Four Reasons to be Happy about Internet Plagiarism

Russell Hunt wrote an essay on this theme, pointing out four different reasons why plagiarism should not be seen as evil in all cases and how education should be reconsidered in the light of technological advancements.

1. The institutional rhetorical writing environment (the “research paper,” the “literary essay,” the “term paper”) is challenged by this.

The assumption that a student’s learning is accurately and readily tested by her ability to produce, in a completely arhetorical situation, an artificial form that she’ll never have to write again once she’s survived formal education (the essay examination, the formal research paper), is questionable on the face of it, and is increasingly untenable.

2. The institutional structures around grades and certification are challenged by this.

University itself, as our profession has structured it, is the most effective possible situation for encouraging plagiarism and cheating. If I wanted to learn how to play the guitar, or improve my golf swing, or write HTML, “cheating” would be the last thing that would ever occur to me. It would be utterly irrelevant to the situation.

3. The model of knowledge held by almost all students, and by many faculty — the tacit assumption that knowledge is stored information and that skills are isolated, asocial faculties — is challenged by this.

Partisans of active learning, of problem- and project-based learning, of cooperative learning, and of many other “radical” educational initiatives, all contend that information and ideas are not inert masses to be shifted and copied in much the way two computers exchange packages of information, but rather need to be continuously reformatted, reconstituted, restructured, reshaped and reinvented and exchanged in new forms — not only as learning processes but as the social basis of the intellectual enterprise.

4. by facing this challenge we will be forced to help our students learn what I believe to be the most important thing they can learn at university: just how the intellectual enterprise of scholarship and research really works.

The clearest difference between the way undergraduate students, writing essays, cite and quote and the way scholars do it in public is this: typically, the scholars are achieving something positive; the students are avoiding something negative.

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