My Word! : Plagiarism and College Culture

Overview

"Classroom Cheats Turn to Computers." "Student Essays on Internet Offer Challenge to Teachers." "Faking the Grade." Headlines such as these have been blaring the alarming news of an epidemic of plagiarism and cheating in American colleges: more than 75 percent of students admit to having cheated; 68 percent admit to cutting and pasting material from the Internet without citation. Professors are reminded almost daily that many of today's college students operate under an entirely new set of assumptions about originality and ethics. Practices that

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My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture

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Overview

"Classroom Cheats Turn to Computers." "Student Essays on Internet Offer Challenge to Teachers." "Faking the Grade." Headlines such as these have been blaring the alarming news of an epidemic of plagiarism and cheating in American colleges: more than 75 percent of students admit to having cheated; 68 percent admit to cutting and pasting material from the Internet without citation. Professors are reminded almost daily that many of today's college students operate under an entirely new set of assumptions about originality and ethics. Practices that even a decade ago would have been regarded almost universally as academically dishonest are now commonplace.

Is this development an indication of dramatic shifts in education and the larger culture? In a book that dismisses hand-wringing in favor of a rich account of how students actually think and act, Susan D. Blum discovers two cultures that exist, often uneasily, side by side in the classroom. Relying extensively on interviews conducted by students with students, My Word! presents the voices of today's young adults as they muse about their daily activities, their challenges, and the meanings of their college lives. Outcomes-based secondary education, the steeply rising cost of college tuition, and an economic climate in which higher education is valued for its effect on future earnings above all else.

These factors each have a role to play in explaining why students might pursue good grades by any means necessary. These incentives have arisen in the same era as easily accessible ways to cheat electronically and with almost intolerable pressures that result in many students being diagnosed as clinically depressed during their transition from childhood to adulthood. However, Blum suggests, the real problem of academic dishonesty arises primarily from a lack of communication between two distinct cultures within the university setting. On one hand, professors and administrators regard plagiarism as a serious academic crime, an ethical transgression, even a sin against an ethos of individualism and originality. Students, on the other hand, revel in sharing, in multiplicity, in accomplishment at any cost.

Although this book is unlikely to reassure readers who hope that increasing rates of plagiarism can be reversed with strongly worded warnings on the first day of class, My Word! opens a dialogue between professors and their students that may lead to true mutual comprehension and serve as the basis for an alignment between student practices and their professors' expectations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Like Margaret Mead among the Samoans, Blum views her subjects—digital natives—as an exotic species. She notes their constant use of email, text messaging and the Internet. She declares them to be 'the wordiest and most writerly generation in a long while' and anoints their conversational tendency to quote TV shows and films an admirable form of 'intertextuality.' They are 'storming the barricades' of a new digital future, she claims, using the Internet to engage in collaborative work and to expand their knowledge base. She finds the hapless faculty members charged with teaching such students 'embattled and bewildered.' In other words: Get Twittering, grandma. Blum also embraces various postmodern theories of plagiarism. Internet-savvy, intertextual ingénues don't steal words; they engage in 'patchwriting' and 'pastiche,' constructing essays the way they create eclectic music playlists for their iPods. This practice, she argues, can be viewed as a form of homage or reverence as much as theft. In fact, as Ms. Blum’s research demonstrates, students today view writing — however we might define such a thing in a 'pastiche' culture — as a purely instrumental activity: a means to an end."—Wall Street Journal

"Susan D. Blum is genuinely interested in understanding her students and brings great care and compassion to her discussion of plagiarism. She generously draws on student interview segments throughout My Word! to illuminate today's campus climate. I especially like that Blum locates acts of cheating within the wider sociocultural context rather than regarding them simply as failures of personal morality."—Cathy Small, Northern Arizona University, author of My Freshman Year

"The prevalence of plagiarism among American college students affects all members of the university community in negative ways. The very phrase 'university community' implies a set of shared values; the existence of a culture of plagiarism among undergraduates undercuts that comfortable belief. And equally bad, finding ways to prevent plagiarism unproductively consumes instructors' and administrators' time and energy. To solve these problems, it is essential to understand what student plagiarism is: why they do it, why all our remedies fail, and why we need to care about it. This is the task undertaken by Susan D. Blum in My Word! Everyone who is a member of a university community will find insights here: Students will come to better understand why faculty and administrators are asking these impossible things of them; faculty and administrators will learn why their demands—simple enough to them—don't work for many students. Engagingly and clearly written and persuasively argued, My Word! is a book that raises and answers some of the most vexing questions addressed by members of modern academic communities."—Robin Lakoff, University of California, Berkeley

Library Journal
Over 60 percent of college students admit to having committed plagiarism. Here, Blum (anthropology, Notre Dame) undertakes to investigate and understand this extensive violation of academic expectations. Carefully describing different modes of plagiarism, different approaches among academic disciplines, and different student behaviors, she comes to realize how foreign such technical concerns are to the ways students function with their peers and in their classes. As she recognizes the difficulty students have in clearly understanding the details of academic citation, she looks more closely at the student culture, where a hectic life of college course, socializing, and campus jobs leave little time for careful academic work. Especially in the selective private colleges she knows best, Blum finds great pressure on students to be successful, meet requirements, and participate fully in college activities and social life, with little time or commitment to adopt their teachers' professional goals of independent and thoughtful academic preparation. VERDICT Blum offers many useful insights about student culture and academic values and enlivens her book with extensive interviews from articulate students. A useful perspective on current issues on college campuses.—Elizabeth Hayford, formerly with the Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Chicago
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801447631
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 1/29/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Plagiarism in College

1 A Question of Judgment: Plagiarism Is Not One Thing, Once and for All

2 Intertexuality, Authorship, and Plagiarism: My Word, Your Word, Their Word -> Our Word

3 Observing the Performance Self: Multiplicity versus
Authenticity

4 Growing Up in the College Bubble: The Tasks and Temptations of Adolescence

5 No Magic Bullet: Deconstructing Plagiarism

Conclusion: What Is to Be Done?

Notes
Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index

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