Handwritten manuscripts to curb plagiarism: Panacea or pandemic?

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, September 14 2013, 11:55 AM

In order to prevent a resurgence of plagiarism or academic cheating at Sam Ratulangi University (USR) in Manado, North Sulawesi, the university’s Rector, Donald Rumokoy, recently proposed a rather appalling strategy: all academic assignments must be handwritten (Kompas, Aug. 31).

Pointing out the fact that some 50 percent of students’ academic work was plagiarized, he seemed to be laying blame on high-tech devices as the main impetus for students to commit plagiarism.

The case of academic dishonesty at USR is only the tip of the iceberg of numerous cases of undetected cheating that plague academia in the country. Quite surprisingly, although assorted efforts have been taken to avoid plagiarism, intellectual dishonesty remains rampant and continues to persist among students, teachers and even some scholars.

While previous efforts have failed to deter academics from academic cheating, it is reasonable to cast doubt over whether the proposed strategy of handwritten manuscripts will help avoid plagiarism and whether this strategy will be effective in minimizing unethical behavior among academics.

One can argue, for example, that ideas and textual patterns of writing belonging to a certain author can be taken verbatim and “pasted” through handwriting without acknowledgment by students and scholars. Thus, intellectual infringements can be committed without necessarily involving access to typewriters or computers.

It is clear then that the requirement for handwritten academic manuscripts offers no panacea for avoiding plagiarism, but instead shows a pandemic symptom in the process of aiding students’ literacy development.

In the context of the technological revolution such as computer-assisted language learning (CALL), which has proven to be a tremendous aid for facilitating students’ literacy development, clinging to a traditional mode of writing (i.e. handwriting) reflects a gross setback and curtails students’ literacy creativity as far as writing pedagogy is concerned.

First, we should not lose sight of the fact that literacy in the cyber era means more than just simply putting a string of words and ideas (using pens or pencils) on paper to create text. That is, text realization doesn’t always take shape from linguistic elements only. Other semiotic resources, such as symbols, emoticons and images, shape and reshape themselves to become meaningful texts, leading to the concept of “multimodality” and “multi-literacy” in the field of literacy.

Second, the advancement of technological devices does not always carry negative consequences for writing pedagogy. Through their engagement with cyberspace, students can learn how both linguistic and other semiotic resources mingle with and jostle one another to create meaningful texts. They can create, recreate and even recycle their own texts in the light of the available texts they have read on the web. Thus, cyberspace can function as a useful tool for learning to write.

Finally, since the advent of communication technology like the Internet, the notion of authorship has become rather fuzzy. People can easily reproduce and access texts by assembling available excerpts from a great variety of sources.

This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to trace who the original creator of a given text is. It is this last point that makes the concept of plagiarism equally fuzzy and, therefore, not easy to discern upon a superficial inspection.

However, if by a certain academic standard, a student is found committing plagiarism, the issue is not the proscription of writing academic work with technological devices. It is not the devices that are at fault but those who use them.

Thus, what should be the main cause of concern has nothing to do with the medium of technology per se, but with how we can inculcate our students with the ideas of academic honesty and integrity. Scott A Wowra’s (2007) “moral identity hypothesis” helps illuminate the maintenance of moral integrity among students.

The hypothesis proposes that a student with a central, or core, moral identity is highly unlikely to engage in antisocial or unethical behavior such as academic cheating, fraud, stealing, lying or infidelity. In contrast, those students with a peripheral moral identity are more likely to do so.

It may be the case that this hypothesis fails to predict what it hypothesizes. The prevalent plagiarism committed by students, teachers, and scholars alike in the country seems to belie the above hypothesis.

This is because the social pressure on students and teachers’ academic performance supersedes moral integrity, thus making them succumb to academic wrongdoing so as to gain a good impression (in the eyes of society), leading others to believe that they excel academically, that they do their jobs well and that they are competent in their fields of expertise.

As this pressure often makes them socially anxious, given a fear of failing exams and not being promoted to higher positions, they tend to sacrifice their moral integrity. This is called by Wowra the “social anxiety hypothesis” – a contested hypothesis to his other one as laid out above.

From this account, one can conclude that the rampant academic dishonesty in the country’s halls of academe seems to mirror the approximation of the social anxiety hypothesis more than the moral identity hypothesis.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University. He is also chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching

Plagiarism and a writer’s professional responsibilities

M. Marcellino ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 02/20/2010 12:44 PM  |  Opinion

Recent media reports on plagiarism have made headlines again. After the shocking news on the plagiarism by a prominent professor from the Bandung-based Parahiyangan Catholic University on Thursday, Kompas daily reported the two prospective professors from Yogyakarta, who were suspected of claiming authorship of their own works although it may not be theirs.

A guide for the preparation of written work for all academics once published by Cornell University in the United States, pointed out that education at its best, whether conducted in a seminar, laboratory, or a lecture hall, is basically an academic and professional dialogue between teachers and students and among professionals and intelligentsia.

Questions and answers can be explored, discussed, and debated; arguments can be posed, criticized, and resolved; and data can be sought, analyzed, and evaluated. This dialogue has been the mark and delight of the intellectual.

The function of universities and professionals is to further the intellectual property by providing ample opportunities and facilities to clarify and test out their ideas, opinions, statements and arguments.

It is the university, together with the faculty, that has to seriously and rigorously promote the free inquiry of intellectual life.

If this working principle is to flourish and the delight is to come into being, all academics – the faculty members together with their students – must be prepared to assume certain difficult but inescapable responsibilities for whatever work they claim they are the writers.

One essential responsibility is always to demonstrate the extent to which they are the masters of what they are expressing in both verbal and written forms of the language.

They must make clear whether whatever is said or written is their own or someone else’s. Their teachers, fellow students, readers, or colleagues must know whose words they are reading or listening to.

The intellectual dialogue must be academically and professionally carried on. Accordingly, everybody who submits written work to any organization, institute, or educational body must be the author of his/her own paper.

The fundamental concept of plagiarizing is actually simple in that the authors mislabel a particular work, i.e. they claim that what is someone else’s is their own work.

They use facts and/or ideas originating from others. They misrepresent their work knowingly and in academic life “they commit an act morally indistinguishable from any other form of theft”.

As members of an intellectual society, misrepresenting one’s work ignorantly indicates that they show themselves unprepared to assume an academic and professional responsibility presupposed by work at the university and professional level.

Professionals and intellectuals, therefore, have to seriously highlight honesty, the highest standard of intellectual property in aca-demic life.

Since the principal objective of intellectual life is honesty, plagiarizing cannot be tolerated at all and is indeed a particular serious offense which brings about a commensurately severe academic punishment.

The guide book classifies plagiarism into four types: (1) word-for-word plagiarizing, (2) the mosaic, (3) the paraphrase, and (4) the “apt” term.

The first type refers to copying the original text as precisely as possible.

The second type deals with moving a statement from one line to another line and lifting out some phrases of the original text.

The third type is concerned with the writer’s attempt to travel along with the original text, substituting key words or terms from the original or using a different structural pattern to denote the same meaning of a given statement in the original text.

Last, the fourth type denotes the writer’s inability to resist the “appropriation” of important terms used in the original text and the drawing of phrases from the original source but none can reject the reuse in his/her work.

M. Marcellino PhD., is a senior faculty member of the Faculty of Education, Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.