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).

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