Udo Schüklenk (an academic ethicist) recently wrote a blog post on the idea of self-plagiarism. For anyone who teaches, whether at the elementary, high-school, post-secondary (university) or graduate level, the post will be of value to you. There is a lot of confusion about plagiarism out there today, and Udo helps to clear up at least one aspect of it: the idea that you might be able to plagiarize yourself!
Here’s an excerpt from his post (not plagiarism, by the way), and feel free to follow the link to read more on the topic:
If you browse documents on academic misconduct you’ll bump sooner or later into the term ‘self-plagiarism’. Students in many universities are threatened with sanctions if they submit plagiarized as well as self-plagiarized content in seminar papers.
I take issue with this. There is no such thing as self-plagiarism. It’s a misnomer. Plagiarism’s defining feature is that it involves the theft of someone else’s intellectual content and the attempt to pass off this intellectual content as one’s own. So, I steal someone else’s content and claim it is my own intellectual, creative contribution in a paper or some other medium.
What goes for self-plagiarism is nothing of that sort…[read more…]
Personally, when I teach a university course in philosophy I have at least two goals in mind: a) get the students to read the material and demonstrate an understanding of it, b) give the students an opportunity to develop good academic writing skills.
Accomplishing (a) is the harder of the two goals, and I won’t go into it here. But I find that (b) can be accomplished by allowing students to develop an idea throughout the course, through an iterative writing process. Allowing students to import work they have already done, assuming they make it clear where it is coming from, then developing it further in my class while incorporating new material from the course reading list, is an excellent way to mirror the real-world activity of writing.
The alternative, and the technique that I encountered more often than not in my undergraduate work, is to get students to produce several completely novel pieces of writing throughout the course. Unfortunately that kind of approach makes it easier for students to plagiarize (ironically), because they can grab half-baked canned essays from random sources on the internet, and it results in having students repeat the very first step of writing ad nauseam, that is, producing poorly developed bits of arguments that are of little use to anyone (including the students). An iterative writing process also has the benefit of complicating (actual) plagiarism by forcing the student to produce multiple drafts towards producing a final piece of work.
Within an iterative writing process students are forced to build on their drafts throughout the course to produce something that is much more polished and intellectually rewarding. Of course, I’m assuming that intellectual rewards are valuable in and of themselves.
Great post, Udo!