Saturday, December 22, 2007

Price of Plagiarism

by: Jennifer Kumar

I found out through personal experience that in some places plagiarism does not have a bad reputation, in fact through plagiarising reputation through higher marks is rewarded.

This place was my study abroad location, India. In fact, the way the educational system was set up at the time I was there, I know why this was happening. In fact before going to India, some international students I studied with here in U.S. from India were plagiarising in different capacities, though not as blatant as what I found in India.

Semesters began with students frantic to find one copy of the latest textbook or written materials for the class. Soon as the coveted collection of materials were found, one student would tally up how many people wanted copies - some wanted their own, and sometimes small groups of students would share one copy among them- and run out of the college gate, across the road and to the 'xerox' station. There, the materials would be handed over to the clerk running the shop, he'd take the materials, tally, ask for single or double sided and if it needed to be bound or not, and tell the student when to come back to collect the finished copies. After collecting study materials, the next aspect of plagiarism was the tests and assignments. It was better to write answers on papers exactly as the teacher had said, or exactly as stated in the favorite text of the teacher. I realized quickly it was better to regurgitate word for word to get better marks.

The thing is I don't think people thought of it as plagiarism, though. Educational systems were not set up for individual thought or any open expression. Students were not encouraged to speak up, especially if the opinions differed from the teachers. This was my impression in comparison to my college experience in U.S. I am thinking Indian students accustomed to growing up with that culture may have a different outlook on that.

The one place, however original ideas was encouraged was in our thesis project. Standards for citing other author's works were equitable to what I experienced in U.S. The majority of the project needed to be the student's original creation based on their personally created social interviews, research and analysis of statistics. Citing other articles was required for justification of arguments.

I am inspired to talk about this after reading two recent articles written on this topic- Australian University May Discipline Staff in Plagiarism Scandal, but Not Students and Yale Professor at Peking U. Assails Widespread Plagiarism in China. A few suggestions I have for colleges hosting international students to alleviate these concerns is:
1. Colleges hosting international students must address this in the orientation sessions.
2. Colleges hosting 2+2 or twinnings programs must assure the foreign university they are paired with have similar definitions for plagiarism.

Before I went to India, I did a lot of reading about the collective culture, but no amount of reading could have prepared me for immersing myself behaviorally, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually in this culture. Collective cultures revere collective and consensus thinking - with the leadership in thought generally coming from someone respected in the family, college, or in the field of study. Words from that person are rarely questioned and are taken at face value. It is a shift in many aspects of life for a person to transition between these two cultures. I do not pose these arguments to justify plagiarism, but to demonstrate that college and university staff must be culturally sensitive in addressing these issues and not expect all students studying in Western countries would by default already be subscribing to the same plagiarism rules as the U.S.

Additional Resources: Australian Government Research Snapshot: International Students by Gender Twinnings (2+2) Programs Gain Popularity Between China and Canada

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