From the desk of Justin Wismer- Director at London language Institute.
Challenges with plagiarism for teachers in today’s high tech teaching environment.
Wikipedia defines plagiarism as the following: ” Plagiarism is the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work”.
Over the past 10 years plagiarism has changed quite a bit. The computer and availability of online information and answers to questions is at the click of a button. Gone are the days of spending hours at a library going through text books and various publications. This type of research is not on the minds of our youth today. As teachers we need to recognize this “Garden of Eden” and the temptations that are easily available to students. When searching online the answers are right in front of them. We cannot just outline that plagiarism is not acceptable. We need to explain what learning is and how online information and answers can be utilized in a positive learning manner.
Students focus on right and wrong answers and attaining grades. In many cases teachers do the same. This is the educational world we now live in. The process of getting to the answer is truly more important than the answer itself. You may recall going through a math question in high school and you were able to get the answer quickly in your head without going through the steps. When you got zero you questioned how this could be when the answer was correct. The steps are more important than the answer. If the student understands that these steps are the building blocks to learning they can have more success. Simply copying an online answer is not benefiting the student and is certainly plagiarism. However, if a student uses an online answer as a model to learn and goes through the steps using their own example then learning and understanding will take place. The issue we have as teachers is recognizing if the student is learning or copying.
Paraphrasing is another effective tool we teach our students. However we need to highlight that the information we are paraphrasing is not learning. Simply changing words and referencing does not guarantee the student understands what they are writing. From the teachers’ perspective we see the reference and paraphrasing and mark the assignment as correct. The focus must be on the process and let the result happen on its own. Encourage the student to understand what they are paraphrasing. Ask them to explain this using examples. Simply changing words does not guarantee any learning is taking place. This is a good exercise for similes but nothing more. Too much emphasis is on scoring and marking, as access to programs is very competitive. However, success should not be measured in gaining access to a program but rather the success within the program.
As a Director at London Language Institute we work with hundreds of international students who are seeking post secondary entrance. Their goal is to gain entrance. As teachers we can begin to change this goal. The main goal should be to learn and have the necessary skills for success. Many academic programs today are designed to assist students in attaining high marks and have very little to do with learning content. They simply teach you how to beat a test. Is this form of teaching not a back door form of plagiarism?
It is evident that technology is changing how students learn and the future is very exciting. I firmly believe our job as teachers is to better discuss why plagiarism should not be done and to explain to a student how they can learn from the answers that are readily available online. We can teach students how to learn not to just perform well on a test. Once in the working world, the grades attained in university is not the focus, rather is the skills that were obtained during the course of study. We can assist our students by teaching them this while on their journey to the work place.