Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Perplexed, picky, and persnickety

I'm sitting in my office waiting for a student who promised to come in and explain how all those pages of text from online sources ended up in his paper word-for-word without any quotation marks or citations, but the student is late, which is a good thing because it gives me a brief writing break but a bad thing because--seriously, dude, you beg for an appointment at an awkward time to seek mercy after committing obvious plagiarism? You'd better show up.

So I'm annoyed--angry, even--at the amount of time I'll have to spend tracking down the sources of the plagiarized passages, meeting with the student, filing the appropriate paperwork with the Provost's office, and no doubt listening to appeal after appeal before this incident gets put to rest. 

And I'm further annoyed at the way previous students' bad acts have inspired me to add new and persnickety requirements to assignment sheets until they become these immense lumbering agglomerations of prose longer than the assignment itself. A small example: in my first-year writing course, a library research assignment requires students to check a book out of our college library, summarize a chapter, evaluate its usefulness for their research, and write a proper citation. Students always question the most nit-picky detail of the assignment: no credit at all unless they show me the actual physical book.

That requirement arose in response to previous students who
  • wrote a summary of a chapter of a textbook from another class;
  • grabbed some random book they found lying around the dorm on the day the assignment was due;
  • delegated one member of the clique to check out a library book and write a summary that the rest of the group merely paraphrased;
  • wrote a summary based on a book review in a magazine; or
  • invented details about an imaginary book out of their clever little heads.
I could go on, but it's too depressing. At some point in the process I get to tell them, "I know it's not fair for you to have to work harder just because some student long ago discovered a clever way to game the system. Welcome to the real world!"

So today I sit here waiting for a student whose actions may inspire yet another persnickety paragraph to be added to an assignment sheet, when I would really prefer to congratulate the 19 other students who did not plagiarize but instead wrote papers that fulfill the requirements of the assignment, often elegantly and persuasively. I'd like to tell my recalcitrant student, "Go and do likewise." But first the student would have to show up. 


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