Alex Halavais on How to cheat good

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Recently we had a presentation from Turnitin.com, a company that markets an online service that claims to detect possible plagiarism in student works. While there was some interest in the service here, I think we came away with more questions than answers, at least from that particular session (which was led by a representative from the company who did not seem to really know very much about the products he was hawking). But several of the faculty did comment at that presentation that cheating is a real problem.

Now Alex Halavais, who did his graduate work here at the UW and served on the Student Technology Fee Committee during those years, is now a bona-fide academic, faculty member (recently at Buffalo and soon at Quinnipiac University), and blogger, has a great post on just how bad many students are a plagiarizing, under the title of “How to Cheat Good”.

3. You Google, I Google

How do you think I check suspicious work? It’s not like our state university is shelling out for TurnItIn. I am pretty good with that Google thingy. And changing two words won’t send me off the trail. So copy from something a bit more obscure. Or—and this is really tricky—try making up your own stuff.

I particularly like his ending:

And what if you follow all eight points and still get caught? Here’s your “get out of jail free” card. Simply say this to your teacher (no, no one has tried these exact words on me yet), and you are off scot free:

“Like a postmodern version of Searle’s Chinese Room, I am able to re-articulate existing knowledge through my command of its (re)presentation and manipulation. Any claim to originality ignores what I like to call our ability to stand on the shoulders of giants. By this, I mean that there is a well-known correlation between book sales and height, and we should use their height to our own advantage, to avoid mud and small dogs.

“Also, is it really all that original to give me an F? After all, I’ve already received an F from two other profs this semester alone. Be an original: give me a C.

“By the way, I don’t know who this ‘John Rawls’ guy is—is he even in our major?—but I think it’s possible he cheated off me.

“Finally, and I think this is most vital, my plagiarism in this case is a clear indictment of the educational system. After all, I’ve been failed by my high school and by three years of university, while continually passing. I don’t think it can be entirely my fault if I’ve gotten this far by plagiarism, and in this, my last class, you decide that it is somehow ‘wrong.’ Clearly, you should use this outcome as a way of evaluating your own teaching and expectations.”

You have my permission to use the above excuses, verbatim and without attribution, in any discussion with your respected faculty. I don’t guarantee their success, but would be happy to hear from any of you who employ them as to their efficacy.

Nice post, Alex, and good luck on your new gig!

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