Cindy Wambeams direct and insightful response to the Illyssa Greens initial post brought immediately to the fore the basic problem plaguing most discussions of plagiarism: nobody knows exactly what it is. Admitting that she had "mellowed" in her stance on plagiarism over the years, Wambeam offered several reasons why such a mellowing might be necessary in todays educational environment:
My own remark in a subsequent post that "its getting very fuzzing indeed just what constitutes plagiarism" stemmed primarily from Wambeams parenthetical insight here regarding collaboration. In todays literary environment, I stated, "boundaries between mine and yours are fading fast," especially as we embrace "more collaborative forms of discourse."There are just so many grey areas involved here, that making blanket assumptions about plagiarism is problematic. Ive come to realize that much of what I used to think of as plagiarism really is more about misunderstanding, lack of experience with research, or an overreliance on help/collaboration from others (which we teachers need to really think about since many of us are preaching collaboration, then pointing fingers at "using others work").
Concerned that there are enough cases of "grey area" or "near plagiarism" to merit caution or "mellowing" on the part of the instructor, Wambeam advised the following steps for assessing and responding to acts of supposed plagiarism:
Frank Coffman interjected quite prophetically that computer technology, perhaps responsible in part for todays plagiarism problems (easy access to online data, cut-and-paste functions, etc.), may in fact provide a solution in the near future:
In the meantime, however, the problem of assessing and responding to apparent acts of plagiarism remains a difficult one. Ilyssa Green summed it up quite nicely: "Now let me get this straight. There seem to be just about as many views on what constitutes plagiarism as there are professionals out there."In truth, plagiarism ought to be easier to catch in the future of digital text, since comparator programs already exist and in the not-too-distant future could be part of an integrated composition instruction module to scan any submitted "paper" for blatant and obvious passages of plagiarized material.