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Friday, May 12, 2017

"It's plagiarism because I say it is."

At least one of my former colleagues (now retired) had the attitude that if she believed something was plagiarized, it was. I am more cautious, dammit: I feel I need to prove it before I can legitimately give a zero for an assignment--but a student in the 1:00 102 definitely plagiarized: I can think of no other explanation for the bizarre mix of stumbling sentences and high-flown ideas. I present examples:

In one paragraph, the student's essay reads: "Lyubov is an anthropologists and he was the only Terran to treat the Athsheans with respect and like human beings. Whereas Davidon helped introduce violence and destruction to the Athsheans and treated them with little to no respect and didn’t consider them to be human beings but he referred to them as “creechies”. ... But Davidson proceeded go and rape Selver’s wife killing her in the process, because of Davidson’s actions Selver seeked revenge not only for his wife and people but for the sanity of his planet."

In another, it reads: "Their culture embraces wisdom and self-control that preserve a sustainable coexistence of diverse clans around the planet. ... The unprecedented violence profoundly troubled and complicated the peaceful worldview of the natives forcing them to adapt and respond. ... The acts of humans undermine the social order held for eons and move the Athsheans to punitive violence."

Never mind the fact that the ideas in that second example are very likely beyond the understanding of this student. (I doubt she understood the novel very well, assuming she even read it--which may be a rash assumption.) Just the shift in parlance is enough to raise red flags all over the place.

And yet, not only was it not flagged by Turnitin, my own search of suspicious phrases didn't turn up anything definitive.

I let her know when I talked with her about the first version that it seemed like she'd used things from sources she didn't cite, or otherwise had help, and she said that her aunt ("she's a professor") "helped" her. I didn't give a grade to the first version but told her to eliminate anything that was not legitimately her own. She did some of that--but the rest of the essay, well ... you see the examples. I gave her a D for each one--and that may be sufficiently low that she'll fail the class, as a lot of her other work was either sub-par or entirely missing--but I wouldn't be surprised if she's indignant that I should suggest it isn't her work. I will say, however, that even if it is hers, it's a jumble of unconnected ideas inadequately supported with specific evidence from the novel; in fact, that's part of what I said in my comments to her, and that alone is sufficient to give the assignment the low grade I gave it.

But it burns me that I can't prove it. And I may be misremembering, but I think I said something about the same problem with her second essay. Ah well. If she's cheating, at some point in her life, she'll hit a challenge she can't cheat her way out of, and she'll pay penance then.

Shifting gears, but in looking at the Turnitin report, just to see who had submitted on time and so on, I noticed that one of her classmates used the "title" of his essay as his chance to tell me that he really needs a C+ to transfer. I dislike such guilt-trip actions on the part of my students and will now have to guard against a tendency to be more harsh with my grade for him than is strictly necessary.

Well, whatever. I have my little bag packed up with stuff to take home and mark; included are three or four essays on which students wanted comments. I'd sort of hoped to get those done today, but cleaning up the last bits of scheduling took longer than I expected and then trying to prove the plagiarism took up a fair amount of time, so ultimately I got two essays marked. But that's better than none. And tomorrow is supposed to be chilly and rainy, a perfect day to stay in, grade essays--and nap.

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