Plagiarism: Guns do not Kill, It is People that Kill

Sarita Dewan

Abstract:

School-age students often use information from different sources without knowing how to use the information intellectually. Actually, they do not know that copying other’s ideas is a kind of intellectual crime called ‘plagiarism’. Despite the fact, this issue is not taken seriously enough in schools by teachers or students in Nepal. It is difficult to define and make it known to the students, that copying others’ intellectual work is a crime and an immoral act. This brief paper will examine how school-age students can be given input on citation at the basic level so that they can develop their habit of attributing intellectual work ever since their young age which can lead them to the culture of citation and referencing which is required for any academic work at the university level.

Keywords: Plagiarism, School-age Students, Technology, Online Materials

 

Introduction

This article is based on my own experiences about my students and their knowledge about plagiarism. I had given my students an assignment on writing an essay.  I found that one of them produced an outstanding essay. I was impressed and mesmerized by his work, but my excitement did not last long. I found that he had downloaded the essay from the internet. He had copied somebody’s work, he did that to impress me so that he could get good marks, but he did not know that copying somebody’s work is illegal.

Plagiarism is difficult to define among school students, especially because avoiding plagiarism encompasses a wide range of actions, which may be difficult for them to understand and implement in writing. At the same time, it seems a little challenging for the teachers to make students aware of it, as it is not included in the prescribed curriculum (which we often consider the benchmark of the instruction). Plagiarism has increased the act of academic dishonesty among students in college as well as high schools. Bowden states “Plagiarism is perhaps one of the foremost and richest of postmodern dilemmas.” (Bowden, 1996 in Navarrre, n.d.). Onta (2016) opines, ‘Plagiarism is a problem in Nepali academia. It is rampant at the university student level even for a research degree such as the PhD.’

While discussing the issue of plagiarism and its pros and cons in the class, my students were astonished, so I thought of doing a mini project as a classroom research on the topic, and further conduct an awareness class. The information that I have mentioned here is based on only qualitative data.

What is plagiarism and why do students plagiarize?

As defined Collins Online Dictionary,Plagiarism is the practice of using or copying someone else’s idea or work and pretending that you thought of it or created it.’ It is defined by the University of Melbourne as ‘the act of representing as one’s own original work the creative works of another, without appropriate acknowledgment of the author or source’ (The University of Melbourne, 2007 in Robert, T.S., 2008). In fact, it is deceiving or cheating teachers or editors by making them believe that the idea is owned by the writer.

I have tried to explore the reasons for students plagiarizing in high school, which are as demonstrated in the figure below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure: 1, Reasons for Plagiarism

Access to technology: Technology has made it easy for students to access the sources of information. As a result, it is found that instead of using library or reading books to get information, online sites have become easy source of information for students; so, downloading the required information from those sites is the easiest way for them to obtain the potential information. However, they do not know the consequences of this habit in the future.

Poor learning and writing: Many students are slow learners, so for them copy-paste is the easiest way of doing assignments. They just browse on the internet or some other easy methods for accessing the sources and copy whatever they find.  As they do not know the topic properly, using the information on their own is time consuming. Moreover, there are some students who are poor at note taking, they know neither paraphrasing nor can they write on their own. Students are often loaded with assignments of different subjects and do not have time to study the new topic and write their opinions critically. It happens when students are new to the subject matter or the kind of work they are being asked to do and are not confident about it. Moreover, many students are always dependent on teachers. For them exploring and gaining new knowledge is boring and not possible.

Laziness: The students are often found to be too lazy to complete the given assignments on time. This is related to not only the students, but teachers as well, particularly when teachers are involved in framing questions for the tests and correcting the assignments. It is found that questions too are copied from the past years or from guidebooks. It’s been at times, discovered that there are some textbooks in which some lessons are downloaded directly from the net without citation or acknowledgement. If textbooks have been prepared in this way, there is ample encouragement of plagiarism among students.

Lack of knowledge on plagiarism: In a focused group discussion that I held dividing a hundred and twenty students of grade ten in different groups, I asked them if they knew the term plagiarism, or any information regarding the topic. I did not find a single student who knew what plagiarism is. Nobody was found aware that they should not write other people’s exact words or intellectual ideas or summary or paraphrasing without citation or mentioning original sources. In my study, one hundred and five high school students out of one hundred twenty admitted that they have been using the internet to complete their assignments. Most of them have been copying the sentences, line by line. The students do it unknowingly so it can be mentioned as unintentional/accidental plagiarism. Plagiarism can be intentional or accidental (Sharma,2007), and according to my observation, it is their lack of knowledge for they are not informed about plagiarism and its possible consequences. Moreover, I have found that many teachers are reluctant about the issue as they don’t care if the assignments that students produced are plagiarized.

Poor time management: Lack of time-management or absence of organizational skills while producing any written work is another reason for deliberate plagiarism. In the context of Nepal, assigning homework or class work is not planned; sometimes students are loaded with exercises or research work which compels them to copy. Moreover, they are not taught to use the resources    appropriately. I did not find a summarized version of the content, citing the authors or the source of their work.

Teachers’ encouragement: Many a time, I have found students achieving good marks when they have copied the same from the notes provided by their teachers, which means the students are encouraged to copy exactly the same words, lines or sentences, so aren’t they encouraged to plagiarize indirectly? To me, this is a big situated problem (particularly found in our local context) which includes obvious encouraging role to promote plagiarism. Further, I have observed that teachers do not bother whether the students have submitted the home assignments directly downloaded from online sites or copied as many teachers are not computer savvy or do not have time to cross check them to find if they have been lifted directly from online.

Consequences of plagiarism

There are many instances where renowned people had to face the consequences of plagiarism e.g.,

  • 143 university students in the UK were expelled in 2007 for plagiarism offences. (Viper Plagiarism Scanner, n.d.)
  • Time magazine and CNN both suspended journalist Fareed Zakaria …after he was caught plagiarized from the New Yorker in the latest scandal to hit the world of American journalism. (The Guardian, 2012)
  • According to the report of Palko Karanz of The New York Times, the Hungarian President resigned due to plagiarism scandal on his 1992 doctoral thesis. (The New York Times, 2012)
  • The reporter of CNN Marie Louise Gumuchian was fired after it was revealed that she had plagiarized over 128 times in some 50 stories. (Baiely,2014)
  • Mustapha Marrouchi, an English professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas he was accused of lifting passages from an essay by W.J.T. Mitchell in the London Review of Books. Then, in 1999, in the same publication, a letter by Stephen Howe appeared accusing Marrouchi of plagiarism of one his book reviews. The UNLV investigated and, in November, Marrouchi was fired after discovering that some 23 of his 26 papers contained plagiarism.(Bailey,2014)
  • Former Delhi University vice-chancellor Deepak Pental was sent to jail by a city court in a case of alleged plagiarism and forgery.( Bailey,2014)
  • Praytush Onta a research director at Martin Chautari, recalls the incident when he was asked to examine a PhD dissertation of Tribhuvan University,and to his surprise he found the paragraph in the abstract was his own, he had written some years ago. He found many ideas copied from other scholars. He had returned the thesis with a note about plagiarization, for which the concerned candidate apologized and corrected the dissertation. Onta says, plagiarism is not an issue in Nepal. The issue is not considered serious enough, so that the offender has to be punished or jailed.

These are a few examples of the consequences of plagiarism. Many scholars’ theses have been disqualified due to plagiarism issues. There are many fields; politics, academia fashion, blogs and many more which are not free from the scandal of plagiarism.

 

Who are responsible?

In the process of investigation, I have found, that there are some texts or lessons in textbooks, which are copied and even pasted without mentioning the sources. One example is “Paradox of our age” by Dalai Lama in the English textbook of grade ten produced by the Curriculum Development Center, Nepal. While trying to find teaching materials on the internet, I have found some other exercises as well, which are copied and pasted from online resources.

Parents and guardians are also responsible for the plagiarized actions of their children. Proper guidance and assistance is necessary while they are working on assignments.

 

What can be the proper role of teachers?

First of all, as teachers, we have to understand the concept of plagiarism, its pros and cons, and void such a practice as much as we can. We have to make our students aware of this issue and teach them the techniques of note taking, paraphrasing, citing, using quotations, and acknowledging the source. The students must learn to give credit to the authors of the sources and materials.

Instead of instructing students to write on unfamiliar topics, we should discuss with them before they write on the given topics. The students should be taught the techniques of critical or higher level thinking, analytical skills and creative thinking skills – using the tools like mind mapping or brainstorming so that they can create their individual ideas on the concerned themes.

Further, plagiarism may result from students’ immature summarizing skill or poor note taking; so we need to train them the skills of using the sources. Even if they are paraphrasing ideas of other people, the students should be taught to distill the ideas in their writing so that it looks original. Let the students write their own experiences, make them observe things themselves, create their own insights or thoughts and give conclusions or justifications, where teachers’ strong vigilance is also an important way, to control stealing others’ ideas.

According to Ushioda (2016), to develop metacognitive skills of students, they need to be motivated for strategic thinking and problem solving skills. Even if she relates this idea to motivation, I think it is equally applicable to help them develop the ability of critical thinking which further supports addressing the issue of plagiarism too. Instead of giving them directions and instructions the students should be trained for thinking and troubleshooting for themselves.

Plagiarism is one of the interventions of originality or critical analysis and thinking capacity. Let us ensure that our students try to be original, train them to use the sources intelligibly, cite the sources, and let be aware of the consequences of plagiarism. While using different sources of information we must not forget that, they are just ‘neutral’ possibilities, they cannot develop creativity in students if used unintelligibly. Using resources is like, ‘guns do not kill, it is people that kill’.

Epilogue:

After the brief focused discussion with students, I gave a brief session on this topic and now, at least they have started citing the sources while writing. They have also learnt that it is not acceptable for anyone to take credit for someone else’s work, whether it is done intentionally or unintentionally.

Some examples of citation of sources by students in their assignments:

 

References:

Bailey, J.(2014, December, 17) Top 10 Plagiarism scandals of 2014. [Blog Post]Retrieved from http://www.ithenticate.com/plagiarism-detection-blog/top-plagiarism-scandals-2014#.WHf3V2W5_aY

Collins Online Dictionary. (n.d.) Retrived from https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/plagiarism

Navarre, C.M. (n.d.). Top ten reasons students plagiarize & what you can do about it.

Sharma, B. K. (2007). Plagiarism among university students: intentional or accidental. Journal of NELTA, 12(1), 2.

Onta, P. (2016, Sep 14). Beyond plagiarism: How honest research could be promoted in Nepal. Setopati. Retrieved from http://setopati.net/opinion/16820/Beyond-Plagiarism:-How-honest-research-could-be-promoted-in-Nepal/

Harris, P. (2012, August 10). Fareed Zakaria suspended from Time and CNN for plagiarising content. The Guardian. Reterived from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/aug/10/fareed-zakaria-time-cnn-plagiarising.

Karasz, P. (2012, April 2).Hungarian President Resigns Amid Plagiarism Scandal.The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/world/europe/hungarian-president-pal-schmitt-resigns-amid-plagiarism-scandal.html.

Ushioda, E. (2016, December 17). It is important to articulate your own voice in your writing. NELTA ELT Forum. Retrieved from https://neltaeltforum.wordpress.com/author/neltaeltforum/

Viper Plagiarism Scanner ( n.d.) Rertrieved from http://www.scanmyessay.com/plagiarism/consequences-of-plagiarism.php

 

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(*Ms. Dewan is serving as the training coordinator in Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA). She has also served as a Faculty Head of English Department at Little  Angels’ School, Hattiban, Lalitpur. She can be contacted at dewansarita031@gmail.com)

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