Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Academic Integrity

I've just spent come back from the first day of a 2-day workshop at school on cheating which was actually quite interesting. Tomorrow the real good stuff: www.turnitin.com and other technical devices for catching cheaters.

I've never cheated. I've been to Traffic School 11 times for speeding and committed a variety of other sins--I am, after all, a Utilitarian. But I've never plagiarized, copied or done any of the stuff which, according to the presentations, the majority of students currently do. First, it never occurred to me until late in my undergraduate career when someone stole one of my papers (Mill on phenomenalism) for the fraternity files. Secondly, I knew I could write a better paper than anything I could buy or steal. Thirdly, I just liked playing the Game: I wanted to do the stuff, I liked writing and competing. I'm trying to remember now, but I just can't remember anything I didn't like in college. The closest I can come is a psych course but even there I liked the stuff on perception.

There were a number of students at this affair and one of their chief complaints was that they had to take general education courses that had nothing to do with their future lives or careers. These, they said, were the courses in which students were most likely to cheat. True: I teach those courses, in particular the most hated of all undergraduate requirements and my favorite: logic.

But remembering my undergraduate career, I loved these irrelevant courses. Career preparation is what you have to do; courses that are irrelevant are gravy. I objected to the science requirement because I had a misguided notion that college should make me a cultivated person on the model of 19th century graduates of Oxbridge colleges--and that didn't include science. But I had to take 3 quarters of biology and I loved it. I must have because I remember all about adp/atp cycles, chlorophyl, the structure of the cell, and especially the stuff on genetics. I loved the labs especially: we typed our blood (I'm AB+), grew yeast cells and charted their growth on semi-log graph paper and did an experiment where we hooked ourselves up to machines monitoring heartbeat, respiration etc. while pedaling stationary bicycles. What's not to like?

I think it's the inverse Tom Sawyer Principle: make out drudgery, whitewashing a fence, as a treat and people will like it; make out education as a series of hoops to jump through, something they have to do, and they'll hate and resent it--and cheat.


John said...

- Students are silly. I work in the software industry and nothing prepared me better for a career than classess in Philosophy and Literature.

- If I WAS to steal an essay from you, Prof. Baber, I would probably take something you wrote on Mill. You have to give them credit for that.

Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

I worked for several semesters as a TA and grader for a world religions class. I caught many a cheater. They would begin their paper in their own voice and then suddenly they sounded like...you. They would cut and paste off of the internet and even use the first hit on google for their source. They would use papers from the previous semester even though we changed the assignment and the paper did not fit the topic. I had one parent bring an actual lawsuit claiming that her daughter plagiarized because of low blood sugar. Plagiarize, plagiarize, why do you think God made your eyes? Just don't forget to call it research.

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