Saturday, April 07, 2007

This week in Wikipedia

I'm sitting here looking a term paper that worth 50% of the grade for the course I'm TA'ing. It's taken almost verbatim off Wikipedia. It's footnoted. The footnotes all say Wikipedia. It's not dishonest as much as it is really, really dumb.
What to do?
There isn't enough time for a re-write.
The student really deserves absolutely nothing for the paper, so it should be a course failure.
It's plagiarism, of sorts, but it's not plagiarism, in the sense that the element of uncredited theft isn't there.
I will give it some thought over the weekend. I suppose, too, I'll need to talk about this with a few other people.

19 comments:

Alexi said...

It's not an original work. Fail the biatch.

Ottawa Watch said...

Found another one. Two of fourteen so far.

Anonymous said...

What year is the course? If the paper is worth 50% of the course, presumably clear guidelines were given on minimal research standards and practices; eg., the distinction between primary, secondary and tertiary sources, and a minimum number of scholarly works (books, journals) that needed to be consulted. If said guidelines were never enunciated, the student would probably have grounds to appeal any penalty, especially if there was no history or other social science prerequisite for the course.

Alexi said...

What Anon @ 06:55:00 PM said...

Yeh, I was thinking that as well. Clearly stated guidelines, and all.

However, a the university level, one presumes an understanding of the importance for original works of analysis and synthesis. We start that at junior high.

As I said, fail the biatch.

Teacher With A Bad Attitude

Ottawa Watch said...

We have a clear plagiarism policy.
Actually, it's two guys. I suspect they'll fail the course and have a warning in their file. Certainly, since this is a one-term course, they can recover, but they're screwed if they've done this before.
It's a first-year cource, but they are in university.

Anonymous said...

"It's a first-year cource (sic), but they are in university."

I think you're in for a learning experience, or at least will have to put up with appeals. As you've already said, it's not plagiarism. What it is, though, is shoddy research methodology, and junior high doesn't teach it all. The expectation that they should enter university already knowing this also isn't universally shared among actual faculty, especially those who pander to students for good evaluations. I graded a chick who handed in a "research" essay to a third year course at what passes for an elite institution in Canada with 4 footnotes by giving her a D; the prof raised it to B. You're a TA; you have no power.

Fifty per cent for the essay also seems a bit steep; most universities have regulations on the maximum proportion of the final grade that can be accounted for in one assignment or term paper. Assuming this proportion is within university regs, if neither you nor the prof explicitly laid down the research performance expectations orally or in the course outline, they'll appeal. Classic excuse is "this standard was good enough in my first term sociology/psych/poli sci class, I didn't know it wasn't good enough here".

Ottawa Watch said...

The second paper is not even a re-write or re-wording. It's a straight download. It caught it because the title was completely inane, while the paper istelf could have been set in type as-is.

Anonymous said...

A term paper which can be pulled from wikipedia...

Sounds like a prof that needs to come up with more unique/exciting/interesting/timely essay questions.

Ottawa Watch said...

BTW, I would have spelled "cource" right if I wasn't dog-tired.

Paul Michna said...

I've had profs be upfront about not sourcing material from Wikipedia for obvious reasons (it's not a mediated source by any stretch). So if you set out ground rules at the start of the term - more than X number of sources, no Wikipedia or internet sources, at least X number of journal sources, whatever - then you should have no reason to hold off on giving them the old goose egg.

As for downloading the paper's content word for word...yeah, that's plagiarism.

Ottawa Watch said...

Yup. Basically, that's what I have in both cases. One student bothered to change a few words here and there, but it's the Wikipedia entry in style, structure, use of sourcing, order of facts, conclusions and, for the most part, wording.
The second paper is a complete scalp.

Anonymous said...

Be easy on the kids. They were probably just taking after Ralph Klein, who got 77% for his internet-lifted essay on Chile.

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1084462799969_79871999/?hub=TopStories

Ottawa Watch said...

Golly, a lousy B+?
He must have been pissed off.

The Bloganism said...

Just curious, do you also check for plagiarism from other sources too? There's a lot of sites out there that offer ready-made essays for a fee.

Ottawa Watch said...

There are some ways of doing it. Running an peculiar word phrase through Google will sometimes produde rfesults. There's alsoa commercial essay check software but I don't use it.
If a student who normally does B or C work hands in a paper that is absolutely perfect, we sometimes take them aside and do an impromptu oral test. But the system can be beaten, especially if a student has the money to buy the services of an essay writer who crafts a unique paper. T'was always that way. Usually, students who cheat don't do well on the midterm and final, so their course mark ends up in the mediocre range. They may be able to cheat their way to a BA, but things like law schhol and grad school are beyond them.

Anonymous said...

I had the exact same problem with my students back when I was TAing a few years ago. First time was on term papers...warnings all around and D's, final papers...F's.

Would be interested in hearing how you handled it.

Ottawa Watch said...

Incompletes for the course.
Fortunately, these are one-term courses.
It's sad, really. There's the problem of priorities ("I just ran out of time and handed this in"), and of wishing/hoping/self-deluding.
These are, hopefully, not big setbacks for either person. They are, if luck's with them, learning experiences. There's no record anywhere, so, if luck's against us, they'll do it again.
I wish them well. I really felt bad for them. Not because of the penalty, which is relatively light, but because these kind of lapses can become hard-wired, leading to the kind of crap that gets people fired, disbarred, divorced, etc.

Anonymous said...

It is extraordinary that a U of O history TA would be discussing students in this way. You have violated their privacy rights, and the university should be told about it.

Ottawa Watch said...

Whose privacy rights are violated?
Do you see any names posted?
How do you know this particular course is at the University of Ottawa or is a history course?
What's the course number?
Take your drive-by smears elsewhere.