Thursday, May 26, 2011

Technical Plagiarism

Plagiarists always think they're smart enough to get away with stealing the ideas of others. When I taught at the graduate school in Shenzhen I caught plenty of students plagiarizing their assignments that shouldn't have taken them long to complete on their own (I wasn't even asking them to do any research). And those students were shocked when I could identify their work as plagiarized in less than five minutes (with 300 students, I couldn't afford to spend more than that much time proving plagiarism).

In the last few years, China has shown concern for the amount of academic plagiarism, especially at the graduate level. There have even been a few professors accused of academic fraud. To curb the flow of stolen academic essays, universities introduced anti-plagiarism software specifically for students writing their dissertations. This software sounds similar to what is used at some American universities--it identifies how much, if any, of the work is copied from someone else's published work (I'm not sure how this works when considering quotations and paraphrases). Apparently, Chinese universities require the percent of plagiarized work in a dissertation to be less than 25 percent of the total work.

When an institution places such an obstacle in front of students, there will be those who will find a way around it. Now, an innovative software manufacturer has developed another program to avoid the anti-plagiarism software--the anti-anti-plagiarism software. The software doesn't really sound much different from the original program--it tells students what was plagiarized in their work. It's easy enough for students to rewrite the work that the program identifies. Of course, the cost of this software (and the time it takes to revise the dissertation) could be avoided if the students just do the research and properly use and cite their sources.

Over the last year, I have spent plenty of time with students at the writing center reviewing paraphrasing and citing sources. Fortunately, most students who visit the writing center simply don't know how to paraphrase or cite--they were never taught these academic skills in high school. Unfortunately, not enough students put forth the effort to learn how to avoid plagiarism (or they just don't care).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Environmental Magic

Throughout China I came across amusing signs. Some of them were amusing for the misuse of English and others were just entirely confusing. There were even a few hilarious ones in Chinese (my favorite is still the "Stupid chicken, duck" sign).

At one park in Shenzhen (it's testing my memory to think of which park I visited about five years ago), I came across this sign. The English translations were fine and the map was easy to follow. However, they chose some odd pictures to use as the map key.

I wish I hadn't found this sign on the way out of the park as I would've liked to see what the mobile ecological toilet was like. Why would an ecological toilet evoke an image of a rabbit in a magician's hat? And if it were truly a mobile toilet, why would it stay in one place on the map? I also wonder why the amusement facilities are represented by a weight lifter--I don't recall seeing any exercise equipment.

To Malaysia

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Semester Endings

The semester is just about over. At least my classes are finished for spring. And I don't have to deal with final exams because the department grades all the essay exams to ensure consistency throughout the courses (we have a lot of adjunct instructors in the ESL department). I have discovered just how difficult it is for students to pass the level that I teach--across the level, only about 25% pass the final, and the rest have to repeat the course. This semester, about a third of my students were repeating the class (two of them for the third time). Fortunately, most of my repeat students passed the final.

Overall, it was a good semester with only a few bumps in the road. I thought one particular student would give me a difficult time through the semester. He was a repeat student with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, he could be a little stubborn and occasionally tried to control the class. He was in danger of failing because he didn't do any of the homework, and I gave him one final chance--he had to write eight essays in a week. He came in the following week with all his work done (and it looked suspiciously good). When it came time for an in-class essay, I saw that his writing improved exponentially (my suspicion dissipated). Somehow, everything I taught showed up in his writing after one week of extreme pressure. He easily passed the final exam.

One thing I enjoy about teaching ESL at a community college is the stories I hear from students. I tend to hear more personal stories while tutoring at the writing center, but my students in class enjoy sharing as well. One of my favorites to talk with at the writing center was an Indonesian nun. She was in a level below the class I taught and she had some difficulty with grammar. Every week she came in to work, she immediately asked questions about specific points of grammar--she knew what she needed to do to improve. Her greatest obstacle for passing the class was that the essay questions are geared toward a wider range of students and she doesn't share the same experiences (asking a nun about television shows is rather unfair).

Now that the semester is over and I don't have to teach for summer, I can enjoy reading again. I'm on my third book in three weeks. I was finally able to get around to Yan Lianke's Dream of Ding Village. It's a great translated work of fiction about the blood-selling scandal in Henan province that infected thousands with HIV and AIDS. It focuses on one particular village devastated by the disease. Although there is no overt criticism of the government, the book is banned in China. I will write a more in-depth review of the novel for Terracotta Typewriter.