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Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before September 25, 2010

Posted by calvinus in Teaching, The Academic Life.
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Summer holidays? What are they, you will have to remind me?  Something is wrong when you actually look forward to the students come back as it brings with it a hint of normality (only just a hint, mind) and a slackening of workload!

This summer I have had to supervise/run/deal with 18 project students (not all my own). Not all passed, some may even have been stupid enough to steal some material from published work.

Too thick to know shortcuts

How often do you have to repeat yourself?

Do not plagiarise. Plagiarism is theft.

Do not copy form books/journals/tinterweb.  Plagiarism is theft.

Do not plagiarise, you will fail.

So…lets say you have to hand in a project report and it is found to contain 67% of thefted material, lets say you have thefted 42% from one source.

How to deter students plagiarising?  Partly this is cultural – many of our students are used to rote learning, many are not used to putting things in their own words, many leave things to the last minute and obey Hess’s law to submit any old tosh for the deadline.

How to deter students plagiarising?

This is doing my head in. Spend 6 months trying to get someone through a project only for them to hand in a regurgitated version of wikipedia gets to be a little tiring.  My first reaction when marking plagiarised work is to wince.  It’s painful to discover you have wasted your time.

And the pain was enough to make
A shy, bald, buddhist reflect
And plan a mass murder
Who said I’d lied to her?

S.P. Morrissey, 1987

The student still doesn’t know she is being done for plagiarism.  That will come. Another fun day of interviewing thieves awaits.  Joy of joys.


Well we know where we’re goin’ March 1, 2009

Posted by calvinus in Teaching.
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But we don’t know where we’ve been.

This seems to be becoming more and more the case these days. Some of the students I teach become so “institutionalised” inasmuch that they think only in terms of the subjects they are studying and only in terms of what they have to learn. Future tense. Any sense of connecting this with what has already been learned is implicit. It is not a conscious decision to relate current topics with skills already acquired. I spent an hour an a half trying to get my final years reconnect with this and realize what they are doing at a subconscious level. Add to this a lack of confidence to tackle subjects outwith their concept of what is their subject, we run the risk of graduating students that are not as rounded as they deserve to be.
Should scientists have to think about the philosophy and psychology behind what they are learning? I think so. Not too much, but there should be a small amount of teaching aimed at probing the fundamental meanings of the language and symbolism used. When is a measurement not a measurement? How does your concept of measurement bias your results? What is “truth” and “true” results in an experiment? This latter question is one I see more and more coming up. Our “average” fresher thinks that there is an absolute, true value that their experimental results must be close to. “What is the real value?” is a question I am often asked.

Good question. Come back at the end of your degree and tell me what you think then.

Where is this blog going? Who knows. The future is certain, give us time to work it out.