The Failed Pedagogy of Punishment: Moving Discussions of Plagiarism beyond Detection and Discipline

Material Information

The Failed Pedagogy of Punishment: Moving Discussions of Plagiarism beyond Detection and Discipline
Series Title:
Critical Library Pedagogy Handbook
Seeber, Kevin P.
Place of Publication:
ACRL Press
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Book Chapter


Edited by Nicole Pagowsky and Kelly McElroy
Publication Status:

Record Information

Source Institution:
Auraria Library
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
This item is licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this work non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.


This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text


131 CHAPTER 14 The Failed Pedagogy of Punishment Kevin P. Seeber PLAGIARISM IS THOUGHT TO be a pervasive problem in higher ed ucation, and despite hardline approaches to discipline and advanced detec tion techniques, it is oen regarded as an ever-growing issue. e status quo could perhaps best be summarized by Richard Hardy, who notes that in re cent yearsacademic dishonesty among colleges and universities appears to have reached epidemic proportions. 1 Hardy goes on to attribute this epidemic to the recent information explosion, which has made locating and copying information easier than ever. 2 e end result is that faculty can no longer as sume that traditional methods of testing and grading are valid. New methods of detecting and preventing academic dishonesty must be developed. 3 e in teresting part of this assessment from Hardy is that it was written in 1981 (the information explosion in question was the availability of photocopiers). And although three and a half decades have now passed, this account contains the same core elements of the narrative surrounding plagiarism todayrst, that plagiarism is rampant and dangerous; second, that technology is to blame; and third, that improved detection is at least part of the solution. *This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareA like License 4.0 (CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0).


132 CHAPTER 14 is chapter seeks to deconstruct this narrative that surrounds plagiarism in higher education, as well as provide academic librarians with alternatives to the pedagogy of punishment that oen accompanies discussions of academic dishonesty on campus. I do not deny that plagiarism exists, nor do I seek to downplay the importance of academic citation. Rather, this chapter is an invi tation for librarians to critically rethink our relationship to the broad concept of plagiarism on campus and ensure that our interactions with students, fac ulty, and sta are grounded in a pedagogy that values student learning, rather than administrative policy. At the outset it is worth noting that, frankly, citation is weird. Not the act of citation itself, but rather the mechanics of how citation functions within higher education. ere are dozens of styles in use, many with rules that even experienced practitioners cannot explain. Beyond that, this method of citation largely does not exist outside of academia and scholarly publishingjust think of how many stories in the popular media rely on unnamed ocials with close knowledge of the situationresulting in new students encountering a system to which they have had little or no prior exposure. Is it really so surpris ing that citation causes so much confusion among them? Yet the weirdness of citation is oen accepted without criticism by librarians and instructors, who frequently choose to focus on explaining the rules and threatening punish ment, rather than addressing the root of students confusion. So what might be causing this confusion? At least part of it stems from the fact that what constitutes plagiarism or appropriate citation is culturally dened and varies by context. For those within the culture, these rules and practices might seem like second nature, while for those coming from outside, these same practices can be a cause of frustration or anxiety. An example of plagiarisms constructed nature can be seen in multiple studies that address the topic in relation to international students, who oen encounter obstacles with in the American educational system when it comes to citation. 4 ese are not cases where students set out to break the rules, but rather cases where students found that the rules they knew did not transfer to a new place. It is also worth noting that these cultural dierences are not solely tied to country of origin. Even among scholars writing on the subject, there is not a shared denition of plagiarism, with studies frequently devoting a signicant portion of their text to providing a taxonomy of academic dishonesty, parsing plagiarism from fraud or cheating. 5 e more one digs into this issue, the more it becomes apparent that something like ethical behavior is highly subjectivea fact that should give educators pause before we present plagiarism as an absolute. ere are consequences attached to this confusion. For their part, Patrick Drinan and Tricia Bertram Gallant do well to observe the role of culture as it relates to writing papers, pointing out that instances of insucient citation can oen represent misunderstanding or lack of academic sophistication


The Failed Pedagogy of Punishment 133 rather than an intent to deceive. 6 ey go on to note that plagiarism rooted in this unfamiliarity is distinct from the plagiarism that might be performed by faculty or other experienced writers, and attribute the matter to students lack of experience in writing research or scholarly pieces and their lack of ex pertise in the discipline. 7 With this in mind, it then becomes clear that pla giarism oen is not malicious in nature, especially when committed by new students, but is instead the product of misunderstanding. From there it seems necessary to recognize that emphasizing punishment, without explaining the reasoning behind the rules, systematically alienates those students who have not been privileged with past exposure to academic conventions. Put another way, the balance of power surrounding plagiarism ensures that the students who have had the least access to higher education now have the most to fear in the system. Unfortunately, higher education has been slow to recognize this issue, and discipline still occupies a central position on college and university campuses. An example of this persistence comes from Tara Brabazon, who powerfully indicates how poorly schools have been handling the matter at new student orientations: What do we do to them on their rst day? Within one hour of their arrivalinstead of speaking of hopes and dreams and congratulating them on their achievements and wishing them wellwe push sanctions against plagiarism so aggres sively they almost suocate. As I sit in the auditorium, I see how we lose our students. I see the shining joy leave their faces. A culture of blame, shame, judgment and ridicule is created. We never think that we as teachers are creating the problem that we most fear, by replacing teaching and learn ing with blaming and shaming. 8 is example is not unique. Rather, it is part of a larger shi that has taken place within education, embracing a pedagogy of punishment over meaning ful instruction. As Henry Giroux notes, How educators think about children through a discourse that has shied from hope to punishment is evident in the eects of zero tolerance policies, which criminalize student behavior in ways that take an incalculable toll on their lives and their future. 9 Giroux goes on to write that as the culture of fear, crime, and repression dominate American public schools, the culture of schooling is recongured through the allocation of resources used primarily to acquire more police, security sta, and technol ogies of control and surveillance. 10 Although Giroux is writing with regard to K schooling, many of these same criticisms apply to how academic dishon


134 CHAPTER 14 esty is framed in higher education, where policies are dictated down to stu dents and transgression brings with it failing grades or expulsion. Moreover, this quote invokes a vital component of the discussion surrounding plagiarism and how to solve itthe use of technologies of control and surveillance. Going back to the example from 1981, Hardy notes that a proliferation of new academic journals meant that no matter how well read a professor is in his or her eld, it is becoming almost impossible to detect plagiarism. 11 In other words, the means of detection at that time required faculty essentially to read everything they could and hope they would recognize plagiarized passag es in student work. Considering how much has changed in the ensuing years, this model of surveillance seems almost quaint, though it was replaced soon enough. Writing just seven years aer Hardy, Shoshana Zubo notes how new technologies allowed the development of information panopticons, stating that information systems can automatically and continuously record almost anything their designers want to capture, regardless of the specic intentions brought to the design process or the motives that guide data interpretation and utilization. 12 Zubo continues by stating that these systems can alter many of the classic contingencies of the superior-subordinate relationship, providing certain information about subordinates behavior while eliminating the neces sity of face-to-face engagement. 13 is kind of automated detection and discipline is now commonplace in higher education, occurring in the form of online citation checkers like Tur nitin, which Brabazon has deemed the panopticon of plagiarism. 14 Much as Zubo had predicted, these automated tools have eectively supplanted faceto-face engagement between students and instructors and determine viola tions of academic policy algorithmically. In a sense, this online approach is nearly a perfection of the panopticism described by Michel Foucault, who in voked plagiarism in Discipline and Punish when describing how observation would maintain order in a variety of settings: If the inmates are convicts, there is no danger of a plot, an at tempt at collective escape, the planning of new crimes for the future, bad reciprocal inuences; if they are patients, there is no danger of contagion; if they are madmen there is no risk of their committing violence upon another; if they are schoolchildren, there is no copying. 15 e aw with automating something like plagiarism detection is that, as has already been shown, plagiarism is not absolute. What constitutes su cient citation is a moving target, one that varies depending on cultural con text. Instead of recognizing and discussing that context, however, these tools


The Failed Pedagogy of Punishment 135 reduce citation to a percentage score, which in turn informs students as to whether or not their work is ethical. From a pedagogical standpoint this is a disaster, as students who are unfamiliar with citation are not only alienated by their inexperience with academic conventions, but are now removed from contact with a person who could even do so much as explain the rules, let alone the reasoning behind them. is leads to a question: why does higher education continue to devote resources to these online citation tools? e answer likely is linked with the persistent misconception that technology is the cause of plagiarism and there fore must be the best solution. Considering that educators have been blaming technology for at least a few decades, though, that line of reasoning seems less convincing. As for the solution side of the equation, online citation tools t nicely into what Evgeny Morozov has deemed technological solutionism. Writing about the inuence of new technologies in education, Morozov notes that digital technologies might be a perfect solution to some problems, but those problems dont include educationnot if by education we mean the de velopment of the skills to think critically about any given issue. 16 Put another way, these automated tools are seen as the denitive means of putting a stop to the problem of plagiarism. What they do not do, however, is facilitate any critical discussion around citation itself. Perhaps, then, it is worth investigating what kind of learning outcomes are associated with discussions of plagiarism in higher education. In an ar ticle that is typical of many in the eld, Roselind Wan, Shahrina Md Nordin, Muhammed Halib, and Zulkipli Ghazali advocate for emphasizing discipline, ensuring that students receive adequate exposure to the universitys policy on plagiarism as an academic misconduct so they will have a clear understand ing of the consequence of plagiarism. 17 is line of thinking can be veried by reviewing university catalogs and course syllabi, which oen include harsh language with regard to plagiarism. Within this paradigm, the desired out come for students is do not break the rules. e emphasis on punishment, however, means that the more likely learning outcome would be something like avoid discipline. Of course, it is also implied that discipline can occur only following detection, so the outcome becomes avoid detection. en, once considerations of automation enter into all of this, the true and nal learning outcome for students is get past the algorithm. Citation has been reduced to a cat-and-mouse game with a piece of soware. As is hopefully apparent, the problem with this scenario is that it involves no critical reasoning in relation to why citation exists. Including quotes and acknowledging sources is treated as a bizarre set of rules that must be complet ed successfully in order to avoid punishment, not a concept that is valuable in and of itself. Learning outcomes are centered not on citation, but on avoiding detection and discipline. To extend this mode of thinking into life outside of


136 CHAPTER 14 higher education, then, students have eectively learned to behave ethically only when they risk getting caught. In the absence of a panoptic authority, there is no reason to credit the work of others. Within all of this, academic librarians are uniquely positioned to change the discourse surrounding plagiarism and citation. To be sure, librarians have been involved in these issues, oen assuming the role of campus citation ex perts who can teach students where and how to cite sources and otherwise avoid plagiarism. 18 Although this role is decidedly more proactive than ad ministrative policies that wait for students to transgress, then discipline them, it leaves something to be desired. Namely, having librarians be the ones who merely explain the rules and how to follow them fails to acknowledge the un derlying reasons for why citation exists and why it is taken so seriously in academia. So what are we to do in the face of this situation? What does a critical approach to citation instruction look like? To begin with, librarians need to move away from saying these are the rules in college, and you better not break them. e pedagogy of punishment, which emphasizes discipline while ig noring any discussion of context or critical reasoning, disproportionately im pacts students who have had limited exposure to higher education. To employ such a pedagogy stands to reinforce the status of these students as outsiders in the academy, rather than empower them to truly join the conversation and contribute their voices and ideas. And why is this the job of librarians? By the nature of our positions, we are situated outside of these campus disciplinary constructs. While administrators establish academic policies, and teaching faculty are largely bound to enforce them, librarians occupy a separate space. To be clear, it is not a neutral space, but is instead a space where we can focus on developing pedagogies that truly value student learning, rather than push a disciplinary agenda. In practice, this means that the term plagiarism should be dropped from any library learning outcome or class overview. Meaningful instruction should not be centered on avoiding plagiarism, or even citing correctly, but rather citing eectively. Such an approach allows librarians and students to explore citation not as means of avoiding punishment, but rather the means to support their ideas and situate themselves among other scholars. As Emily Drabins ki notes: Citation matters. It means a lot to acknowledge the work of those working before or alongside you. is is also a political [and] feminist act. 19 In the emphasis on rules and disciplinary measures, this kind of thinking has been lost. If we truly desire to embrace critical library instruction and develop a pedagogy that empowers students to eect positive change, we would do well to follow Drabinskis lead. Librarians are in a position to speak with stu dents in a way that goes beyond following the rules. We are able to discuss how knowledge comes not from individual acts, but rather communal eort


The Failed Pedagogy of Punishment 137 founded on mutual respect. at is the core of citation, and it should likewise form the core of library instruction on this topic. Notes 1. Richard J. Hardy, Preventing Academic Dishonesty: Some Important Tips for Politi cal Science Professors, Teaching Political Science 9, no. 2 (1981): 68. 2. Ibid., 72. 3. Ibid., 68. 4. Dawn Amsberry, Deconstructing Plagiarism: International Students and Textual Borrowing Practices, Reference Librarian 51, no. 1 (2010): 31, doi:10.1080/02763870903362183; Martin Zimmerman, Plagiarism and International Students in Academic Libraries, New Library World 113, no. 5/6 (2012): 290, doi:10.1108/03074801211226373. 5. Amsberry, Deconstructing Plagiarism, 33; George P. Germek, Imagine No Possessions: Librarians, the Net-Generation Student, and the Imminent Vic tory of Plagiarism, College and Undergraduate Libraries 16, no. 4 (2009): 344, doi:10.1080/10691310903356000; Roselind Wan, Shahrina Md Nordin, Muhammed B. Halib, and Zulkipli B. Ghazali, Plagiarism among Undergraduate Students in an Engineering-Based University: An Exploratory Analysis, European Journal of Social Sciences 25, no. 4 (November 2011): 539, http://www.europeanjournalofsocial 6. Patrick M. Drinan and Tricia Bertram Gallant, Plagiarism and Academic In tegrity Systems, Journal of Library Administration 47, no. 3 (2008): 134, doi:10.1080/01930820802186472. 7. Ibid. 8. Tara Brabazon, Turnitin? Turnito: e Deskilling of Information Literacy, Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 16, no. 3 (2015): 14, doi:10.17718/tojde.55005. 9. Henry A. Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 98. 10. Ibid., 99. 11. Hardy, Preventing Academic Dishonesty, 72. 12. Shoshana Zubo, In the Age of the Smart Machine (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 322. 13. Ibid., 323. 14. Brabazon, Turnitin? Turnito, 14. 15. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish 2nd ed., trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 200. 16. Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here (New York: PublicAairs, 2013), 8. 17. Wan et al., Plagiarism among Undergraduate Students, 546. 18. Nicole J. Auer and Ellen M. Krupar, Mouse Click Plagiarism: e Role of Technol ogy in Plagiarism and the Librarians Role in Combating It, Library Trends 49, no. 3 (Winter 2001): 415; Mary J. Snyder Broussard and Jessica Urick Oberlin, Using Online Games to Fight Plagiarism: A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down, Indiana Libraries 30, no. 1 (2011): 28, php/IndianaLibraries/article/view/1912.


138 CHAPTER 14 19. Emily Drabinski, Twitter post, June 2, 2015, 12:58 p.m., ki/status/605825951478378497. Bibliography Amsberry, Dawn. Deconstructing Plagiarism: International Students and Tex tual Borrowing Practices. Reference Librarian 51, no. 1 (2010): 31. doi:10.1080/02763870903362183. Auer, Nicole J., and Ellen M. Krupar. Mouse Click Plagiarism: e Role of Technology in Plagiarism and the Librarians Role in Combating It. Library Trends 49, no. 3 (Winter 2001): 415. Brabazon, Tara. Turnitin? Turnito: e Deskilling of Information Literacy. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 16, no. 3 (2015): 13. doi:10.17718/toj de.55005. Broussard, Mary J. Snyder, and Jessica Urick Oberlin. Using Online Games to Fight Pla giarism: A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down. Indiana Libraries 30, no. 1 (2011): 28. view/1912. Drabinski, Emily. Twitter post. June 2, 2015, 12:58 p.m. status/605825951478378497. Drinan, Patrick M., and Tricia Bertram Gallant. Plagiarism and Academic Integ rity Systems. Journal of Library Administration 47, no. 3 (2008): 125. doi:10.1080/01930820802186472. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: e Birth of the Prison 2nd edition. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Germek, George P. Imagine No Possessions: Librarians, the Net-Generation Student, and the Imminent Victory of Plagiarism. College and Undergraduate Libraries 16, no. 4 (2009): 338, doi:10.1080/10691310903356000. Giroux, Henry A. Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? New York: Pal grave Macmillan, 2009. Hardy, Richard J. Preventing Academic Dishonesty: Some Important Tips for Political Science Professors. Teaching Political Science 9, no. 2 (1981): 68. Morozov, Evgeny. To Save Everything, Click Here: e Folly of Technological Solutionism New York: PublicAairs, 2013. Wan, Roselind, Shahrina Md Nordin, Muhammed B. Halib, and Zulkipli B. Ghazali. Plagiarism among Undergraduate Students in an Engineering-Based University: An Exploratory Analysis. European Journal of Social Sciences 25, no. 4 (Novem ber 2011): 537. EJSS_25_4.html. Zimmerman, Martin. Plagiarism and International Students in Academic Libraries. New Library World 113, no. 5/6 (2012): 290. doi:10.1108/03074801211226373. Zubo, Shoshana. In the Age of the Smart Machine: e Future of Work and Power New York: Basic Books, 1988.