Another dot in the blogosphere?

“I did not know”

Posted on: October 19, 2017

I have been facilitating a series of workshops for future faculty for several semesters. I also provide feedback on written assignments and conduct performative evaluations.

This academic semester is the first to worry me because of a few cases of plagiarism.

But first, some background.

Like some universities, the one I work with relies on Turnitin to pre-process assignments. Turnitin is embedded in the institutional learning management system (LMS) and provides summary scores of the assignments based on how much they match the ones already in the Turnitin database.

Plagiarism is a huge sin in academia. It is passing someone else’s work off as your own. If severe, it can get a faculty member fired or a student expelled.

Plagiarism is a human intent to cheat. It is an attitude or belief system that manifests in behaviours. Algorithms can try to make sense of patterns that result from those behaviours, but they cannot judge if a person has plagiarised.

So I do not take the matching scores at face value. As I have explained before, a high score might not be evidence of plagiarism while a relatively low score might hide it.

This semester I detected a few cases of plagiarism in assignments of every group of adult learners I processed. I used to get a clear case or two once every blue moon. The incidences this semester made it feel like there was an epidemic.

Thankfully there was no epidemic of dishonesty. But one case is one too many because the adult learners I educate today are tomorrow’s lecturers and professors.

So I provide a warning and follow the procedure of arranging for counselling by a central office.

The common response to “Why did you do this?” is often “I did not know”. I do not buy that since there are briefings about plagiarism and its consequences as well as an academic culture that avoids it.

“I did not know” might be an authentic answer. It might also be a convenient excuse. Both stem from not attending the briefings, or being new or blind to the culture. If this is the case, there is a more serious problem than skipping briefings or experiencing the world blind and deaf. It is being immune to change and living by another phrase: “I do not care”.

More on this phrase tomorrow.

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