Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An Early Thirsty From the Grumpy_Sergeant.

I tutor college students, and I run into an odd response when I inform, well, many foreign students that they are plagiarizing. It's a different response than the usual crud. The response, way too often, is that they are taught in their home country to simply explain their professor's theories and ideas. Of course, there is little to no attribution or worse it really seems as though they are trying to take credit for ideas or statements that aren't their own.

I call BS on a lot of these responses because the questions asked by most professors I've ever known never ask to rehash someone else's theory without at least making an assessment. (My major is humanities.) A summary is one thing but not giving proper attribution is very different. But I am told I just am not from there so I wouldn't understand. Supposedly I don't understand the academic culture "over there."

Q: What are your experiences with this?


  1. Some countries, such as those in the Middle East and China, view plagiarism much differently. A verbatim reporduction of an expert's statement is seen as the appropriate response to, "Explain what this expert said." Who better to quote than the expert himself? The idea of "owning" an idea (thus requiring attribution) is somewhat less well-defined to other cultures as well.

    There's also general laziness and cheating by those students who do know better. It's not getting any easier to deal with this problem since the Internet creates an attitude among its users that information should be shared (copied). My American students are doing an increasingly poor job of setting an example for my international students.

  2. During my training as a writing center tutor, I was told that European students might not understand it because it was considered *rude* to cite sources; it implied that the reader wasn't well-read enough to recognize the source when they saw it. That said, whenever I've explained to an international student how plagiarism is viewed in America, they've been quick to learn how to avoid it.

    1. This shows up in a fair bit of pre-modern -- and modern -- writing; the reader is assumed to be familiar with arguments from sources that are merely alluded to. Pretty much all of 19th Century English poetry is an example of this.

    2. An Oxford student I know complained bitterly to me when she handed in her first assignment for her MA and got ripped to shit because it had no citation in it. Apparently, many tutors at Oxford think it's more important for students to be able to write strong arguments than to be able to cite. The question "why can't they do both?" was not answered.

      So, apparently, you can get an undergrad degree in Classics, at least, without knowing how to cite sources.

  3. I have encountered this exact thing more than once. Many international students claim it is perfectly okay in their home countries to copy from another source if the information given answers the question. I point them to the syllabus and remind them of the explanation I gave of plagiarism on the first day. And I fail them.

  4. I did my masters' (recently) in a program with lots of international students and it's definitely true that plagiarism standards vary by culture. In some contexts it's considered an honor to the original source to just lift the material. So they are probably telling you the truth, but none of this is to say that you can't expect them to meet the standards of a U.S. university.

  5. I teach in Germany - and no, we do not accept plagiarism, we do not just "lift something" from another person. We are experiencing the same thing with students. It is mostly BS by students. @Snarky: no way is it *rude* to cite ... it is *rude* not to because you are not recognizing another persons work. This is true for British, German, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, Austrian and Swiss colleagues as well - as I have talked to colleagues from there. I know that sometimes in Italy, Spain or Greece the attitude towards "student work" is that it is inferior and thus some of the well-overworked and underpaid colleagues don't care to correct a student. But the awareness that copy&paste without citation is an academically offensive behavior should be there as well. I don't know about former Sowjet, Asian, Middle Eastern or South American cultures ...

    1. Yes, and especially in Germany it seems there are small armies of people laboriously combing through the old theses of Herr Doktor Politiker or Frau Doktor Ministerin looking for a smoking Plagiat gun...and when they find it, they're toast!

    2. Okay. Good to know. I'll have to pass along to our writing center staff that we're misinformed about citation expectations in European countries.

    3. I'm in UK, and work quite a bit with Scandinavians - students may not always get citations RIGHT, but they are expected to cite and TAUGHT to cite. STEM though...

  6. I talked about this in class yesterday as we are getting close to the major research paper. I have run into this claim from students who plagiarized. A couple years ago I had a student who was upset other students from her home country were saying this and got appointed as a student rep on the board of conduct. At board hearings she would challenge some students in their first language by demanding to know what they had been taught here. If you were taught it here, then there is no excuse.

  7. Just received another plagiarized work yesterday from a non US student . This, AFTER s/he passed the first assignment, which included completing and commenting on a plagiarism tutorial. Time to pull up the standard "you cheated, you die" memo.

    If they can learn and pass the advanced hamster-tech material; there is no reason they can't learn and comply with citation requirements.

  8. When I taught in Humanities, plagiarism would crop up now and then. Now that I teach in Bidness, it's a regular event -- and, yes, easiest to detect in the work of international students.

    What singes my ruff is the attitude of faculty: "Oh, well, they'll go back to their countries so we don't need to worry" (despite the fact that they "go back" with one of our degrees); "I worry more about content than language" (even though that elusive "content" is frequently C&P, thanks to a well-established assignment recycling program, aided by faculty who refuse to change course content and assignments from decade to decade); "It's just too hard to detect" (apparently, they've not heard that google is a verb). All of these statements were recently made to me by a silverback.

    We have resources available to international (and domestic) students regarding academic integrity, but we have no way of requiring students to utilize these services. We're happy enough to take their exorbitant tuition and then turn a blind eye.

    I'm now at the point that my choices are surrender or a Strel-style rampage.

    1. There are no rampages; I am only following Soviet Law.

    2. All this talk about the old "Sowjetunion" made me think of Tom Lehrer's Lobachevsky:

      I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
      In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:

      I am never forget the day I am given first original paper
      To write. it was on analytic and algebraic topology of
      Locally euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable
      Riemannian manifold.
      Bozhe moi!
      This I know from nothing.
      But I think of great Lobachevsky and get idea - ahah!

      I have a friend in Minsk,
      Who has a friend in Pinsk,
      Whose friend in Omsk
      Has friend in Tomsk
      With friend in Akmolinsk.
      His friend in alexandrovsk
      Has friend in Petropavlovsk,
      Whose friend somehow
      Is solving now
      The problem in Dnepropetrovsk.

      And when his work is done -
      Ha ha! - begins the fun.
      From Dnepropetrovsk
      To Petropavlovsk,
      By way of Iliysk,
      And Novorossiysk,
      To Alexandrovsk to Akmolinsk
      To Tomsk to Omsk
      To Pinsk to Minsk
      To me the news will run,
      Yes, to me the news will run!

      And then I write
      By morning, night,
      And afternoon,
      And pretty soon
      My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed,
      When he finds out I publish first!

      And who made me a big success
      And brought me wealth and fame?
      Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.

    3. Lobachevsky died in 1856; he had been dead 61 years when the Revolution happened in 1917.

      When I think of these times, I remember a line by Mayakovsky:

      "Lenin Lived
      Lenin is Alive

  9. I am deeply skeptical of the "this is the way it was in the Old Country" routine. I've done a LOT of research into this, talked to a lot of well educated foreigners, and generally just made every effort to corroborate those kinds of claims, but I've never, ever found any mention of this kind of thing outside of students who have just been busted for plagiarism. I thought maybe I could be just missing it, maybe still inadequately informed, until one day when I was explaining to this one kid from a very sandy nation why he was flunking. The kid was taking it pretty well - seemed more mad at himself than anything - so I took a chance and asked: "You know, some other folks from your home region have said that what we call plagiarism is standard over there. They say they didn't realize it wasn't allowed. Is that true?" He laughed and said, "Man, people will say anything to avoid getting in trouble."

    Sure - he can't speak for every country. Sure - maybe somewhere there are schools where plagiarism is openly allowed. Maybe. But you know what? I think "but we did it this way in my country" is just their version of "but we did it this way in high school." And think how many times you've heard THAT.

    1. This.

      Last semester I had a plagiarist who tried to pull the "but this is how we did it in the motherland" crap. Turned out, she'd immigrated to the US when she was five. I'm guessing she'd used the excuse before.

    2. You had a five year old taking a college level course? That's impressive.

    3. Actually, I've gone to school in both the US and in a small Asian island country (for high school and college, before switching to a US university for the rest of my education). Styles of writing are vastly different in these two places. In the tiny island country, I was expected to regurgitate 'wisdom' of others that people considered 'common knowledge.' In fact, if I wrote anything original, my professors told me to get rid of my own ideas or supplement them with someone else more famous who was known for having said that already (and the professor's lectures were considered an adequate replacement of my own ideas). No citation was required because I was expected to write what was considered common knowledge or to regurgitate lectures or ideas from the texts we were reading. Essays were NOT for exploring original ideas (no Invention in this non-Aristotelian model), but to show how well I could conform to the ideals of that small island nation's writing community.

      In the US, I experienced the complete opposite of this. The notion of Invention was and is greatly encouraged. Ownership of ideas is important to note, and failure to not only come up with original ideas, but to cite anything that is quoted, is verboten.

      That said, many of my students from certain Asian countries have also become accustomed to cheating because they were never called on it in high school back home. They may claim that they don't know what plagiarism is, but they've had the same opportunity as everyone else to learn how to cite (at least in my classes), and I figure that if I could learn how to write in two different rhetorical styles, so can they (because I'm really not that bright, so if a B- student can get it, they can, too).

    4. I've run into the same circumstances as Gone Grad far too many times (I teach one of those 1000+ enrollment courses that nearly everyone needs as a prerequisite to get into one of those "professional schools"). The student claims they didn't know better because this is how they did it in their country of origin. Several questions later it turns out that they immigrated when they were 5, 8, 10, whatever years old, such that the entirety of their high school education (where I imagine essay writing and issues of plagiarism are mentioned more than once...) took place here. The only story of foreign systemic cheating/plagiarism I ever gave any weight to was from a friend who grew up in an Eastern Bloc country during the Cold War and explained how they all collectively cheated like crazy, and assisted each other as much as they possibly could to successfully cheat, in any class where the teacher was a member of the Communist Party and insisted that the language of instruction be Russian rather than their native tongue.

  10. On one occasion, I had a mother and her daughter in the same class, and both were from an Asian country -- and they both routinely turned in identical work. In that country, there is a very strong tradition of children being respectful to parents and doing what they ask. Basically, if mom tells you to write her paper, or to let her copy your test, you do it, no questions asked.

    I'm not saying that all Asian students would do this, or that they wouldn't respond well to careful explanation of how we do things here -- or that we shouldn't try to stop this practice. But it's a fact that filial piety is very strong in some of the traditional cultures there, and sometimes it does lead to flagrant academic dishonesty.

  11. Yes, standards for plagiarism vary, but when confronted with that excuse, I resort to a saying I came up with a few years ago: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

    1. I think you copied that saying from another source.

  12. I've been "over there", and did it their way.

    When they're over here, they do it our way.

    Both are correct, but not interchangeable.

  13. We are warned about this in our training, but since our school is modeled after the North American system the students are subjected to very clear anti-plagiarism indoctrination, in the manner, during their intro composition course. So far, no one has tried to pull the "but it's normal here!" card on me.