May 27, 2008
I sat curled up the recliner, computer balanced upon my knees, clipboard with roster in hand. The time had come to grade participation.
I grade participation all at once, when the week is done. Partly, I do this so I don’t get overly concerned with the occasional blithering post. Partly I can see how a student’s work compares through the week, and if they actually learned anything. Partly I can check for wild swings and suspicious lucidity.
I pull up the posts of ESL Student, and start to look them over. “English as a Second Language” students only bother me if they don’t have enough control of the language for me to decipher their attempt. I get a few of those, and try to explain to them that online classes might not be the best option for them. In a classroom, I can ask for clarifications until I get some deciphering; online, all I have is what they write there. Even with clarifications through the week, you don’t have inflections and phonetics to help you. If a student is approximating a word in a classroom, you can often hear what they are attempting. If they have no idea how to spell it (and are trying to do so phonetically), you often have a huge problem. I don’t like grading students on their language abilities, I want to grade them on their art history abilities, their critical thinking skills, their ability to compose hypotheses and sustain an argument to support that hypothesis (or change their thinking). Yes English control is part of that, but it shouldn’t be the totality.
I read through ESL Student’s posts, and find something odd. Most of the posts are downright gibberish. Not ESL. Gibberish. I had noticed there was gibberish through the week, and had asked for clarification, but during the week I don’t pay much mind to who is posting what. I just respond like any other poster.
Then another oddity comes to light- the rest of the posts are not only not gibberish, they are in perfect English, with important points about the material in them, using key words from the questions I posted.
Oh yes. A quick Google search and it is clear. I didn’t even have to pop them through any of our fancy software. Google.
Sometimes when folks plagiarize, they are at least smart enough to shift some words or word order. They make it so at least I have to plunge into the world of plagiarism-seeking software. But no. This student had done exactly what I did- they Googled the topic, and then cut and pasted from those pages any paragraph that had the words they wanted in it.
So I stuck a big, fat “0” in the gradebook. Oh, and emailed our Dean about the problem.
I have three emails noting the plagiarism of ESL Student from students outraged that ESL Student might get credit for those posts. I make assurances that plagiarism is not tolerated. I send a warning email to ESL Student that I have contacted the Dean.
I get a plaintive reply:
“Prof. Art, Why get nu crdt 4 wrk? I wrk vry hard. Frgive plese English. Is second langage. Plse dont grad on English. Ms. Instruction Dean sayed u dont grad on English.”
No, sweetie, I sure don’t. But my syllabus is pretty clear on plagiarism.