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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Future of the University

I’ve been a student at VT since fall 2008.  Since then, I’ve completed my undergraduate and masters, and now I’m working toward a Ph.D.  Although the blog prompt asks for “one” change, I’ve have a list of things I’d like to see change for future students.  However, I’ll focus on one issue that has bothered me even in lower education.  MEMORIZATION!  It wasn’t until my graduate career that I started seeing some deviation from this teaching method.  It is my belief that the purpose of a test (in engineering) should be to see how one solves complex issues related to design.  Instead, the majority my classes ask random questions that prove nothing of design, but rather the memory capacity of individual students.  I might have some reason for supporting this form of testing in prior generations where information was not available at our fingertips, but in our modern society I should not be asked questions such as “what is the average height of a pavement curb?”.  As a result of this system, many students are weeded out of courses, not because of their incapacity to design, but their incapacity to memorize.

Tech & Innovation in Higher Ed

I read and reviewed the following article on MOOCs: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-with-technology-articles/i-took-a-mooc-and-i-think-i-liked-it/

Prior to this blog, I’ve never heard of a Mass Open Online Course (MOOC), but after reading this article I am now pessimistic about the positive gain of taking a course this nature.  With zero credit to be awarded for taking a free MOOC, there is “little incentive” for completing the course, which in the case of this author resulting a low pass rate of 8.8%.  This problem is also followed by what the author describes as “falling short of critical thought and analytical skills”.  He extends this view by stating that without a “direct connection between the student and the professor” something is lost, which I agree strongly with.  I’ve attended different university, each one with different class sizes.  From my own experience, the courses I’ve learned the most from are those courses with smaller class sizes, where the teacher knows me by name and has person time to answering questions I might have about course material.

Although the author opposes many of the aspects of this type of course setting, I agree with him that they do have their advantages.  Perhaps there are people out this without the money to attend college or have a person desire to learn material which if they do poorly on will not affect their current/future career.

Ethics

In Engineering, much like any other technical field of science, data collection and management is paramount to research.  As pointed out in the module for Data Acquisition and Management, data must be in a form that can be used by others to validate (or reproduce) your findings.  This module uses a “case-based approach” to learning, whereby hypothetical events are used to help guide the user to identifying ethical related issues pertaining to the provided data.  Two case studies are used: (1) Share and Share Alike?, and (2) Who Owns Research Data?.  For the purposes of this blog, I’ll discuss the (2) Who Owns Research Data?, as this case-study pertains most to my work.  In this case study, a Ph.D. Student is working with a professor on project that requires use of institutionally owned data.  After finishing her graduate work, the student begins a job somewhere else.  Although she has finished her studies and has begun a job, she wishes to return to the university and obtain the data she worked with in order to complete the work she was unable to as a student.  When the student arrives at the university, she enters her advisor’s office and begins downloading the data from his computer.  While she is doing this, her advisor walks in and catches her.  He quickly notifies her that the data does not belong to her and refuses her access to it.  After a quick dispute, she leaves without the data and in discontent.  Later, she has a discussion with another student, who incorrectly informs her that the data is hers since she had worked with it in the past.  He suggests that she visits her old advisors office during the weekend when he’s not around to retrieve the data without his knowledge.  In this situation, it is pointed out that this situation could have been prevented if prior to their graduate work, the students are directly notified that the data is either sensitive and/or property of the university.

Open Access

The journal ScienceDirect, was produced by Elsevier in 1997, and is based out of Amsterdam (in the Netherlands).  The platform provides open access to 3,500 academic journals and over 34,000 e-books. The areas of focus include: Physical Sciences & Engineering, Life Sciences, Health Sciences, and Social Sciences & Humanities.  On their website, the state that any article published by their Open Access Journals are made permanently free for everyone to access immediately upon publication.  As they explain, discovery is an essential part of science, whether a user is a researcher, teacher, student, health care professional or information professional, their database can be a great source of scientific information.  Although Elsevier provide open access to the public, they do require authors to pay a fee (ranging from $500 to 5,000) for publication.

University Mission Statements

The two universities I’ve chosen to discuss are both former universities I’ve attended for research or temporary undergraduate studies.  

Kettering University

Mission statementprovide the world’s best integrated experiential education through exemplary programs of study and applied research in engineering, science and business.

Founded in 1919 as an Automotive engineering and management university (“The School of Automobile Trades”), it was later in 1926 financial supported by General Motors and renamed General Motors Institute.  In 1998, its name was changed to Kettering University in memory of the original founder of the university.  Kettering is located in Flint, Michigan, Kettering is a private institution with undergraduate and graduate studies and research in engineering, science and business.  This particular university is of particular interest to me due to its well-recognized engineering program, but also the personal struggle that other students and I underwent while adjusting to its extremely underemployed and crime-ridden location.

The University of Nottingham Transportation Engineering Research center (NTEC)

Mission Statement:  to be an internationally renowned centre of excellence in transportation engineering, providing a focus for fundamental and applied research and technical service support for the pavement industry.  

NTEC functions as an attached research facilities on the university campus which is located in the city of Nottingham, UK.  The University of Nottingham was founded in 1881 as the “first civic college” in area.  In 1948, the university was “awarded the Royal Charter” which resulted in its current name and its ability to issue degrees associated with its new name.  In the fall of 2014, I conducted graduate research toward my Masters at NTEC from August to December.  This opportunity was something of a life changing experience.  It was my first opportunity to travel to Europe, and even more importantly, I was able to do this under the financial support of the VT Civil Engineering Department.  Extending beyond just the first time traveling experience, I was forced to learn how to integrate professionally and socially in a new cultural setting, which to my surprise differed significantly from ours in the US.  Through this experience, I was able to expand my network socially, academically, and professionally.