Yes, thanks for raising this issue, Tania.
It probably won't surprise anybody that I have some responses to
it. I skimmed the McDermid paper, too, on Tania's
recommendation, and was struck, as she was, that it ends before
it gets to the good part.
But my feeling is that there really is not going to be a good
part, because there isn't any solution to the problem, at least
not that involves
> ...carefully designing our rubrics and arguments about
> evaluation in order to reduce the potential reward for
> undetected plagiarism and increase the potential reward for
> honest research writing.
I'd argue that the problem here is the rewards themselves, and
that changing the arguments for or conditions around them is
something we've all thought of, and which hasn't worked for any
of us. Defining the issue as one of ethics and exhorting people
to "be good" won't work as long as we've structured the whole
thing as a game, to be won or lost in order to gain rewards.
McDermid refers to the purpose of writing as "demonstrating
knowledge." That, I'd contend, (along with "demonstrating
skill"), is a rhetorically catastrophic motive for writing, and
one that promotes a divorcing of the text from any dialogic
situation. If you have authentic rhetorical motives for writing,
plagiarism would be beside the point (even the excessively well
documented examples of scholarly plagiarism are almost all
wreckage from the tenure and promotion wars, where the point of
writing is to get published and score points, or to be regarded
as a Writer).
I'm not arguing that it's easy to make the rhetorical situations
of student writers into ones which don't invite plagiarism, but
I would argue that it's conceivable -- and that constructing a
rubric for evaluation that will effectively discourage it simply
> Yet I do wish we could get more field research that would
> analyze (not just theorize) whether or not certain ways of
> evaluating writing, and talking to students about our
> evaluation strategies, really can reduce the motive to
I'd be interested in such field research, too, but my prediction
is that if we did it we'd find that the answer is "no," as long
as what we're focally concerned with is evaluating writing.
St. Thomas University
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