Understanding Plagiarism

This post is in response to the following article, “When Plagiarism is a Plea for Help”.  The article can be found at the following link: http://chronicle.com/article/When-Plagiarism-Is-a-Plea-for/235884.

Before continuing, this article does have a powerful message, however, before continuing to the link I provided please note that the article can be upsetting to read.  The author of this article, Helen Rubinstein, describes the course she teaches as writing intensive.  She highlights a resonating problem of plagiarism in undergraduate writing.  Her article deals with a student who she refers to as “Susan”.  Susan who after being caught plagiarizing on a rough draft of a class writing assignment, continued to use plagiarism on her final submission.  After consulting with faculty regarding the issue, the majority insisted she report the student, while a few others instead suggested she consult with the student individually to determine why the student decided to risk her academic success by submitting work that isn’t hers.  At the time, Helen tended to agree with the majority’s belief that plagiarism is still cheating and should not be tolerated.  Given this, she assigned the student an F for the assignment and emailed her letting her know she’d be reported for plagiarism.

Before the author was able to report the student, she received an email from the university informing her that student had died.  Helen’s first reaction was shock, which was then followed by guilt.  She couldn’t help but think that her email to Susan alerting her to her failing grade and submission to the university for cheating may have pushed Susan over the edge.  However, after reflecting on the issue, Helen came to the concluded that although nothing could be done to remove her guilt for the girl’s death, in the future she would deal with students more patience and understanding.  She suggests that students cheat, not because they are irresponsible, but rather they have little self-motivation and need someone to encourage them.

The authors conclusion couldn’t be more true.  If I place myself in the shoes of the students that cheat, it seems reasonable to quickly assume they don’t care, but after logically considering the problem, its also possible that student’s are afraid they can’t succeed on their own.  Cheating could be viewed as an indication that students have given up, where someone like Helen could turn their lives around through compassion and understanding of the fears that many students face as they pass through their academic careers.

Memorization and Cheating

This post is in response to the following article, “Memorization, Cheating, and Technology”.  The article can be found at the following link: http://chronicle.com/article/Memorization-Cheating-and/233926.

This author of this article discusses several issues that are happening consistently every year with gradual increases in frequency as student class sizes grow.  As a professor of physical geology, the author requires a certain degree of memorization for course exams.  As an Engineer, memorization has never been a strong personal trait, nor is it beneficial in the learning process.  Instead, in an Engineering course, application rather than memorization is of primary importance as it relates to physics or mathematical theory.  However, I also understand that in some departments, such as geology, to be successful, the author is problem true in saying that some facts need to be common knowledge.

The author says, that in recent years, requiring memorization has resulted in a increased cheating on exams via use of cell phones, or other small, portable devices.  He insists that from his experience in dealing with students that are caught cheating is commonly that despite clear warning about the using technology to cheat, students continue to use portable devices to search answers to questions that require memorization.  When asked, students commonly reply that using technology for answering questions regarding memorized material is not cheating, since the answers are available using short searches.  Although the author doesn’t directly explain is interpretation of this response, I believe its suggested that such mass exposure to technology has enabled younger generations with quick access to world wide web of  knowledge, resulting in a such quick searches becoming merely instinctual.  It’s to no surprise that such a technologically immersed society of youths find themselves compelled to turn to their technology before turning to their intellect.  Outside of cheating, the author has found that in recent years students refuse to mute or turnoff their cellphones in class.  Cellphones, among other technologies, distracts other students and the professor during lectures.  Again, I’d say this has similar reference to the issue of over exposure to technology.

 

Mass-producing College Graduates

This post is in response to the article, “We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education”.  The following is a link to the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/we-are-creating-walmarts-of-higher-education/282619/

Overwhelming pressure to graduate more students is pushing policymakers to increase the number of university graduates.  To accomplish this, they have proposed reducing the “number of required credits”  and college courses, and creating a larger number of online courses.  Furthermore,  some universities are hiring more part-time faculty in order to save money.  Critics of this proposal argue that the changes proposed by the policymakers result in lower quality education, but specifically, that government allocated funding for public universities based on graduation rates as a relative measure “compels faculty to pass more students,” including those that otherwise would not”.

Humorously, two opponents of the proposal liken this system of education to big-businesses hinged on a mass-production of low-priced, cheap produce.  Specifically, rigging the system of higher education to allow for an increase the number of graduating students is like McDonald’s, “where more things are produced, but they’re not as good”.

To truly improve the system of education in order to increase the number of people graduating from universities, the students need to be encouraged.  The article suggests (1) increasing student-to-student in-/out-of-class engagement, (2) increased student-professor interaction, and (3) “outside-the-classroom experiential learning”.  At the end of the day, the long-term impact of changes to higher education has a greater positive relationship when the factor that determines how students acquire their college education is based solely on “what they’ve learned”.

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Tuition Fees and Student Mental Health

The following post refers to the article, “Tuition fees ‘have led to surge in students seeking counselling'”, which can be found at the following link: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/mar/13/tuition-fees-have-led-to-surge-in-students-seeking-counselling

If there is one thing that a majority of university students will agree on, it would be related to the astronomically high tuition fees, especially for out-of-state students.  According to the article related to this post, “.. tuition fee and student loan debt are major contributors to the rise in students seeking mental health help”.  Compounding this issue more (an issue which I personally worry about) is the risk of not having a job after graduation.

Due to outrageous tuition, it is suggested that society’s view of education has shifted from being societal benefit to a question of its cost relative to its worth, in addition to the competitiveness of the academic environment which leads to “isolation, stress and anxiety”.  For me, this article hits really close to home.  Being raised in an average, middle-class family, university tuition fees were unaffordable, thus I depended a great deal on scholarships and student loans.  Over the years, the debt related to my student loans continuously grew, resulting in further interest, and concern that it would be nearly a decade until I’m able to pay it all back.  But, what if I’m not able to find a job right away, and I have no way of paying back the debt.  The stress of these payments, compounded by other environmental stressors can be overwhelming to consider.  It’s not surprising that a survey from last year indicated that nearly “8/10 students said they experienced mental health issues” related to the financial burdens of higher education.

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Engineering and Terrorism

The article to which I’m responding, “Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists?” can be found at http://chronicle.com/article/Does-Engineering-Education/235800.

If the title of my Blog (Transportation Engineering) is not obvious, I’m a PhD student studying transportation engineering.  According to a current study of the causes of terrorism, it’s been claimed that the majority of known terrorists have studied engineering.  Based on this random coincidence, apparently there’s a question of whether “… engineering programs select a certain kind of person … who is predisposed toward acts of terror,” and whether engineering programs incite students to have extremist views.  First, as much as I’d like to be offended, I’m not, but I’d interested in knowing what personal biases have not been considered by those conducting these studies.

However, the study considered “500 Islamist extremists”.  Of the 500, 207 could have their college degrees determined.  The statistics arising from these 207 showed that “45% had studied engineering”.  In the prior paragraph, I stated that I’m not upset by the claim they’re proposing, however, a number of replies to this study by a majority of engineering professionals were that of disgust and anger.  Some asked the very question I asked, are there personal feelings toward engineers that the authors of this study were harboring?  However, the fact is, (as one reply stated) people turn to terrorism for a variety of reasons.  Its more favorable to consider the possibility that terrorists favor recruiting engineers due to an engineer’s “problem-solving abilities and technical skills”.  If this likely possibility is true, then a majority of terrorists will having engineering backgrounds.

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