Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Diurnal and Plagiarism

What are the odds of those two words, Diurnal and Plagiarism, showing up in the same sentence much less as the title of an article? Going through the comic strips this evening I ran across one of my regular reads, Funky Winkerbean. The teacher pointed out how one of the students had used a word in a paper he’d turned in; but apparently had no idea what the word meant.

There’s a strong possibility the student plagiarized someone else’s work; never mind that the student happens to be a comic strip character. Plagiarism is the act of including someone else’s creative writing within the body of your own work without properly acknowledging the original source; in short, it’s the same as stealing.

Teachers have tools at their disposal which are able to detect “borrowed work”. One simple way, as shown in the comic strip, would be to recognize the student’s inability to explain what had been written by virtue of the level of vocabulary or sentence structure. The internet has provided additional tools which are able to instantly compare previously acknowledged works and spot duplications or modest alterations of some other author’s original work. The solution being self evident, document and annotate any and all borrowed work and avoid the appearance of impropriety.

“A little bird whispered in my ear”, forgive the old worn out excuse line; but in a delicate and on going situation it sometimes is wise to pretend ignorance of facts, anyway, “A little bird whispered in my ear”, about a reversal of sorts in regards to plagiarism. Rather than a student being “caught red handed”, in this instance it was the other way around.

There was a serious paper turned in by a doctoral student a year or so back which somehow was copied by folks in a position to take advantage of the student’s article. The interesting part occurred by pure chance when the doctoral student attended a lecture only to find her paper being presented by those giving the lecture, almost verbatim; without any acknowledgement or annotation as to the true author of the work. I’m sure there had to be a proper explanation; but as most students will agree, “The dog ate mine”, won’t float.

In case you’re wondering, Diurnal: Active in the daytime; in zoology it has to do with animals which are active during the day, as opposed to nocturnal creatures. In botany it describes flowers that open during the day and close at night. Another meaning of Diurnal: The book of worship in the Roman Catholic Church, a book containing the material for daily prayers and worship.

How unfortunate; the folks holding students to an honor code lack the integrity and character they presumably are attempting to instill. All I can say for the thieves who stole a creative piece of writing from a student; hope you say your daily prayers and obtain some measure of forgiveness, after you complete the process of repentence.

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