Is Policing Plagiarism At A University As Counterproductive As Trying To Stop Copyright Infringement?

from the seems-like-it dept

We’ve talked in the past about how multiple studies have shown that greater enforcement efforts to stop copyright infringement aren’t particularly effective. One of the reasons for this is that they tend to piss off and anger the biggest fans, which has significant ripple effects and unintended consequences. A few months ago, there was an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which I’m finally getting around to writing about, all about one NYU CS professor’s experience in trying to catch and deal with cheaters on tests.

The professor, Panagiotis Ipeirotis, wrote a very detailed blog post about what happened, but after it went viral online, and some others expressed concerns that it may have violated the privacy of some students, he took the post down. The Chronicle of Higher Education had a mirror of the post up for a while, but have since taken it down. What was really amazing is that Ipeirotis spends much of the post explaining just how “effective” his efforts to catch cheaters was. He was mainly using the (somewhat controversial) service Turnitin, and certainly found a lot of folks who were clearly copying answers from elsewhere. Reading just the first part of the post would make you think this had all been a huge success and that Ipeirortis was actually singing the praises of such software.

But he’s not. The key point was that it absolutely destroyed classroom morale. Rather than coming to class each day eager to learn, students (apparently even those who weren’t cheating) just weren’t as happy about the overall learning experience in the classroom. And part of that may have come from Ipeirotis, who notes that he spent a ton of time that semester “dealing with” cheaters and his general distrust may have carried over into the classroom. He notes that the whole class was a lot less fun and a lot less focused on actually learning.

That was clear in the classroom and later came through in the evaluations, which were significantly lower than usual — which also resulted in him getting a smaller raise. While some responded to the blog post by focusing just on the evaluations and the raise, he noted later that the evaluations was a lesser issue compared to the more general one, and in a later post, he noted it was the other issue that was the real problem:

Even if I had received a $1M bonus from NYU for my efforts, the basic problem would still be there: the teaching experience would degenerate into a witch hunt, focusing on cheating, instead of being about learning. And yes, I would still write the same blog post even if I were fully satisfied with my annual evaluation. In fact, the blog post was in my folder of draft posts for a few months now, long before receiving my annual evaluation.

This is a key point that we’ve been trying to make about enforcement in the copyright world. Even when it seems “effective,” the overall environment — created by suing fans, by trying to lock down technologies, by pursuing new draconian laws and by blaming people for sharing information — is simply toxic. It’s not a positive environment in which new beneficial ideas and solutions come forth readily. It’s an angry us-vs.-them world, rather than a “let’s learn and solve problems together” world.

And just as we’ve suggested all sorts of new business models that simply take “infringement” out of the equation, Ipeirotis similarly suggests that professors get around the whole cheating/plagiarism issue not by trying to crack down on cheating, but on creating situations where cheating is impossible or less effective:

He suggested several options. You could require that projects be made public, which would risk embarrassment for someone who wanted to copy from a past semester. You could assign homework where students give class presentations and then are graded by their peers, ratcheting up the social pressure to perform well. And you could create an incentive to do good work by turning homework into a competition, like asking students to build Web sites and rewarding those that get the most clicks.

The simple fact is that some people will always find a way to infringe, just as some people will always find a way to cheat. But plenty of others will not. Plenty of people want to support the content creators they like, just as plenty of people at universities really do want to learn. What many who focus on enforcement and punishment don’t realize is that creating an environment that focuses solely on punishing those who infringe or cheat does have serious and significant spillover effects and unintended consequences on the rest of the “market/class.” If, instead, you focus on the people who do want to support or who do want to learn, and provide them with a positive environment to do so, it actually ends up creating consequences in the other direction — often turning around those who wanted to infringe or to cheat, and turning them into good actors as they see what’s happening around them.

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Comments on “Is Policing Plagiarism At A University As Counterproductive As Trying To Stop Copyright Infringement?”

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MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

(Students/Customers) are paying money to receive (entertainment/an education) from the (producers/instructors) and when the (producers/instructors) focus more on (copyright infringers/cheaters) than (entertainment/an education) the overall satisfaction of the (students/customers) goes down.

Seems pretty analogous to me.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

OAD, emphasis mine:

a.nal.o.gous (adj,)
comparable in certain respects, typically in a way that makes clearer the nature of the things compared : “they saw the relationship between a ruler and his subjects as analogous to that of father and children.”

So… yes. In fact you chose the perfect word for it.

Bengie says:

Re: Re:

They’re both analogous because they both attempt to change basic human nature. Cheating and copying will always be in the system and is impossible to ever completely remove.

Attacking both to the point of trying to eradicate them all together causes more harm than good. He points out there turning either into a “witch hunt” just wastes time and causes hate.

And some times, it even makes the problem worse and causes more problems. Think Prohibition. By pushing something so basic as alchohol/copying completely underground, you lose respect of people and they will do it just to spite.

There have been many studies on “unfair” laws. If you make laws that are deemed “unfair”, people will start to break them “just because”. Kind of a “stick it to the man” mentality starts to crop up.

Clyde Smith (user link) says:

Flawed Analogy Due to Different Forms of Branding

Content creators’ brands are built on making great content but their efforts to police copyrights come across as protecting revenue. When they claim that revenue supports creating great content, people have to make a connection that, though it has a certain logic, is clearly debatable.

Academic brands are a bit more confused. The general public and students seem more focused on having a good experience and getting a job. The faculty are more about increasing knowledge and academic integrity is a key part of that process.

So widespread cheating is a problem for academia that’s different than the problem for content creators.

In addition, teachers at all levels have been undergoing a process of corporatization that includes increasing testing and sometimes questionable forms of accountability. So, in addition to already being concerned about plagiarism because it violates the basic norms of academic knowledge building, it’s also mandated by major forces on and off campus.

I feel the issue of whether or not people are learning, what they think learning is, etc., is not actually very clear or agreed upon from my experiences in higher ed.

Certainly the fact that many students seem to only care about knowing something if it’s going to be on the test, as I was reminded every semester I taught based on questions, comments and behavior, was a big issue that had long ago become a cliche in movies and tv.

But this is a pretty interesting angle to deal with issues in higher ed which is an incredible mess at this point.

out_of_the_blue says:

More data needed for title question: Is there more plagiarism now?

Disregarding the awkward attempt to analogize unrelated areas. — I bet is LESS plagiarism after, so answer is NO.

As for rest: crimes that reward with low risk are going to be popular, but even if enforcement makes everyone unhappy, can’t be entirely ignored.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: More data needed for title question: Is there more plagiarism now?

Everything I’ve read over the last 5 years points to plagiarism (and cheating in general) at universities being on an upward trajectory regardless of efforts to curtail it.

Hmm…that also makes it analogous to that other thing we usually talk about here.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: More data needed for title question: Is there more plagiarism now?

Does less plagiarism really matter if there’s less learning? Isn’t that the point of education, not to make sure everyone is doing everything from scratch, but to pass on knowledge; to make sure that everyone is learning? If I was a teacher, I’d be more worried about the real goal of education (AKA: education) then making sure no cheated (in fact when I teach, that’s how I teach).

This is where the analogy comes in. The real goal of copyright is an incentive for artists to create. The massive and overbearing actions attempting to force people not to copy any part of any work is destroying that primary goal.

I’m all for that primary goal, I’m not for what we’ve let copyright turn into.

College Professor (profile) says:

How to evaluate student work?

Weighing in as another college professor who has struggled with this: I have wondered about the infringement-plagiarism issue, are they equivalents?

Why do professors want students to write in their own words, to use their own ideas? Because we have no way of evaluating (grading) what they have learned (or not learned) if they just copy and paste from elsewhere. So, when they plagiarize successfully, they get credit for material they did not master.

Unlike the entertainment industry, the educational system bestows degrees and credentials on those who master certain material. How to award those credentials when it is hard to evaluate who has actually mastered the material? Does it lower the value of a degree to award it to students who never “learned” the material?

I really don’t know. I agree with the NYU professor that focusing on catching cheaters is a losing game. I work on finding ways to help my students learn and to evaluate their learning without leading them into plagiarism traps, like research papers. But it is a constant struggle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How to evaluate student work?

There is a volume component to it, plagiarism is mainly a problem to big classes since in them, educators don’t have the means to know and accompany every student it becomes somewhat impersonal, the educator loose the ability to see.

It gets different from when you are talking about PhD candidates that are few and every master gets to know each and every candidate and it is able to see what one knows or doesn’t know.

Transbot9 (profile) says:

Re: How to evaluate student work?

The problem is that the bulk of education, even higher education, is focused on memorization. This is especially true in subjects like Art History. Creative problem solving skills are more useful in the real world than memorization, since technology has made it a lot easier to just look something up.

darryl says:

Re: Re: How to evaluate student work?

The problem is that the bulk of education, even higher education, is focused on memorization.

Ever been to a school or a class room for the past 60 or 70 years ?

Do you honestly think kids in school still use ROTE learning ?

I guess it is possible that the US still uses such outdated and ineffective teaching techniques, that would explain a great many things, in relation to the significant problems with the US.

It would also go some way in explaining why mike appears to believe that you cannot innovate anything without having to ‘copy’ something off someone else.

Rote learning means you do not get to think, you just react.

It does not develop analyitical skills or the ability of independent discovery or thought.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Plagiarism does not equate to IP Infringement

I’m sorry Mike but plagiarism in an educational environment is about a student “passing off” someone else’s work as their own to gain benefit, and equates more to fraud than infringement.

It allows a student who has not learnt the material given, and therefore has no knowledge on how to apply that material, to defraud themselves and any assessment structures that the teacher/lecturer has put into place.

As a lecturer I myself have used Turnitin, actually evaluated it when the University i was teaching at first started looking at it, and find it is useful in some degree but understand the psychological problems that can occur from its usage as a deterrent instead of as an aid in understanding that the pedagogical methods that you are using as a teacher to convey information that can then be applied by students is not working. Most lecturers (and students) will agree that standing up in a lecture theatre in front of 40-100+ students and showing slides is not only not really teaching but has no real feedback mechanism of any use.

What I have found works better to stop plagiarism, though they can not work in all subjects, are:
* seminar sessions in a classroom (not lecture hall) where 30 or less students spend 2-3hrs with you reading the ever ubiquitous powerpoint slides, but also discussing with myself and each others what they are seeing and critically analysing the information presented. ie: like what school was like (or should of been)
* Group assignments – group psychology prevents plagiarism to some extent.
* Spot tests within the seminar session

Though essay type assignments still sometimes have to be done individually that require 1500+ words, and that is where most plagiarism occurs, though if you do catch it. It is better to then talk to the student(s), figure out the reasoning behind it, ask them contextual questions on the material and guide them into understanding the ethical and self defeating problems that plagiarism allows. Though sometimes you will find a student who just doesn’t care which then you need disciplinary measures for, or their were exigent circumstances and they felt they had no choice when you advise alternative assessment avenues.

To me a student plagiarising in a unit of study I am teaching affects not just the student, but also reflects on my teaching style and that I need to start paying more attention to the feedback they are giving me. It’s all about education.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Plagiarism does not equate to IP Infringement

Ding! Winner!

Plagerism isn’t about violating someone else’s rights, it’s about dishonestly representing someone else’s work as your own. It is a fraud on the teacher, the institution, and in essence can degrade the value of the degree earned for all degree holders.

An essay isn’t some test to find out if you can write something, it is about measuring how well you have understood the subject matter, and to allow the student to show that they not only caught the buzz words, but actually grok’ed the material.

If you try to think of it in terms of a copyright violation, you entirely missed where the true crime occured.

Make me wonder Mike, how much did you plagiarize on the way to your degree? It seems that you wouldn’t see a problem with this, right?

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Plagiarism does not equate to IP Infringement

“Plagerism isn’t about violating someone else’s rights, it’s about dishonestly representing someone else’s work as your own.”

It is okay to distribute?

So all a new up and coming artist has to do is copy lyrics, make own recording, claim as own lyrics, thereby by-passing licensing fees?

darryl says:

Re: Re: Plagiarism does not equate to IP Infringement

“Make me wonder Mike, how much did you plagiarize on the way to your degree? It seems that you wouldn’t see a problem with this, right?”

Me too !!! Mike is a classic example of what I have been saying, states he has ‘qualifications’ but ourwardly shows little or no real knowledge of what he states he is ‘expert’ in.

there is a vast difference between Mikes claims knowledge and his displayed knowledge.

darryl says:

Re: Re:

its called plagiarism because it’s not the students who are solving the standard problems, it is someone else.

And when you are given a math problem the answer is probably in the back of the book, but you do not learn from looking up the answer and writing it down. You learn from trying to work it out yourself and then see if your results are the same as the answer.

In the real world, the answers are not ‘in the back of the book’ or available on the net for you to copy, you might be given a unique problem and no amount of Google searches will resolve you from having to work it out all by yourself.

And if you do not have the skills required to work it out by yourself, it will be the first AND last task that employer will give you before he replaces you with someone who did not cheat to gain a particular qualification.

an example of a typical job interview, I attend the interview after posting my resume, I am not asked anything about my test scores or education background, all he is interested in is if I am capable to perform my job as I have advertised.

For example, in one interview for a defense electronics contractor I was handed a large technical manual for a radar system.

It was opened to a random page, and a large circuit diagram was unfolded. I was asked to look the circuit and tell the interveiwer all I could about that section of the radar system.

When for the next 40 minutes I did, after that I was offered the job immediately.

In another job interview with Ericson, all they did was perform about 1 hours worth of IQ testing, and a walk through their facilities. The next day I was offered the position.

Employers want people who are capable of original thought, not capable of doing Google searches or finding something someone else has done in the past.

The level and quality of education in the US is declines significantly over the past 40 years or more, on an international basis.

You’re cheating is only further hurting that status, and allowing other countries to catch up and far exceed your educational standard.

Anonymous Coward says:

just let them cheat

And after they finish school and get into the real world they will be found out as fakes and will end up flipping burgers, or running a site like TD.

Whenever I have gone to a job interview (I have never to rejected from a job, never failed a job interview) it have never had to produce documentation or school scores, they asked me actual, real world questions and based on my answer determined if I got the job or not. (which I allways did, but often did not accept it).

If you are a fake, you will be found out and you will attend alot of job interviews but gain few if any jobs.

Or is the employment system in the US so broken that you cannot tell a fake from someone who knows what they claim to know ?

And you wonder why all your tech jobs are going overseas, you think you are winning to being better than your fellow US citizen, but the rest of the world values actual knowledge (IP) over ‘paper qualifications’ any day.

As a nation you are only hurting yourselves, cheaters really never do prosper in the short or long term.

darryl says:

US 18th in world for Math - behind Czech Republic

1) Japan
2) Korea, South
3) New Zealand
4) Finland
5) Australia / Canada
7)United Kingdom / Switzerland

15) Ireland
16) Norway
17) Czech Republic
18) United States

19) Germany
20) Hungary
21) Spain

Sure it’s ok to cheat, so you can be on the top of the list of the 18th highest country in the world for math education.

But being No.1 on a list, when you list is No.18 and lagging behind the Czech Republic.

So you can be top of the list for your country, but in a country that sucks does not mean you know anything.

And you wonder why Korea and Japan are massive technical innovators and are leading the world, rather that what the US believe they “should” be doing. (if they were capable).

Even Canada shits all over you A…

Anonymous Coward says:

Whats your excuse ?

just comparing Australia and the US education stats:

it seems you spend longer at school, spend more money on education, pay your teachers more, spend alot more on education to GDP that Aus, yet you SUCK !!!!..

Does that mean you are just stupid ? you also get 1 extra YEAR for your compulsory education.. !!!!

If you are all SO smart why is it that people like Masnick who claims to have a “degree” in something spends his life trolling google, and not using his education?

Or is it a “paper qualification” ?

US land of the FREETARD, home of the Braindead…

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