Saturday, April 19, 2008

Recycling and Plagiarism

When is using your own words plagiarism? Technically, it never is. Dictionary.com defines is as, “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.”

You can define plagiarism in many ways. However, the essence of plagiarism is using the words or ideas of another person and claiming them as you own. As such, anyone using their own words multiple times (regardless of how they cite it) is not really guilty of plagiarism.

Many scholars write dissertations. They often “recycle” this writing into a book and multiple articles. The “smallest publishable pieces” technique often results in the award of tenure to many academics. As we all know, this often is the only contributions to scholarship that some of our colleagues make.

Is this intellectually dishonest? Most of us would agree it is not. If you are using your own previous work, it is OK to build upon it and use your own previous writing in the process.

Why then do we hold undergraduate students to a different standard? Many institutions of higher education (and some secondary schools as well), consider the recycled works of undergraduate students as plagiarism.

Consider how The Australian National University treats recycled work. It says recycling “is the submission for assessment of work which, wholly or in large part, has been previously presented by the same student for another assessment, either at the Australian National University or elsewhere. In some cases, lecturers will specifically allow this practice. If no specific provision to the contrary is made, submission of work for assessment a second or subsequent time constitutes a breach of this Code.” I wonder if any Australian National University faculty have ever recycled their work in their scholarly endeavors?

Looking at hundreds of plagiarism codes around the world, you are likely to see something similar expressed. Undergraduates are expected to never use their own words a second time. Considering what the definition of plagiarism is, and how scholars often use their own prior work, this seems hypocritical.

I gave my institutions definition of plagiarism to undergraduate students to a class this spring. One of the students immediately challenged me. He said, “If it is my work, I own it. I have automatic copyright to it and I can use it however I like. How dare this university accuse me of cheating when I wrote it in the first place?”

This really got my mind working. Indeed, why is this considered plagiarism based on an honor code?

Good assignments can discourage recycled work. If instructors do not want recycled work, they can give assignments which do not lend themselves to recycling. Do not assign work that asks students to write about broad topics like abortion or global warming. Instead, ask students to write about these topics more specifically. Ask instead, how has abortion impacted your home town? Or, how might global warming impact the economy of the state you live in?

If the undergraduate can reuse the work they have used previously, more power to them. It is their work, good for them. They can use it however they please. Good and original writing assignments will minimize recycling but this will still happen sometimes.

I have some concerns about automated plagiarism detection systems. Since sites such as Turnitin.Com anonymously record the writing of students, they could easily provide a false positive. A student using a few paragraphs from an essay they wrote in the spring could be falsely accused of plagiarism from recycling some of his/her own work from the last semester. Is this really plagiarism?

Those of us in higher education need to rethink this issue. If we as scholars can recycle our work, why can’t our undergraduate students? After all, it is their work.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Feats & Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer

Were the Three Musketeers real? Was the book by Alex Dumas all fiction? The Feats & Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer distinguishes between fact and fiction the characters of Alexander Dumas's book with those of the real historical world includinb biographies. And it also has a clearly marked hoax page.

This is not an extensive site. It is definitely amateurish. But it is also just a bit fun.

From the site:

I believe that d'Artagnan has appeared in more film than any other Swashbuckler in movie history, yet too often he is ignored by today's public - not so only a few years back! However, he is still riding tall in his musketeer's saddle in such recent films as "The Three Musketeers," starring Chris O'Donnell, "The Man in the Iron Mask," and the more recent "Musketeer." Disney, once again, has rather recently taken another 'stab' at him in their animated rendention of "The Three Musketeers."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Neanderthals Speak

They have been dead for over 30,000 years. However, an anthropologist has made a stab at what their voices may have sounded like by reconstructing their vocal tracts with a synthesizer. Robert McCarthy of Florida Atlantic University and his work is detailed in a short CNN article titled Neanderthal man speaks after 30,000 years.

To hear the reconstructed voice, click here. It sounds like a frog croaking. "They would have spoken a bit differently," McCarthy said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Ohio this month. "They wouldn't have been able to produce these quantal vowels that form the basis of spoken language."

McCarthy plans on trying to simulate a whole sentence soon. I can not fathom how he could do this other than making a bunch of sounds which probably would have been meaningless to the Neanderthals. It kind of is like marine biologists who pipe whale sounds under water. I am sure it amuses the whales.

However, it does not matter how close McCarthy gets. At least he is showing what Neanderthal speech may have sounded like. That is interesting and I wish him success.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Open Vault

There is a nice site with historical videos that many readers of this blog may find useful. It is the Open Vault of WGBH.

The site describes itself, "Open Vault provides online access to unique and historically important content produced by public television station WGBH for individual and classroom learning. The ever-expanding site contains video excerpts, searchable transcripts, a select number of complete interviews for purchase, and resource management tools."

There is a lot here. The Social Science category 602 entries. The Humanities category has 540. The Massachusetts category has 392. Quite a few of these (hundreds!) are good for studying history.

I also think this site would be excellent for teachers at the secondary and post-secondary level. Many of these video clips would be very useful in class. I was surprised and pleased by how much of this site is free. This one is well worth putting in you bookmarks.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Did the Welsh Discover America?

I stumbled upon a possible revisionist site today. It is titled Madoc: Where the Welsh the First European Americans? It is by an amateur historian Howard Kimberley. It tells the legend of Welsh prince Madoc colonizing the New World and settling eventually in Missouri. The Mandan Tribe took in the Welsh and eventually had both cultural and genetic traits of the Europeans.

I find the site speculative at best. If this is true, why did the Mandans get his so hard by Small Pox in 1781 when 40,000 were reduced to 2,000? I imagine European descendants would have more immunity than that. Even if this theory is correct, the Welsh would not have been the first Europeans. The Norse were in North America before 1170. I guess this is a creative use of legends. If this story is true, DNA testing ought to be able to prove it.

From the site:

The story of MADOC, a Welsh prince, who is reputed to have discovered America in 1170, over 300 years before Columbus, has fascinated me for many years.

It is said that he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Wales, a small country on the western side of the British mainland, which together with Ireland, Scotland and England, make up the British Isles.

Many believe that he and his followers initially settled in the Georgia/Tennessee/Kentucky area, eventually moving to the Upper Missouri, where they were assimilated into a tribe called the Mandans. New evidence is also emerging about a small band of MADOC's followers who remained in the Ohio area and are called 'White Madoc'.