Posts tagged plagiarism

Taking credit for someone else’s work

Those who know me well, or even if they are only acquainted with me, know that I work hard.  I go after causes and find other people of like minds to join me.  That is true of battling the human trafficking issue as well as anything having to do with preserving history. I have pursued Ukraine’s sad stories of the Holodomor (forced famine of 1932-33 where millions died of starvation) or North Dakota history, my grandparents’ history, my students’ grandparents history, etc. Of course, I am also very interested in Kazakhstan’s history but I can only skim the surface of that now that I am far away from living there as I did for 3 1/2 years.  I did collect plenty of my composition students’ stories that are waiting to be put in book form.

Many others who currently live in Kazakhstan, especially those of you who are expats, hopefully will pay attention to the stories you hear from your neighbors, colleagues, students and anyone else who offers up what they know.  Kazakhstan has an oral tradition that is foreign to us westerners because if we were to compliment someone, we would say, “He is an excellent writer” or “She knows how to express herself beautifully.”  They would mean in the latter case in writing and not in speaking.  Strange to our American ears to hear someone being praised with, “She was a beautiful story teller.”  They meant that that person knew how to knit a tale together that kept the listener spellbound until the end. I heard this comment from a Ukrainian woman who was remembering her grandmother’s talent of storytelling.  We might say that someone knows how to tell a good joke and I truly believe that is a gift that no one in my family possesses.  My husband used to tell many jokes, more than he does now. He would give credit to the person he heard the joke from…as if re-living the moment he heard it and giving them due respect.

That gets me back to getting credit for the hard work that I do.  I have scanned 1,000s of photos in the last ten years.  I scanned many photos from Ukraine when I had my students tell their stories from their grandparents’ past.  We had two presentations where the expats were invited along with the old babushka women to our university’s auditorium. The second presentation we gave in the spring of 2007, the American ambassador and his wife came to listen to my students reveal their history.

I have scanned 1,000s of photos from our local museum and gathered up other photos from old postcards so that I could get two books published with Arcadia press out of South Carolina.  I enjoy sharing these pictures on Facebook with people from my hometown.  However, our museum needs money and now we have launched into using Internet with imagekind website out of Oregon to show off those photos of our town.  What I am dealing with is letting someone else get the credit for putting up the photos that took time to scan.  He put all the photos I scanned up on the website but it would seem to anyone else that he also did all the scanning.

At the same time, I and another volunteer have gone through about 700-800 pieces of vintage clothes that our museum was storing.  We took photos of every item and also wrote the tag number on each and described the item.  We have about 20 pages of the listings and I have the 700 photos of the clothes that we could potentially sell to vintage clothes people.  It is BIG out in the East and West coasts, not so much in our locale.  So, the other night at our board meeting, one of the members who wanted to take over to sell these items on her own terms said something incredible.  After my friend and I had spent many Saturday mornings over the course of about four months doing this mammoth job, she had a potential buyer in a town about 150 miles away.  This board member, who has done NOTHING of the work, said in front of everyone, “Have her come to me to ask about selling to this vintage clothes dealer.”  I was shocked that she had the audacity to claim something that she had not worked on yet and take it out of my friend’s hands who knows a LOT about clothes.  That is taking credit for something she didn’t work on.

What are my feelings when others want to take the glory for all the work that I do?  I have another example that recently happened.  One person at my university has wanted me to talk about our town’s illustrious past.  I have done many presentations on this topic and I have 100s of photos that I have scanned to show with stories to tell.  It didn’t work out last semester because she dropped the ball and didn’t have the advertising set to go.  I bowed out and said I would do it the following semester.  That semester is HERE!  She had been e-mailing me about doing this history presentation in March.  I thought, that is fine, I will do it but then she started sending three insistent google scheduled messages where I had to accept, maybe or deny her scheduling requests.  Even though she had said that we could meet when it was convenient for me, she pushed three times with setting a day and time.  I finally wrote to say I was not interested in doing a presentation for her AT ALL!  Why?  Because she has a reputation of having other people do all the work but she would get the credit.

After what I had just gone through with scanning 1,000s of pictures and going through 700 pieces of vintage clothes, I have HAD it with people stealing the show.  Others want to get the glory for things they haven’t done. I am not a volunteer who wants to be walked all over.  I am a volunteer who wants to help others and promote causes.  So, what do people in Kazakhstan do about those who “steal” stories and tell them as if they are their own?  What would be considered “plagiarism” from an oral tradition point of view?  Just wondering?  The concept of taking from others, even ideas should have a penalty of shame attached to it, right?

Well, I will have to figure out how to work with the person on the photos, he is my friend.  The other person who wants to do all the clothes selling with the data that we collected, she will probably fail because noone will be wanting to work with her.  It will probably end up back in our laps.  In any case, I am venting right now about how I feel.  Has this ever happened to you where others claim the glory for things that YOU have done?

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Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan (Part III)

If you look at yesterday and the day before, you will see that I have gotten off the track on blogging about human trafficking.  Currently I am in the middle of answering 12 questions about Kazakhstan, from MY perspective.  I enjoyed doing this little assignment and got carried away on the very first question.  In subsequent questions, I am not as knowledgeable about Kazakhstan.  Therefore, I do make more than a “comment” on the educational system and this is the last part of my answer to the first question:

“Again, I have to reiterate I am only going on what I have heard and a couple of things that I observed outside of the two main cities of Astana and Almaty.  What I DID encounter first hand at the university level and it would be no different in the elementary and secondary level is that there is the Asian trait of acquiescing to your superiors no matter how unintelligent they are.  I witnessed first hand how those who had no knowledge in writing of English expected others who were younger and more talented to do the grunt work. They would make their edicts known but had not a clue about how ineffectual they were.  They commanded respect and only surrounded themselves with those who obeyed orders.  Some of the teachers and administrators I worked alongside could not even speak English that well and they were of course embarrassed when students challenged them on that.  There is a Kazakh term for that kind of student, “naglyi” and they are considered brazen and impudent. These smart students are not passively obedient and not subservient to the teacher-centered teacher.

Yes, the Kazakh culture seems to work against itself and favoritism goes on to give jobs to those who have Kazakh background and knowledge of the language so it seems that reverse discrimination is going on against those who are Russian ethnicity.  It seems it is “pay back” time for the people who brought the Soviet way of thinking and educating to the Kazakh nomads 50-70 years ago.

One other thing that is observed with education, those Kazakh or Kazakhstani teachers who had a good command of English in speaking or writing were snapped up right away as translators by the multinational companies.  They made more money translating than teaching.  So, what was broken to begin with back in 1991 became even more broken because the money was NOT in teaching anymore.  Not that it ever was.  Those who couldn’t do anything else remained in the teaching profession. However, some Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers were very dedicated to what they believed would improve their country by teaching their pupils to become future leaders.

However, the “slave mentality” that I saw exist in the one “western” university I taught at in Almaty was enough for me to know that even the best of the Kazakh national universities throughout the city of Almaty had a lot of corruption and nepotism going on which has not improved on educating and preparing young Kazakh students for the 21st century and to be a part of the western world.

I could go on and on with this topic.  I tried to get this down to a capsule after my 3 ½ years of teaching and working alongside dedicated Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers.  One last thing that is important to know.  The Kazakhs inherited the phrase Soviet motto “Initiative is punitive.” This means that if you are at all creative or think outside the box, you will be cut down.  So, you have to go lockstep with the rest of the faculty and not color outside the lines if you want to get ahead.  Therefore, the curriculum is set, do NOT transgress by doing something new or innovative.

Let’s just say that that mentality is very difficult for any westerner to observe when we as children are encouraged to be creative and to think outside of the box.  East meets West and teacher-centered meets student-centered.  It was a very interesting sociological experiment that I saw every day while I lived in Kazakhstan as an American educator.

Oh, one last thing is that plagiarism is rife and that is not a good thing for those students who are preparing to go overseas to learn at western universities.  I had one student who was taking a TOEFL preparation class and apparently her parents had money so she thought she would be able to buy off the exam.  Many of the students from rich families can buy off their Kazakh teachers and receive A grades in their own institutions but they are faced with reality when coming up against western standards of excellence and honesty.”

(to be continued)

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Troubling News: Digital Age Plagiarism

Plagiarism is nothing new, especially for this writing teacher who can spot it a mile away. The key to early detection is to have students do a lot of “in-class” writing. Then you can easily discover when they submit other hard copy assignments, why they did such a stellar job.  Turnitin.com is also another quick way to find out when the student might have copied some quotes that are not their own words.

I remember one “student” of mine in Ukraine who was a lazy, black leather jacket guy enamored by his cell phone handed in a “funny” essay.  He didn’t mean for it to be hilarious and he certainly wasn’t laughing when he got his final grade from me.  But this one paper was a piece his girlfriend had written.  This character hadn’t even bothered to change the wording of when she was a little girl, she loved to figure skate. If he had just improved the “little girl” part I still might have wondered why he would love to “figure skate.” Where I’m from in Minnesota, guys play hockey they do NOT figure skate!

I think since these students who plagiarize don’t bother to read much, they figure their writing teachers don’t read their incoming assignments either.  Therefore, I read with great interest a recent New York Times article on this very topic of the digital age and what to make of this age old problem of plagiarism.  This article titled: “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age” written by Trip Gabriel, had some good examples given by researchers on this sticky topic.

Thankfully Susan D. Blum, an anthropologist at Notre Dame has written a book on this important topic, published by Cornell University Press titled: “My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture.” In her ethnographic research of  234 Notre Dame undergraduates she wrote:

“Today’s students stand at the crossroads of a new way of conceiving texts and the people who create them and who quote them.” She went on… “the idea of an author whose singular effort creates an original work is rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the individual. It is buttressed by the Western concept of intellectual property rights as secured by copyright law. But both traditions are being challenged.”

“Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning,” Ms. Blum said.

According to Times author, Trip Gabriel, ‘Ms. Blum contends that undergraduates are less interested in cultivating a unique and authentic identity — as their 1960s counterparts were — than in trying on many different personas, which the Web enables with social networking.'”

Respondents to surveys who believe plagiarism should be considered “serious cheating” by lifting words off the web has dropped from 34 percent to 29 percent on average in the past decade, according to the New York Times article.  I have my own theory as to why this may be true that no anthropologist would dare touch.

I believe the more people who are turned off by church and using the Bible as a text to be referenced, the less you have people taking the time in giving proper attribution to where they find their sources.  In other words, days of old you had people who wrote in lofty, well thought out script, they also adhered to the Bible as being the true Word of God.  If one does not tamper with His Word, you probably won’t be messing with other people’s words either.

I’m wondering what Muslim countries do about getting their ardent students to refer back to the Koran as a way to prove a point.  Do their holy teachers instill in their young students to reference the Koran by giving proper references? [Christians always want to know the “street address” of where something was quoted from. For example, look up Jeremiah 29:11]  I doubt it, but then I’m walking into very murky territory. Again, I don’t know much about the Koran and if it is held up as holy text the same way the Bible is by true believers of Christianity. I’d have to say that the people in Kazakhstan only have a superficial knowledge of what is in the Koran.

My main point is that the western world has moved away from using the Bible as a text to adhere to or to gain instruction from.  The deconstructionism and the postmodern era has done a number on many of the words we held on to for dear life.  Why on earth would other universities from developing countries want to emulate what we have going on at our western universities if we have western professors who make a living tearing down words we held as true? Most specifically, does our new university in Astana want to follow the western traditional practices of originality or follow the path of “anything goes,” take what you can off of the 21st century Internet writings?

Troubling problems to deal with…stay tuned.

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Madame Guyon’s Musings on Design

mosiac

I’d like to know the meaning of this mosiac design that is in a prominent place close to our university in Almaty.  Probably each inset mosiac piece was laid by melancholy artists in the 1960s with significance to Kazakh nationals but also done according to Soviet specifications from Moscow.  I’m beginning to understand why plagiarism was encouraged during the Soviet period, you had to be very careful to write just what the party officials deemed as appropriate.  If you veered off the party message, then you were in trouble with the authorities of the communist party elite in Moscow.  So, “copy and paste mentality” goes a long way back before computers ever arrived on the scene.  I need to learn more about the Soviet art which used cubism and portrayed happy proletariat workers doing their job with a smile.  Underneath there was no doubt despondency and melancholy.  That is probably why I appreciate the Christian mystic, Madame Guyon’s musings on design, God’s design:

“I entreat you, give no place to despondency.  This is a dangerous temptation–a refined, not a gross temptation of the adversary.  Melancholy contracts and withers the heart, and renders it unfit to receive the impressions of grace.  It magnifies and gives a false coloring to objects, and thus renders your burdens too heavy to bear.  God’s designs regarding you, and His methods of bringing about these designs are infinitely wise.” 

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How to Catch a Plagiarist!

I already know who my A students are out of 11 as we lurch into Day Five out of 30 days of course instruction for Summer Session One. I have five more weeks to find out who my B and C students are and hopefully none will fail.  Unless, of course, I catch them in plagiarism which I have sternly warned them to not even try it with me.  I usually can easily detect the plagiarists.  They try to lazily get by among those who are more honest enrolling to LEARN how to improve their writing. A genuine student shows up quickly especially for us writing teachers who have to check all aspects of a students skills in listening, interacting, logical reasoning, following through with assignments, facility with grammar and spelling and finally how adept the students are with using the computer.  The following are ways I can spot a plagiarist a mile away.

 

First, the plagiarist doesn’t follow instructions.  I’m not sure if it is a listening problem or if it is purposeful, maybe a combination of both.  I had one girl in a recent TOEFL class I taught who was a very weak student.  She tried to cover it up by being confused by the instructions or she claimed she didn’t understand so it was probably a reading comprehension problem as well.  In any case, I was flummoxed why she was taking an advanced course of TOEFL to see about placement in a western university abroad.  She needed to be back in a remedial class brushing up on the basics.  Another instance was this same girl’s computer started shutting down (I think on purpose) so that she wailed she had lost her whole document she had been typing on. Yeah right. 

 

Second, a known plagiarist skips classes and they make a habit of this practice early on.  That way they have a reason for not knowing what the assignments are or not doing it as the instructor asks them to.  This happened with a girl back in Minnesota who was too busy with her job to bother to show up for my class.  She had a stunning essay about young people and drunk driving she submitted to me electronically.  It didn’t take long, matter of seconds, to find the same essay on the Internet. I caught her red-handed.  I can’t remember if she dropped out or if I failed her in the class when I showed her the evidence. 

 

Third, these “kidnappers of words” (Latin root) like to come and talk one-on-one with you as their teacher. These “kidnappers” take up teachers’ valuable time explaining why they didn’t do their assignment or why they don’t like doing it the way we prescribe. My guess is that these talkers want you to see how good their English is and they are very communicative on an oral level.  I won’t be fooled by this tactic.  Oral fluency skills are different from writing skills.  Give me the students who are NOT good talkers, more introverted and readers, they are typically the good writers.  I have two who wrote in their first night of class that they LOVE reading.  I love those kinds of students, they produce great writing samples right away.

 

Fourth, these talkers about their writing can also be found out to be good liars.  Case in point, one girl came to my office a couple hours before class was to begin to tell me she would be absent because her boss called her back to the office. (I wonder about some of these masters students who are juggling a full time job and taking not one but maybe two extremely intensive summer session classes.)  I’m not sure when they have time to sleep with all the reading they are assigned to do along with writing about it.  I have a couple students who are mothers so they are “supermoms” going back to school but I appreciate their maturity.  Sometimes older students are my best students because they take their learning seriously.  Funny thing about this same young girl who was absent, I found her smoking a cigarette behind another building right after our class was through.  I don’t like being lied to, no teacher does.

 

These are the tell-tale signs of a plagiarist in action, not following instructions, skipping classes and talking to me about why they don’t want to send their assignments to me electronically.  ?!?  I’m just wondering if known plagiarists are among our teaching ranks or God forbid, among our top administrators at our institution of higher learning.  Just asking because by the time I get to the end of the sixth week of teaching this summer session we all know what the level of involvement is with each student.  The student knows that I know just by what they have produced in class and by their attendance and level of participation.

 

Writing is NOT like some impersonal lecture class of 100s of students where a few students claim to be surprised by the final results of a final examination of 100 multiple choice questions.  No, the writing process is ongoing from the get-go and a very personal and sometimes exhaustive communication between the teacher and students.  Writing teachers should know their students very well by the end of the semester. That is, only when the students are writing honestly and not kidnapping other people’s words while the teachers take interest and read everything the students write.  Correction of grammar and mechanical errors in formatting styles is a whole ‘nother topic for a later blog post.

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Nazarbayev – “Nightingale Cannot Do Without Woods”

Yesterday we finished our third day of “Virtual Classroom” with Language Center teachers doing keyword searches on the electronic databases provided by our university library.  Five questions were part of the Treasure Hunt about known authors from our university and about nine people e-mailed their answers to me.  The quickest was Olga and as winner she received the latest edition of the Turabian style book.  The consolation prize of an MLA style book went to Claudia who found the article on SpringerLink of an administrator who had an article published in a physics journal in December of 2000.

 

We ended our “Teacher-Researcher Workshop” with a panel discussion with three professors from our university, one in Public Administration, the second from Political Science and the third from Economics.  Each helpfully contributed something to over 40 Kazakhstani teachers.  The first talked about writing being the “Queen of Rhetoric” or communication, it involves all the thinking skills.  This public administration professor felt fortunate to have had a very good writing teacher in his undergraduate class which helped him in his subsequent classes and even now in his publishing articles. 

 

Our second panelist from a political science perspective has great empathy for what we do as writing teachers for first year students.  He advised to stick with ONE style of writing research papers.  At the very least let the students know there are as many formatting styles as there are journals.  It seems that most of the professors on campus prefer Chicago or Turabian with footnoting or endnotes and NOT the APA style we have enforced on our fledgling first year writing students.  He also stated that American high school students have an edge over our Kazakhstani students because they have already been exposed to research papers.  Unfortunately, our students don’t have that writing background when they enter our western-style university.  He recommended that we prepare the students in the first year on how NOT to plagiarize so that the upper division courses don’t have to focus on that but devote more time on the conceptual ideas of each students’ paper. 

 

Our third panelist from economics stated that “Writing is Thinking and Thinking is Writing.”  Being a writing teacher is a difficult position to fulfill all those expectations. He knows that in the U.S. it is the most arduous for administrators to fill writing courses with qualified teachers. With all other teaching assignments, such as speaking, listening or grammar, the teacher conducts the class and leaves whereas the writing teacher conducts the class with the same contact hours but also has hours and hours of correcting papers afterwards.  No one wants to invest that kind of time into a course and be paid the same amount of money, unless they are convinced it is for the betterment of their students.  Clearly writing teachers in the western universities are not IN IT FOR THE MONEY!!!

 

One Kazakh teacher, during the Q&A time, lamented on how to make writing seem less like punishment to the students.  She claimed there are so many rules on writing a research paper and felt there is so much pressure and tension to get all the rules correct.  Her students wailed they did not want to take another semester of a writing course as has been suggested.  Yet another teacher responded that her students were very enthusiastic about writing because of all the options available with the research databases and other Internet cites that help make it easier and more enjoyable. In a group of 40 teachers, there is a vast array of skills, experience, level of curiosity and time commitment involved with the teaching of writing.

 

My last comment to all who were gathered yesterday is that we have to guide and suggest topics with our students that are of interest to them.  I believe we need to hover over them from the very start when they are experimenting with thesis statements.  Especially do young students need help with English synonyms for keyword searches once they start looking for journals on the electronic databases.  Bottom line for us as teachers, we need to help the students in the PROCESS of writing from first draft, second draft to final version in order to have good papers to read.  If we are enjoying the process and discovering along with them, the students will ultimately enjoy writing too. 

 

Therefore, I would recommend that the Kazakhstani students have a required three semesters of writing at our university instead of only one semester so that they can discover their own voice. Most all western universities have two semesters of writing courses for their incoming freshmen students. I strongly suggest first semester would be very informal writing with narrative, descriptive, compare and contrast essays, topics the students would really enjoy writing about.  The second semester would be more discursive, cause and effect, argument and problem and solution.  Finally, the third semester would be the most formal writing with a research paper, fully preparing them for other coursework that expects written essays.  Instead we are expecting our first year learners, who do not have English as their first language and have NO writing experience in high school, to immediately write like an academic in a short 15 week course!!! That is definitely a recipe for disaster and no wonder some of the students end up hating writing and feel desperate enough to plagiarize even though there are red flags all over the syllabus to NOT plagiarize!!!

 

One final thought I’ll end with a Kazakh proverb, “Nightingale cannot do without woods, man cannot do without Motherland.”  The country of Kazakhstan will fall behind in achieving its goal of being one of the top 50 countries by 2011 if corners are cut in the most supreme of communication —writing! If the Kazakhstani students are not given a voice, as the nightingale has such a lovely voice, they will not be able to articulate to the rest of the world what a great country Kazakhstan

is.

To be a global player, President Nazarbayev realizes and knows that computer technology and learning to write in English is one of the ways to success.  Why else has President Nazarbayev written so many books in English?  I believe Nazarbayev, as a true leader, is that nightingale singing for the good of his country.  Will other Kazakhstani writing teachers follow him?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos of Two Events on Campus

teachersKen and teacherspeytonstudents 

The photos are two entirely different events scheduled simultaneously on the same campus with two unlike groups of people, teachers and students.  My dear husband Ken shared in the Teacher-Research Workshop, to almost 40 Kazakhstani teachers, his experience as an economics teacher getting students to write short papers without plagiarism.  Simultaneously I went over to the big hall to hear all the rules 250 Kazakhstani students need to know before they go to the U.S. on a Work and Travel program in about a week.  Both sessions were dealing with rules not meant to be broken!

 

The following are reactions by a few of the teachers to yesterday’s blog about the “Virtual Classroom.”

 

How did the ten quotes from your teacher colleagues about IT [Instructional Technology] make you feel? – use three adjectives

 

Wistful, somewhat old, pessimistic

 

Everyone understands that virtual classroom is contributive, practical and a bit challenging as it involves IT in itself.

 

practical, up-to-date, challenging

 

not new, actual, exciting to put into practice

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