September 13th, 2015

Kidnapping of ideas

While teachers and students should make use of information that is available to them for their projects, they should also come up with own concepts and materials.

RECENTLY I overheard a conversation among undergraduate students which left me feeling a little disturbed.

They were seated at a table in the cafeteria and there was the usual bantering and exchange of jokes interspersed with several comments related to their courses of study.

Someone in the group mentioned the presentations they had to do as part of their course requirement.

There was a collective groan followed by various expressions of discontent. Their whole lives, it seemed, revolved around assignments and presentations.

Another person in the group probably a senior student, then piped up. “What is so difficult,” he said. “Everything is already there on the Internet. All you need to do is select what you want, then cut and paste.

“After that, just tweak it a little. Add a word here, paraphrase a bit, restructure a paragraph, change the sequence and before you know it, you have your assignment. Original – with a little help of course,” he added with a chuckle.

“What about plagiarism?” another student asked sounding a little nervous.

“Our lecturers told us that if there was any plagiarism in our work we will get a zero or even fail the entire course.”’

“Aiyah” said the senior. “How do you think everyone else does it? With so much information, notes, videos, all so readily available, you are really not smart, if you don’t use it.

“Even the lecturers themselves use material from different websites and different authors for their presentations. It’s just about how you put everything together to make it look like it’s all yours.”

Ripe for the picking

The senior had a point about the copious amounts of information, research and ideas that are so readily available today – almost ripe for the picking – and perhaps it does seem like an awful waste if what was in such bountiful supply, was not resourced.

The arguments for this seemed reasonable enough.

If everything was already there and you are not actually ‘copying’ wholesale, but merely ‘borrowing’, then what’s the harm?

And again, if everybody else was doing it, then perhaps this is the way to go. Why waste time on coming up with new stuff?

How is plagiarism defined and what are the boundaries? Interestingly, the word plagiarism originates from the Latin word plagiarius which means “kidnapper”.

So basically plagiarism is the ‘kidnapping or stealing’ of someone else’s words, ideas or writing and passing it off as your own. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, goes on to state that plagiarism also involves the use of another’s production without crediting the source.

So plagiarism is not just about cutting and pasting from the Internet.

Original ideas in any form are intellectual property and copying these ideas or works without giving credit to the authors is plagiarism.

On the other hand, this should not discourage students or even teachers from research or looking for material from the wide range of resources that are available today like websites, books and journals.

The crucial thing is to acknowledge and cite the sources and not attempt to pass it off as one’s own work when it is not.

All too often, materials presented in finished assignments or during classroom and other presentations is not credited to the original authors.

We see this not only during students’ presentations in schools or institutions of higher learning, but even during teacher development courses, meetings, conferences or seminars.

At times we get the feeling that what is being passed off as an ‘original’ piece of work or ‘new’ idea, is almost a copy of something we have read or viewed before.

The dismaying thing about the rather widespread and free borrowing of other people’s works is that after a while, it does not even seem like plagiarism anymore.

In fact, like what the undergraduate had said, it almost seems stupid to not use material that is already there.

Why waste so much time trying to come up with something original, something new, something that is your own, when you can easily copy someone else’s work, make a few changes here and there, and pass it off as your own. Why not indeed?

Why not memorise an entire model essay, written by someone else and then churn it out during the exam?

Is there really anything in the world that is truly 100% original?

In fact, isn’t everything that has ever been created by man built on a foundation that has been previously laid by someone else?

Counting on fresh ideas

There are indeed many arguments to support the “adoption’ of someone else’s work even when the focus is on originality.

Every fresh idea and every new thought could possibly be riding on the ideas and thoughts of millions of people.

In scientific research, replication or repeating a study as close as possible to the original, is sometimes done to increase confidence in the validity of its findings. It can also be to investigate the same issue through different angles.

In fact, replicating of a study is encouraged in scientific research to see if previous results hold true in different situations.

ut in every step of the way references and citations have to be made to original sources.

There is a difference between using a new method or different ingredients to make the same dish, and in using a different container to serve the same dish.

What is happening in some of our education scenes is the latter.

Instead of coming up with novel and creative methods, we seem to be just changing the serving bowls.

We want our students and even our teachers to make full use of all the resources that are available to them.

We want them to read, research and learn from the knowledge and the ideas passed down to them.

But we also want them to be able to come up with their own original ideas and write their own stories.

We need to reinforce into them that while it is good to learn from what someone else has done and perhaps even use it, it is always necessary to acknowledge the author of that first work or the source of the information.

They need to be told that apart from being unethical, plagiarism is just being lazy and deceiving one’s self.

They may get away with it for awhile, but one day could risk failing a course or even suspension from their college or varsity.

But worse than that, would be the consequence of never knowing their own true creative potential.

As Wu Guan-Zhong, known as the founder of modern Chinese painting once said, if one plagiarises the techniques of others, the work amounts to stealing their emotions and telling their audience a lie. In effect, it equals to nothing or zero.

Dr Malikka Vasugi The STAR Home News Opinion September 6, 2015

Level field for all exam students

EXAM fever is round the corner for thousands of PMR, SPM and STPM students. The underlying assumption is that the students are naturally prepared for the exams.

In all fairness, teachers ought to ensure that all their charges are adequately prepared for the respective public exams. That certainly is the hope and aspirations of all parents and students.

However, the primary key to getting excellent results is not only in studying hard but also studying smart.

To study smart for the exams, students must know how the examiners allocate and award marks for answers.

This is only possible if all the exam class teachers have been exposed to the exam format, that is, the techniques of answering exam questions.

Unfortunately, only a small number of teachers are examiners who have been trained and taught to mark exam questions. These are the privileged chosen ones who know the marking schemes.

These teachers, besides being qualified and experienced, usually need to have the right connection, be in the right school and at the right time to be selected as examiners.

Consequently, only students who are taught by these teachers have the necessary skills and knowledge to tackle exam questions and score maximum marks.

Thus, there is little wonder that examiners – exam-marking teachers – are very popular in schools and they are much sought after to brief students on techniques of answering questions.

And if they are resourceful enough to conduct tuition outside schools hours, their gross income would be quite big.

The reality on the ground is unfairness exists between schools that do not have trained examiners, especially in rural areas, and schools that have examiners, particularly in urban centres, resulting in an uneven level playing field for students taking the public exams.

To ensure that all examinees are exposed to the marking schemes, I would like to make the following suggestions:

> The Education Ministry should provide adequate training to all subject teachers teaching exam classes. Ideally, make it a module for teaching-training in colleges and universities offering Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL).

> All students sitting for exams must be taught by trained examiners.

> The marking schemes should not be classified as confidential (sulit) materials – all teachers, and even students and parents, should have access to them.

> The sample answers, especially the excellent ones of the highest grades and bands, ought to be disseminated extensively, including through the Internet, to all students.

I raised this issue a decade ago with a panel speaker from the Education Ministry at the annual Malaysian English Language Teachers’ Association (Melta) conference in Petaling Jaya. She assured me that she would look into it. Thomas Kok The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 12 September 2015