Sunday, November 9, 2008

Plagiarism talk 2008

As Final Year Project Co-ordinator for one of the School of Computing's undergraduate degrees - DT228, BSc in Computer Science, I am constantly trying to send the message to the students that plagiarism is wrong and will not benefit them at all. This week I gave the students a PowerPoint presentation followed by clips from a Father Ted episode.

In the PowerPoint presentation I included actual responses people have given me as to why they copied their entire projects, including;

  • They said it so much better. Shouldn't I use their words?
  • I meant to include citations, but I forgot/ran out of time.
  • I showed this work to my supervisor before I submitted it and s/he didn't comment on it.
  • We were doing a group project.
  • I didn't realise I was doing it.
  • I didn't think I would get caught.

After each of these suggestions I discussed reasons why they don't work, and that the main person responsible for the project is the student themselves. It is their chance to show off their skills, and do something they really enjoy, why waste it?

Also, based on the success last year's screening of clips of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip concerning plagiarism, this year I decided to show them clips from the Father Ted episode A Song for Europe. It concerns the main characters attempt to enter the Eurovision Song Contest, and when they fail to write any music, they copy the music from a little known Norwegian Eurosong entry from the 1970s.

The episode had three scenes in it that I think are particularly significant to the topic at hand;

  • In one scene when Ted and Dougal first think about copying the music, they both know it is wrong, but Ted slowly convinces Dougal it's alright to copy (I was hoping the students would look at that and see how easy it is to convince yourself it's alright to copy, if you let youself, so you have to resist temptation).

  • In another scene just before Ted and Dougal are about to perform the copied song, they realise it is much more well-known than they thought, Ted is in sheer panic "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?" (I looked around as this scene was being played and am fairly convinced that the students were picturing themselves in that situation, if they had copied and were about to do the final demo of their projects, and realising that they would be caught, it would be utterly terrifying, and thus worth avoiding).

  • The closing credits of the episode shows that people who copy get no reward. Nil Point!

I'm hoping that this will have the desired outcome, mixing a comedy with a serious point to remind them not to steal.

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