Thursday, 23 November 2006

Plagiarism is a plague at university. Lecturers are feeling under siege as students copy and paste bits out of online resources, says Anne Susskind (a former university lecturer) in The Sydney Morning Herald. And that's not all she says.

The anger level of English-as-first-language students is rising as lecturers "dumb down" their teaching for international students, who are left bewildered by the resentment they feel comes from the first-language English speakers...

I've felt this myself. I feel like I actually studied harder when I was an undergraduate, 25 years ago, than I do today. It's as if the lecturers are quarantining the 'pass' grades for international students. Especially in courses offered within the Department of Media and Communications, where I study, and where the focus is on the use of language. International students manifestly struggle.

Susskind quotes Megan Le Masurier, who was my lecturer in first semester, for the 'Making Magazines' unit of study. It was a good course. But one night, when I arrived early (as is my wont), she sighed loudly and said, "It's not English. It's a new language they've invented." I felt for her. Then, in a second semester tutorial I listened along with the other members of my class, for the 'Literary Journalism' unit (lectured by Jose Borghino), as a Chinese student declaimed her inscrutable prose. I could barely understand a word. How these students get into the course in the first place is a mystery to me. An IELTS score of 6.5 — which is what they are required to achieve in order to enter a course at the University of Sydney — is clearly not adequate for such humanities subjects as journalism.

Le Masurier also says about plagiarism that it's a way for the students to 'get back' at a system they feel let down by:

"Plagiarism is a sign of discontent," she says. "They think their teachers are so busy. They want to be noticed and it's almost a testing gesture, a payback, like a response to feeling neglected."

She leaves the door open for the pundits to declare against the federal government, which has been cutting funding to universities steadily, over recent years. If there were more teachers..., she implies that there would be less discontent among students. Possibly.

I always marvel that anyone could even dream of plagiarising. Such a waste of time, it seems to me. You're cheating yourself out of the opportunity to shine. Even if you don't get caught. And new plagiarism detection software being developed makes it more likely as the years pass, that you will.

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