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November 08, 2005

Plagiarism and English Teaching Part II

Plagiarized ESL Paper.jpg

"To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism, to steal ideas from many is research." ~ Anonymous (of course)

Even this quote must have been attributed to someone. Here are just a few additional comments on "Plagiarism in the ESL Classroom," a topic begun a few days ago on this blog.

Thanks to everyone for all your comments on my previous rant. Since copyright infringement and the issue of legality floats over the implications of plagiarism, I found it interesting that one concerned reader of this blog (I won't say who!) sent me this discussion today online here with thanks to Kenneth Burgess.

Burgess summarizes a "fascinating" post found here on plagiarism by Judge Richard A. Posner. Says Burgess, "Among other things, [Posner] explains why plagiarism by a professor is not as serious as—and therefore deserves less punishment than—plagiarism by a student. He also points out, quite rightly, that 'plagiarism' is a morally loaded term. It functions both to describe and to prescribe." This, to me, sounds a lot like another word I know: hypocrisy!

To further complicate the issue, the suggestion in Posner's post that a student paper is somehow less important (or dangerous) because it is probably an unpublished work is particularly fascinating. With the popularity of online writing courses and technology services like Blackboard and WebCT, I wonder how papers and essays "published" on these kind of public programs fare legally. Are they indeed legally published and applicable to the same rules of plagiarism? What about papers submitted to anti-plagiarism services like www.turnitin.com? Since all texts submitted to this service become technically "public" are they indeed published papers in the eyes of the law?

Curious to hear what you think,

Lee Hobbs
ESL Instruct, Editor-in-Chief

Posted by lhobbs at November 8, 2005 06:02 PM

Readers' Comments:

Hey, what's new? An old-school professor being called a hypocrite. And Plaigarising on top of that! . . . What we need in the university system are some good, young, fresh thinking profs to do away with these old fogies. Especially those senior citizens out there teaching ESL with the grammar translation method. Geez.

Posted by: ESL Nerd at November 9, 2005 05:22 AM


Note from Lee:

Well now, ESL Nerd I hope you are not referring to my age (did I carelessly post my own age somewhere?). But, I do agree that progress, generally speaking, is a good thing. Change just frightens the hell out of some conservative-types, don't ya know?

Posted by: Lee at November 13, 2005 09:33 PM

i know that esl nerd must be some kind of copier to be all worried about this.he's probably old too.that's an agist remark there boy.

Posted by: TEFL Dweeb at November 13, 2005 09:35 PM


I am a professor at a university in Korea which specializes in teaching translation and interpretation. This is experimental and quite new (just 3 years). Every year I teach composition and every year I encounter plagiarism. It is so obvious that I don't even bother to look where it is from. The writing style is obviously far above the ability of the student.

What can one do? I now start in the freshman year. I engage students in an ethics class. Then I have a bag full of "outrage" writing. That is writing I have found in Korean newspapers, etc. where foreigners have infringed Korean patents. When we finish that...I haul out my fake "Kate Spade" bag which I purchased here in Korea. Then I canvas the class and ask them to open their bags, show wallets, handbags, and other luxury items which have obvious signatures on them. I discuss with the students whether they themselves are guilty of infringement of patents, theft of quotes, blah, blah, blah. The light goes on for most of them. It seems they rarely make the connection with their own "theft" of patent and trademark and written information and the fact that it leaves them open to others stealing their information, patents and trademarks.

Most students have a fairly good moral base (of course in every class there are exceptions), and I see less and less plagiarism in class. For those who habitually continue this practice, I warn them once more and then mark them "F" with the notation that with one more infringement I will ask their fellow students to judge them. That usually does it.

It is my belief that the mark chasing which is done in high school here (rather than "knowlege chasing") and the terrible pressure these students are put under are partly to blame. There also seems to be a disconnect between the outside world and "solitary" Korea. The easy accessibility of the internet and the feeling that the internet is anonymous also contributes.
Really, this is an ongoing problem and needs to be addressed continually.

While I feel successful on a class by class basis, I know this battle will have to be waged for a long time and in a determined and steady manner. There is no use in feeling frustrated...these people are not in our Western world with its own dishonesties.

So, I continue to soldier on in this area. Stick with it and don't imagine this will be gone overnight...or even in a few years.


Posted by: S. Gramberg at November 18, 2005 04:50 AM


Note from Lee:

Thanks Syd for those wonderful words of wisdom. Your ESL lesson plan with the "bag of outrages" is an excellent, and very unique, idea for giving ESL students a better sense of mass on what the seemingly abstract notion of plagiarism entails in our daily lives (outside of text).

You are absolutely right, IMHO, this problem is one that seems to be continually growing rather than shrinking (like the "war" on drugs, terrorism, etc...what other parallels can we think of?) although one might make this type of argument about all types of social ethics. I realize too that there are even some "progessive" academics out there that feel the bourgeois concept of idea "ownership" is somehow an illusionary construct fueled by a capitalistic mindset (until their own work is stolen and capitalized upon without their consent?)

Whatever "truth" underlies our concepts of intellectual theft, I still feel that, as an instructor, I do no favor to a student for whom I have not encouraged to develop his or her own critical thinking abilites, whether they be in an ESL program of study or otherwise. Also, I feel better knowing that ESL instructors like you are really out there fighting the good fight and leading by example. Best wishes and thanks for commenting. Please come back again!

Posted by: Lee at November 18, 2005 11:38 PM

Hi, I am a former ESL student. Actually, one of my English teachers ends our lesson on plagiarism. As a student, I admit that I had plagiarized before, most of the time it’s because there is better wording out there. And once the wording stuck in my head, I can’t get it out. I even copy some quotes from your website, because it is the exact words that I am looking for. My mom finds that “copying” work helps her understand grammars better. (The “good examples” from written…improvement in the student’s own writing) But I also knew other peer who did it for the convenient of it.

For older or mutual students, I think the “bag” exercise would really help and examine the following essay also would help them understand the concept better, at least I am. But once I read the idea of “appropriating,” I find myself trying more to not plagiarize.

But students also need to realize that plagiarizing in general doesn’t help them to learn. Certain students would never get the idea, but “helping oneself” and Communism really sound like excuses to me and delay their learning experience. My instructor had us turn in our assignment to turnitin.com, and my friend frequently get 40% or higher matching percentage….however, he never get anymore than warning. But I think the point is that when an ESL student doesn’t understand an assignment, he or she would plagiarize as a last result. Teachers should point it out, but to do so secretly. Most ESL students, not to say ALL, are extremely shameful because of their culture background and value, at least I am, so to be put in front of the class as a laughing stock usually doesn'’t result in a good term of the student’s self esteem. On the last note, I love the note from Lee, since I am still a student but I really hate the complicated style of MLA.


Source: The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/02/0081387

Posted by: Angel at May 14, 2009 06:38 PM

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