Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Is it fair??

Dear Colleagues

My youngest son is in the third year of university EEE department. This semestre he decided to take a graduate course although he is in undergraduate studies. He worked hard, enjoyed the course, learnt a lot. At the end, he was to prepare and submit a term paper. He delivered the paper expecting the high grade. Just the opposite, his proffessor called him and accused him for copying the term paper contents from various internet sources, making "copy & paste", just because his wording is extraordinary, his presentation is good, his details are perfect. Department assistants were assigned to find where he coppied the contents. He is a bright student, first in IB studies in High School. So it is normal that his English capability is so good. I asked him if he made any serious offense, he refused any misbehaviour. Moreover I checked his term paper and found nothing so abnormal. It is a standart undergraduate term paper. Instead of getting a high grade "A", he received the lowest "F". Is it fair? He will go to the professor and explain the situation. How should he respond? What do you think??

Your comments are always welcome.


Hi Haluk.
Difficult to answer without being in possession of all the facts. "Stealing the term paper contents from internet sources" Now what exactly does that mean.If the term paper was illegally made available to students by simply entering the URL and copying
the result, that is tantamount to cheating and gaining an advantage over those without internet access. However, if your son used the internet as a source of reference to better understand his subject matter, that is to be encouraged in
the same way as checking a dictionary for the correct spelling of a word. If we were to be honest and truthful, I expect many of us would put our hands up to having used a crib at one time.Maybe scribbled a formula on the palm of our hand.But when the paper is laid in front of you,You've taken so much trouble to write it, you now know the formula by heart. There is a great feeling of achievment to be gained when you see an 'A' against your name on the results board.

I was once awarded an impossible 105% in a science test. The whole class was in the 85% plus bracket but my paper was considered way above average. And no, I didn't need to cheat for it was one of my favourite subjects. I should mention here, the course tutor was a woman and I think she had a soft spot for me. Which raises another point: You say your son's professor was a friend of yours. I fail to see the relevance to this unless you are suggesting a form of negative nepotism.

In your shoes, I would take my son aside and say."Now let's talk man to man. No recriminations but I need you to tell me if the content of the paper was sent to you by internet. If it was then the source needs to be reported to the authorities. If it wasn't, I will fight your corner with every fibre in my body to get this result reversed.

I talk from experience,for many times I have had to take to task,tutors and principals of my sons' schools of learning, Even going over their head to the minister of education. I have twice been threatened with legal proceedings for endeavouring to obtain the best for my children.

If you are certain your son 'played the game honestly',It is your duty to stand by him and insist on a re-take of the paper in the presence of official ajudicators.

Wings, UK

Dear Haluk,
I would like to comment on this issue. Being a college student myself at this time, I understand the temptation to copy from the Internet. The Internet is a wonderful resource with a wealth of information at the click of a button. I would have to spend days at the library researching and taking notes. Now I can just type in the subject and read. In my country and my college, copying text directly of ANY source
constitutes plagiarism which is not only against the school guidelines, but also can result in fines or even jail time for the student. Now I'm certainly not going to get in the middle of your son's debate with the school, however, when I write a term paper, I must cite all my sources including any websites (URL) used for each paper, listed generally at the end of my text. As a result, my professors can easily check the websites against my paper. If your son has a list or cites all his sources, in my opinion, he should be allowed to defend his paper to his professor, or perhaps the head of the department, dean or someone in a higher position. This may clear up the issue for you and him. Good luck.
Carol, USA

You can select parts of the report and run a search. If the paragraph or sentence you run comes up verbatim then that's plagiary (if the source isn't cited). I think teachers are gun shy of the Internet and I can see why. It's easy to "cut and paste." They also have a hard time occasionally, fitting in the idea that young people can "think" today, and articulate their thoughts in clear and cohesive ways. This has happened before in other cases. I'd challenge the teacher to prove plagiary, not just arbitrarily assume it. You know, "Show me, and if you can't---reconsider that grade." If you don't every time your child writes a brilliant assignment it will be suspect and it could follow them throughout their school career. Children need to get credit when it's due and blame when proven guilty, not when guilt is just assumed. Question authority (after you investigate yourself).

Matt Lamoreux

Does your son considered himself to be an expert in the
subject matter he wrote about? Unfortunately, College
professors don't consider students to be experts in
their field at that point in their lives. So, a topic
needs to be researched and sources cited.

I once wrote a paragraph in a term paper about my job.
I lost points on the assignment. the teacher annotated,
"what's the source?" Looking back, I should have built
up ethos in the paper prior to using any of my personal
experiences. still, the teacher probably would have
docked points as she wanted us to include quotes obtained
through interviews. I did not qualify as an interviewed.

Part of a College writing assignment is to prove that a
student knows how to research and cite sources. If your
son didn't reserach the subject and cite sources, he
did not prove to the professor that he masters this skill;
hence, he lost the points associated to that criteria.

He should approach the professor and argue that the
grading criteria were not explained. Of course, your
son is also responsible for not asking (or not understanding)
the grading criteria.

N. Barring

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