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Missing in action? A philosophy of plagiarism and implications for learners and teachers

Morrison-Saunders, A. (2012) Missing in action? A philosophy of plagiarism and implications for learners and teachers. In: Teaching and Learning Forum, 2 - 3 February, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia.

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Plagiarism in simple terms is intellectual theft which universities typically frame in terms of rules or procedures to be followed (e.g. students should appropriately acknowledge or cite all ideas or work drawn from other sources in their writing). Philosophically I argue that plagiarism is the absence of self; the non-engagement or non-investment of the writer. Writing is creative and individual; a student who plagiarises (e.g. 'copying and pasting') is refusing to involve or embed themselves in their writing. Similarly use of software such as 'turnitin' arguably substitutes a machine for teacher engagement. Solutions to plagiarism must involve teaching writing skills to students so as to inspire and empower them to engage in the writing process. Both parties need to invest energy in the writing process; one as the writer and the other as teacher (instruction, role-modelling, motivating/inspiring) and reader of the written work (grading, feedback). When I grade writing that is clearly plagiarised, the non-engagement on behalf of the writer equates to a score of zero. Not all students of course will immediately understand plagiarism rules nor necessarily be motivated to engage deeply in their learning/writing activities. However teachers have a responsibility to include appropriate material in courses and invest appropriate energy in addressing quality writing if progress with this interminable issue is to be achieved. Without engagement in the writing process both learners and teachers may end up 'missing in action'. This presentation invites discussion on this engagement philosophy of plagiarism and the implications for learners and teachers alike.

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