Sunday, December 9, 2007

Writing, Responsibility, and Repercussions

I’m always amazed at the almost casual way students commit plagiarism, as if the point were merely to generate paper to submit to instructors. Often I’m even insulted with their obvious forays into academic dishonesty, apparently believing I’d never notice, when I usually notice practically immediately, and can confirm in seconds (ironically, this “Internet savvy” generation actually can’t find their way around the virtual world unless it’s the first keyboard posting on Google).

I had three cases this term—over, of all things, blog posts for which they simply earn full credit.

I sighed. I talked to them—one complained that she was just resubmitting material she’d submitted for another course (which is also plagiarism), for which she earned an A. Double sigh—it wasn’t even summary, but rather word for word compilations of the original sources. Another student liked my butt, saying “Well, I certainly don’t want you to have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing.” I resisted the urge to vomit.

The third student, however, listened carefully, asked questions, stressed that he didn’t want to lose this class, and not only asked what he could do, but also proposed solutions (involving extra work and grade reductions). In short, he took responsibility. What’s sad is that I was impressed—this is not the norm.

He impressed me again this week. “Hey, I can’t take your Intro to Fiction class after all,” he reported, turning in all his extra work during an office visit. “Truth is, I can’t come back.”

“You can’t come back?” I echoed? Students backing out of course selections is hardly new, and no problem at all, but this was a new approach.

“Yeah,” he answered. “I found this guy in bed with my girlfriend.”

“Ah,” I noted. “I’m guessing that didn’t go well.” Two things strike me. First, he didn’t make excuses, but simply took responsibility for his actions. Unique approach, and one underused. Second, the focus was entirely on the guy, not the unfaithful two-timing girlfriend. Can anyone say double standard? And this brings us back to writing classes.

After five semesters of teaching professional writing courses, with only a couple of exceptions, the professional writing majors are far from the best students. Among the most extreme examples of this occurred in the same class, with the major refusing to hand in her final writing piece, not even the draft, protesting “It’s not ready!” This after the class has worked on these for weeks.

“Well, when WILL it be ready?” I venture. After all, it’s the last day of classes.

“Sometime next week?”

“That won’t work. Grades have to be submitted within three days of the last class or exam.”

“Then give me an Incomplete.”



“You’re about to get a whole lot more stressed.”

We worked out a compromise, and this particular situation is extreme, but all too often representative. “Professional Writing,” to them, seems to mean babbling about summer vacations to a patronizing high school teacher, and they expect to find jobs “Where I can do something creative.” Thing is, those jobs expect you to, well, create. A lot. Often. And well. Oh—and on deadline.

But these students have clearly been taught otherwise.



Two Write Hands said...

Can I have that kids spot in your class? In my three years at this campus the only creative writing course I've managed to weasel into my schedule was poetry. It was painful for me.

Writer said...

Well---It's offered again this summer and fall, and I was thinking about developing it eventually into an online course......