  3. Why does “non-accredited” matter here? It’s still a course; you are still the student in it!
  4. I know I was going to stop at three, but:  “Some may consider it cheating.” Um, yeah, MOST consider it cheating. You know why? IT IS CHEATING!

That’s Messed Up!

(Maybe I should reply to the ad. I see a teachable moment here; I just can’t help myself!)

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Plagiarism: A Pirate’s Perspective

The Didactic Pirate is a blog written by a friend of mine from grad school who teaches English at a state university in Southern California (I wouldn’t be so vague except I think he wants to keep his identity somewhat obscure). In this hilarious post, he shares a somewhat facetious perspective on how college instructors experience their students’ plagiarism:

The Six Steps of Plagiarism

I say “somewhat facetious” because the reality is, for many of us instructors, we get totally ticked when our students plagiarize. We take it personally because we abhor plagiarism, and many of us have worked hard to prevent it! So when a student does it, we’re ready to declare war.

My own philosophy about plagiarism is based on the “teachable moment.” I do what I can to teach students what it is and how to prevent it, and if they slip up, it’s a teachable moment and I re-teach how and why not to do it. This doesn’t mean there are not consequences; it does mean that I believe that my students can learn from their mistakes. (If there is anything that PLA has taught me, it’s that learning from our mistakes is often the best kind of learning we have available to us!)

[An aside as I see an opportunity for a teachable moment right here: The word “plagiarism” comes from the same root word that means “kidnapping.” When you borrow someone else’s words or ideas and you don’t attribute them to the author, you are, in effect, kidnapping them — taking them as your own. And that’s not ok because it is academically dishonest. Period.]

But if it happens again, I find myself like the teacher in the Bargaining stage that the Pirate describes: totally unwilling to discuss alternatives. I also usually get my feelings hurt. I have invested a lot of my time and effort in teaching why and how not to plagiarize, and my best teaching energies were dismissed and blown off. Why? Who knows – there are often myriad reasons, including deadline pressure, pressure for a good grade, continued ignorance, or, in many cases I believe, arrogance and disrespect for others.

I will say, though, that  there are LOTS of great resources for students who genuinely do respect others’ ideas and who want to make sure they don’t inadvertently plagiarize. Here are  a few:

As for the rest of you who do it on purpose and think you will get away with it, I’m with the Pirate: Walk the plank! Oh – and good luck with those sharks; they’re usually not as interested in teachable moments as I am. In fact, they’ll swallow you up whole.