Cheating redefined

Last week, McGill University student Jesse Rosenfeld won his appeal against the university after they refused to grade his paper because he didn’t want to submit it to the plagiarism-detecting web site turnitin.com.

While Concordia doesn’t use this web site, it does clearly outline what plagiarism is and according to student advocate Jennifer Hopkins, Concordia’s code of conduct doesn’t allow for unintentional plagiarism.

Concordia defines plagiarism as: “The presentation of the work of another person as one’s own or without proper acknowledgement.”

Hopkins explains that “plagiarism isn’t just copy and pasting from an Internet site or a book, it includes graphs, charts, statistics, data and pictures. They all have to be properly sourced.”

“In my experience, I have not needed a web site to detect plagiarism. But I think that option should be available to professors, maybe in other faculties,” said theology professor Dr. Paul Allen.

He said he could detect plagiarism because often the students writing can become “disjointed” from their normal writing style.

Hopkins said student advocates will always back up every student and she’s often heard students say they didn’t intend to plagiarize. But, the problem starts there because intention is hard to argue. Which is why she thinks: “the institution, or the powers that be, have removed intention as an aspect [of the code.]”

Web sites like turnitin.com bring out ethical and intellectual property right issues that are tied in with the element of “powered positions” and “freedom of choice.”

She said often students are not comfortable or aren’t aware they can choose to say “no” to a professor if they are asked to prove their innocence, such as in Rosenfeld’s case.

Jean-Marc Bourchard, of the CSU student advocacy centre, said that web sites like turnitin.com only serve to “poison the relationship between students and professors,” because it is in essence “blackmail.” Furthermore, Bourchard said, “students have copyright to their own work” and “corporations like turnitin.com are not allowed to make money off of that.”

Bourchard thinks that part of the problem lies with some professors who are not changing their curriculum and make it easier for students to access a copy of the previous years’ tests and projects.

Often students have too many classes or have part-time jobs and feel under pressure and sometimes resort to, at the last minute, copy and pasting from the Internet.

Hopkins said while there isn’t a full proof way of stopping plagiarism, we need to realize we “have a good student body which I’m sure takes their studies very seriously but this isn’t a problem that affects those that don’t take their studies seriously, this isn’t a problem that affects students with poor grades or the cheaters…this is a problem that effects every discipline.”

So, before you write your next essay, if you’re not sure what plagiarism is, take a look at Concordia’s web resources for plagiarism in academia or contact the advocacy centre.

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